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Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Overwhelmed by the savage but routine overdose of noise in New York City, NYU creative writing instructor Foy zealously sought out silence in its various incarnations. But absolute silence eluded him: underwater in his bathtub the roaring metropolis was amplified by the denser medium of water; in Paris's catacombs a distant hum persisted among the stacked skulls and bones; and in his family home on Cape Cod the absence of excessive sound, rather than soothing him, made him conscious of the absence of his recently deceased mother. Yet in a Minneapolis anechoic chamber, he felt rested, relaxed, and triumphant, becoming the first person to stay in the dark and silent chamber alone for 45 minutes. Along the way, Foy met a man with cochlear implants who actually hears something when the implants are disabled even though his cochlea were destroyed by meningitis; and Foy recounts how in 1996 a Greek islander shot to death a neighbor who blasted music on her radio every evening. The author's quixotic quest is quirky, inventive, and alluring, and readers everywhere whose auditory nerves are rattled by the shriek of car horns or babies will readily identify. (May)
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Foy’s thinking about quietude began where it never exists: the New York City subway. With an audiometer, he measured the decibels of its deafening cacophony in addition to levels in his apartment, the street, and the former mansion of Joseph Pulitzer, who hated noise. So acting as empiricist, Foy deployed his gadget everywhere he went for this book, including a space shuttle launch and a Cistercian monastery in France; but acting as a writer, Foy explored variegated aspects of silence. He studied evolutionary explanations for humans’ acuity of hearing; he queried scientists who research the physics of sound; he spoke with members of cultural groups that prize silence over conversation; and he sorted through philosophers and authors who valued quiet. As part of his sound project, Foy also moved his family away from Manhattan’s ambient clamor to quieter yet still audible Massachusetts, where no remission was found from the modern world’s relentless aural assault from televisions, cell phones, and irate drivers. Foy’s is an adventurous and perceptively ruminative investigation of acoustical annoyances. --Gilbert Taylor