The unwanted sound of everything we want : a book about noise

by Garret Keizer

Hardcover, 2010




New York : PublicAffairs, c2010.


"From the moment sixteen-year-old Madison Grant is abducted, an unthinkable terrorist plot is set in motion--pitting Special Agent Kelly Jones against her most powerful adversary yet. The kidnapper's ransom demands aren't monetary...they come at a cost that no American can afford to pay. As Kelly's fianc©♭, Jake Riley, races to find Madison, Kelly is assigned to another disturbing case: the murder and dismemberment of a senator. At first the two cases don't appear to be related. But as Kelly navigates her way through the darkest communities of America--from skinheads to biker gangs to border militias--she discovers a horrible truth. A shadowy figure who calls himself The Gatekeeper is uniting hate groups, opening the door to the worst homegrown attack in American history."--p. [4] of cover.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member PhaedraB
I have wondered at times if I am, in fact, more sensitive to noise than the average person. Noise that others seem to be able to shrug off is physically painful to me. The slight variations in the noise the room fan makes in the middle of the night can drive me to distraction. So I was drawn to this book, which is part science and part curmudgeonly meditation on the problem of noise.

I was impressed with the author's willingness to look at noise as an issue of class. The poor are expected to tolerate what the rich would not, with noise as with so many other quality-of-life issues. And the author is not afraid to look at his own contribution to that issue, asking what is more important: his need for air travel to research a book, or a child under the flight path trying to learn to read a book?

I think he missed a few opportunities, but overall, a worthwhile book on a too-seldom heard topic.
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LibraryThing member IslandDave
Keizer's Unwanted Sound documents how society has largely ignored the problem of noise pollution as 'progress' advances through the years. As we get 'everything we want', including snowblowers, motorcycles, and various other advanced 'toys', few of us have stopped to consider the impact of the noise generated by such devices. Personal space is often considered sacred, but not when sound is considered. Keizer points out how often we notice when someone has infringed on our personal rights while we constantly ignore unwanted sounds and noisy behavior (though we still are annoyed by this).

The book itself is interesting and informative. Keizer relies on both research and anecdote. For me, the reliance is too often on the latter as Keizer lets his own views and annoyances drive the narrative at times. Still, a useful and worthwhile read if only because this subject is completely ignore by most of us, and the problem of unwanted noise will only grow worse as population densities continue to rise.
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LibraryThing member ranaverde
An intriguing book with a timely message.

Keizer uses noise as both metaphor and literal subject to explore American culture, the rise of industrialism, social injustice, environmental degradation, and many other ills of modern society. Tracing the history of noise back to the classical period, he asks what makes noise "noise" and why addressing it is such a low priority in our society, despite its clearly damaging effects.

The problem, he explains, is both that those disproportionately affected by noise lack the power needed to challenge it, and that noise is positively associated with things like freedom, progress, democracy, and so on. He suggests that a quieter mode of living - by which he means not only a way of life with less unwanted sound but also one that sits more lightly on the environment and the less-privileged - is not opposed to those things, but a truer, more sustainable expression of them.

In so doing he not only provides an interesting look at noise and what it means, but makes a compelling argument for a world in which the laughter of children, bird song, and a good night's sleep are valued as much as raucous parties, fast cars, and the roar of jet engines. Questioning the priority of noise, he argues, makes it possible to question everything that enables it.

These are questions that need desperately to be asked. Ironically, this quiet, thoughtful book speaks loudly enough to be heard amid the cacophony of voices demanding ever more, while never asking who suffers. Here's hoping that more people will listen.
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LibraryThing member waitingtoderail
This review is based on an advance reading copy.

Garret Keizer has written an important book. I don't mean it's particularly well-written - I think it could have been about thirty pages shorter. No, what I mean is, he's given some voice to those who, by the very nature of their cause, can't and won't be loud about it without appearing hypocritical.

Noise is a "weak" issue, Keizer says, because it affects mainly the weak. True, we can't all afford to build soundproofed rooms like one wealthy writer did, as described in the book. But I say it's a weak issue because people aren't clamoring to complain to officials and making it known that this is an issue they will vote on. People have to make a little noise to reduce it.

Keizer does a good job in describing the history of "noise" (as opposed to sound), and even touches a bit on how one person's noise is another person's pleasant sound when describing the "battle" between Sturgis bikers and Native Americans and with a few community members in Massachusetts versus the larger community's desire to hold a festival complete with music. I was glad to see that.

I appreciated the timeline of noise history, glossary, and list of organizations that do try to get noise reduced. He also gives a "personal noise code" which I felt was a little much. Suggestions for how to reduce noise are appreciated, but couching it in the guise of personal affirmations rubbed me the wrong way.

A thorough bibliography is included, and although the advanced reading copy didn't include one, the publisher assures us there will be an index.
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LibraryThing member FionaCat
This was quite an interesting book, although not quite what I was expecting it to be about. It is not just about audible noise but also about how we interact with our environment and each other in "loud" or "quiet" ways. I was especially intrigued by the idea of living more quietly: being more considerate of those around you and trying to have a smaller footprint (and footfalls) in this world. Another interesting concept was that of noise being a "weak" issue, in that it is not only seen as a less important issue than say clean water or global climate change, but in that it mostly affects those who have no power: no power to protest, no power to move away from noisy situations, etc. A very thought provoking book.… (more)
LibraryThing member clews-reviews
The evidence that noise is unhealthy and its distribution unjust is well-marshalled here, and there are fine flights arguing that we ought to be more kind and gentle and quiet towards each other; but there's hardly any recommendation of quieting actions, and when taking a plane, the author has some justification about how the noise is bad but what can you do? he wants to travel like everybody else.

I found this technologically unimaginative -- blimps! thirty days' vacation a year and travel as supercargo on the new sail freighters! quieter airplanes! -- but worse, fairly walrus-teary. He's quite good at the point that a lot of noise is a status display, but that makes me less comfortable with deciding to just make some more.

This book started out with several premises: that noise is a relatively 'weak' issue, not as important as water pollution, for example; that it has a disproportionate effect on the "weak" (marginalized people, small creatures, and simple pursuits); an finally, that this tendency to affect the weak is another reason for its status as a weak issue. Conventional wisdom (along with the World Health Organization) says that people begin to care about noise when they become more prosperous and better educated. No doubt that is true. But it is at least as true to say that governments begin to care about noise when it affects more prosperous and better-educated people.
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LibraryThing member tracyfox
Garrett Keizer has tackled the age-old problem of noise pollution, a subject on which there is curiously little non-technical literature. There is much to applaud in Keizer's effort. He seamlessly moves between cultural mores, scientific studies and legal issues. He shifts between journalistic stories of individuals' experiences with noise and broad interpretations of noise in a historical perspective. He openly acknowledges his biases, formed from personal experiences with noisy neighbors, but manages to participate in, rather than intrude upon, the narrative.

The book's opening chapters tackle the difficulties of defining exactly what constitutes "noise" and the legal and political issues that make it tricky to regulate. The next section covers noise history--from early humans' survival instincts to the first crusaders against the racket of the industrial age to cell phone etiquette. Contemporary noise issues are well represented with a thoughtful discussion of European noise policy and the noise impacts of airplanes, highways and wind farms. The final section of the book examines potential solutions. Predictably, the author begins this section with a call for more cultural understanding (using American's ever-changing taste in popular music as an example) but then goes on to suggest solutions that recognize increasing population density and diversity, are based on alternative energy, focus on reducing consumption and question all previous assumptions that have brought the world to its current, unsustainable course. In the end, Keizer sums it up quite simply, "We must learn to live more quietly."

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in noise pollution with the caveat that I found it a slow, unengaging read at times. Although the individual topics are knitted together in interesting ways, there is little overall narrative flow and I rarely felt compelled to keep reading once I finished a chapter. Nonetheless, the extensive back matter (timeline of noise history, glossary, list of organizations that deal with noise issues, decibel scale, guidelines for public noise policymaking, and a personal noise code as well as extensive footnotes and bibliographic material) makes this a valuable reference for environmental and community activists.
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LibraryThing member bas615
This was a book I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately, I wound up being very disappointed. It turned out to be a polemic that I struggled mightily to get through. The argument being presented is one I agree with and yet it is ultimately boring to read such an unbalanced viewpoint. It reads more as an angry man complaining than a thoughtful examination of the issues. I quite wanted to like it but found it disappointing.… (more)
LibraryThing member AmaliaGavea
This is a very entertaining study, dealing with the unusual subject of noise, and how we perceive it. It is written in a simple language, full of humor, but full of extremely interesting trivia about the origin of noise, the ways it affects the different cultures of the world, the aftermaths of noise in the lives of those of us who live in the big capitals and cities, and the ones who have the fortune to spend their lives away from the urban environment.… (more)
LibraryThing member solanum
Wonderfully written, informative, and insightful. I get funny looks from people when I start waxing about my new interest in the sociopolitics of noise. This is obviously a work of passion by Keizer, who has a knack for spreading a gospel he believes in without being preachy or moralizing. He merely presents the facts and suggests interpretations rather than taking an unfortunate role of oracle. He is consistent in acknowledging his subjectivity and when facts don't fit neatly into black or white. This acknowledgment of gray areas and sometimes being at a loss for solutions demonstrates a profound respect for the reader's intellect and ability to make their own conclusions and decisions. I really liked how Keizer makes the solitary work of authorship a collaborative process and incorporates into the book feedback, stories, and comments from readers of a blog he maintains about these issues. This topic could easily be presented in a dry and disengaging manner, but Keizer's wordplay and adroit employment of language are invaluable in guiding readers to considering this important and often ignored topic.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narboink
This is an excellent, thoughtful meditation on something virtually everyone can agree upon: painful and intrusive noise sucks. The politically aggressive bullying that typifies noise dominance is finally given a good lashing on these pages; which alone is gratifying enough to recommend the book. Stylistically, Garret Keizer sticks with his forte: the clever milieu of highbrow periodical wit. Perhaps the most resonant quality of the book is its ability to make the reader feel less alone in the world. Most of us tend to stoically (by our own estimation) tolerate a great deal of noise in our daily lives, convinced that the risks of confrontation outweigh the uncertain rewards of complaint. We also recognize, even if only by a tacit sense of fair play, that the rights of the noisemaker and the accidental ear overlap in uncomfortable ways. It's a rewarding experience to read through this exhaustive rumination on the subject. Even if it isn't necessarily going to make the world a quieter place, it's a good start.

There are several pages of notes the end of the book, adding substantially to its bulk. An electronic version or the paperback edition would probably be the more economical - and ecologically prudent - choice.
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