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One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World [Hardcover]

Gordon Hempton , John Grossmann
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 2009
In the visionary tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, One Square Inch of Silence alerts us to beauty that we take for granted and sounds an urgent environmental alarm. Natural silence is our nation’s fastest-disappearing resource, warns Emmy-winning acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, who has made it his mission to record and preserve it in all its variety—before these soul-soothing terrestrial soundscapes vanish completely in the ever-rising din of man-made noise. Recalling the great works on nature written by John Muir, John McPhee, and Peter Matthiessen, this beautifully written narrative, co-authored with John Grossmann, is also a quintessentially American story—a road trip across the continent from west to east in a 1964 VW bus. But no one has crossed America like this. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound-level meter, Hempton bends an inquisitive and loving ear to the varied natural voices of the American landscape—bugling elk, trilling thrushes, and drumming, endangered prairie chickens. He is an equally patient and perceptive listener when talking with people he meets on his journey about the importance of quiet in their lives. By the time he reaches his destination, Washington, D.C., where he meets with federal officials to press his case for natural silence preservation, Hempton has produced a historic and unforgettable sonic record of America. With the incisiveness of Jack Kerouac’s observations on the road and the stirring wisdom of Robert Pirsig repairing an aging vehicle and his life, One Square Inch of Silence provides a moving call to action. More than simply a book, it is an actual place, too, located in one of America’s last naturally quiet places, in Olympic National Park in Washington State.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Review

“Interweaves his intriguing and instructive on-the-road adventures with
fascinating and rarely addressed facts about sound, health, and
environment. Many books help us see the world differently; this one
induces us to hear the world clearly.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“An important message.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Fascinating and disturbing.” —LA Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist and Emmy Award-winning sound recordist.  For nearly 25 years he has provided professional audio services to musicians, galleries, museums, and media producers, including Microsoft, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery, National Public Radio, and numerous other businesses and organizations. He has received recognition from the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. He studied botany and plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin. His sound portraits, which record quickly vanishing natural soundscapes, have been featured in People Magazine, a national PBS television documentary, "Vanishing Dawn Chorus," which earned him an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement.” Hempton has now circled the globe three times in pursuit of environmental sound portraits. His new audio series--Environmental Sound Portraits--is the first new work to appear in more than a decade. He lives in Port Angeles, WA.

John Grossmann has been a freelance writer of magazine articles and books for nearly all of his working career.  He has written on as wide a range of topics as implied by the following list of magazines that have published his work:  Air & Space/Smithsonian, Audubon, Cigar Aficionado, Esquire, Geo, Gourmet, Health, Inc.,  National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Parade, Saveur, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, and USA Weekend.  He ghostwrote the 2006 book Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads (Ten Speed Press); and before that wrote the 100-year history of one of the nation’s oldest and most successful summer camps, YMCA Camp Belknap, which he attended as a camper and leader and where his two sons have also been campers and leaders.

Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, Enlightening, Entertaining May 23 2011
Format:Hardcover
Overwhelmed by the constant sonic bombardment around me, I instantly reached for this book when I read the title at my library. YES! This is what I want! The need for "One Square Inch of Silence" speaks directly to me. Perhaps what everyone needs at some point in their lives - some sooner - some later. Interlaced with details from his tremendous audio research and work career of 25 years, the book is captivating. Sometimes a little slow, but I pushed on and read the entire work over a weekend.

Trying to understand my teenager's love of loud music, I loved the Toxic Noise Chapter. On Pg 237, a key understanding for me: "...an organ near the ear known as the sacculus,...is stimulated by loud music. It also turns on the pleasure center of the brain-in some individuals, apparently quite powerfully. Habitual listeners to loud music, when deprived of their decibel fix, show withdrawal symptoms similar to those if addicts, according to Nary Florentine at the Institute for Hearing, Speech, and Language at Northwestern University in Boston."

I highly recommend this book and encourage people to seek their own "square inches of silence."
DaveZ
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Search for Tranquility Oct. 26 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In this noisy world of ours, is it possible to find some place where perfect peace and quiet reign supreme? Gordon Hempton, in "One Square Inch of Silence", takes up the challenge of locating those patches of land where nature is not intruded on by man-made, mechanical sounds. While Hempton appears to be on a quirky mission, reading his book could ultimately change your view on how noise - one of a number of scientifically recognized forms of pollution - is invariably distorting and destroying our view of the natural world. To prove this point, Hempton, an author and environmental activist, sets out on a journey across America to discover how artificial noise is threatening the sanctity and welfare of its national parks. In the course of a number of months moving through and tramping around natural wilderness, Hempton collected evidence that unequivocably shows that air traffic, industrialization, and automobile traffic have all contributed to turning the nation's parks and wilderness into noisy thoroughfares. With this blight comes a human desensitization that dulls our appreciation for real life forces of nature and their accompanying sounds: the birds, the wolves, the wind and the water. Beauty becomes something that is left to the imagination or the accounts of great naturalists like John Muir. The concluding chapter that covers the end of his journey on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. says it all: the politicians who should be listening to and acting on these warnings are heedless when it comes to reducing human encroachment on wildlife habitat. America is a land of anything but the freedom to enjoy the true natural beauty of the land in quietness. A great read for anyone wanting to look at the environmental movement from a very novel perspective. Hempton even includes a very colorful and helpful CD full of pictures and sounds from his trip.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting... but slightly annoying for me at the same time Aug. 18 2009
By Patrick O - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I love the idea of this book. I'm extremely aware of the noises around, and especially the noises that are around in places that should have the noises of nature dominating. After living in and near a national forest for much of my life I've become resigned to the fact that while I love such places for the nearness of the nature, others love such places because of the open opportunity for them to exercise the manifold ways of making mechanical noise. Constant saws, motorcycles, and other sounds of human busyness contradicts the appeal and peace of wind blowing through the trees, or a raven cawing.

In the competition between those who seek noise to drown their soul and those who seek quiet to bring peace, those who make noise will always win. Because when a person makes noise they dominate the region they are in, making so everyone has to accept their hobbies or be judged intolerant.

So, the premise is great. Only, there's so much of the authors at every point that I feel like they're the noisy neighbors who show up at a camp and proceed to talk about how much they love quiet, regale you with stories of where they've been, and otherwise fill the quiet with their constant chatter. They love the quiet but fill it up with their own noise--oblivious to self while decrying others.

This is definitely more about "the one man's search" than the natural silence, making it more of a "road" story than an exploration of the quiet places to find. The quest for quiet becomes its own noise, in a way, an over-intentional awareness that can't seem to find peace.

Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting and well-written book. I don't disagree with the positive reviews here, just was myself too aware of their constant imposition that I kept wanting to hear more, see more, about the nature they were in.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I found it interesting (if at some times frustrating), others may find it tedious May 14 2009
By M. Bergeron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I first became aware of Mr. Hempton when I complained to a mutual friend about my difficulties in making nature recordings without the intrusion of man-made noise. I was told of Hempton's ongoing frustration with the same issue. This has, in part, led to his establishment of One Square Inch (OSI) in Olympic National Park in Washington state. OSI establishes a single point free from the intrusion of man-made sound, which would affect approx. 1000 square miles.

His ongoing fight, focuses primarily on airplane overflight of the park, although he looks at other noise intrusions not only in national parks, but in other areas, cities, suburbs, and elsewhere. The book is a travelogue of his cross-country trip to Washington DC to plead his case to help protect OSI to the FAA and other government agencies. Along the way, he meets people affected by the encroachment of man-made noise into their lives, gathering their stories.

Early on, some of Hempton's remarks make him sound somewhat like a luddite crackpot, discussions of why park managements doesn't use horses instead of power tools and motorized vehicles to do park maintenance and so on. However, Hempton is no luddite, in fact, one might almost find some of his activities hypocritical, driving a noisy (by his own admission) VW microbus crosscountry and making frequent air flights mid-trip. He is not looking to eliminate all air traffic, just those over National Parks and other 'unspoiled' areas. One may make the argument that he is guilty of a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude, and I'm not sure that isn't entirely true. For me, one event that soured me on his crusade is when, while making a nature recording, it is ruined by a distant train. Instead of starting another "evils of intrusive man-made noise" rant, he shrugs it off because he has "a soft spot for trains".

Hempton's writing style is casual and readable, although he tends to overdescribe or include too much detail. In fact, he name drops his favorite brand of tea so often, I started to wonder if he was getting a promotional fee. He also makes sound level reading throughout his trip. I found it interesting and felt it helped to give specific examples of his observations, however, I think the average (non-audio geek)reader may find this tedious.

Overall, I found the account to be interesting, and while I primarily agree with his concerns, I felt some of his comments to be over the top.

If you have an interest in audio pollution, natural preservation or underdog vs. government fights, pick up a copy. I think you'll learn a lot, and be entertained.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Hush Sound Aug. 26 2009
By Dr. E - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a person who spent thirty-three years in a very rural area, I never really considered the beauty of silence. It was a given. And when visitors would marvel that there was not a single speck of light (except for brilliant stars) and not a sound (except for the cry of an occassional coyote or screech of an owl), I simply couldn't appreciate their amazement. Then I accepted a position at a university ... and the four-hour commute forced me to pick-up a "crash pad" apartment outside of the city. Even in this "green" suburban area, I noticed the relentlessness of "noise." The persistent roar of trucks, the low hum of street lights, even the zing of bicycles up and down the street ... it's an adjustment. While I have the luxury of returning home on the weekends, I began to wonder about people who spend their lives this way ... and I began to understand the reaction of my visitors. On a whim (and with a sympathetic heart), I picked up this text ...

I have a feeling that this niche topic will not appeal to most readers. I have a feeling that most folks do not even notice this constant assault (or cannot "afford" to notice it). If you think you are interested in the topic, be forewarned that the text is a fairly lengthy (extremely focused) study and the author is a bit of a curmudgeon (unapologetically so). Nonetheless, it is accessible to lay-people and tends to read very easily (translation: it is not jargon-laden! Thank goodness!) It is (infinitely) passionate (even though you may occasionally find yourself skimming the text). And, it is well worth your time!

Invest in this text if you enjoy environmental studies, exploring nature, or are simply captivated by the (unusual) topic.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, but flawed book March 9 2009
By Tim Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book is about a man's quest to formalize the existence of one square inch of silence in the Hoh River Valley in the Olympic National Park. The book begins with the author visiting the site of his square inch of silence and then describes his drive across the country to discover if any "silent areas" are left in the country and culminates in his discussion with Washington officials to convince them to officially designate the one square inch of silence as part of the Olympic National Park.

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I am very familiar with the Hoh River Valley and the Olympic National Park. I have spent many days hiking through the park. I am also very sympathetic to the author's concern---one of my pet peeves are people who have stereos blaring out of their cars as they drive around national parks.

The author is raising an important (and difficult) subject and deserves credit for doing so. However, he does not do a very good job of conveying the subject and comes off as being somewhat a self-centered misanthropic crank. For example, he continually complains about man-made noise and often becomes upset when the sound that people or machines make interrupts his solitude and his quest for silence. However, he drives around in a beat up VW van from the sixties that, by his own admission, makes a horrible racket. It never seems to occur to the author that his VW may be ruining other people's moments of silence. It also can't go more than fifty miles an hour and the author has no compunction about clogging the traffic on the freeways.

I also do not understand his intense dislike for all sounds human. Are not humans part of the natural landscape? Are we not a product of the same natural forces that created the Hoh River Valley? Why is it that all human noises must be excluded. At one point in the book the author yells at his daughter for speaking at the site of the one square inch of silence---why? The author also objects to noises that are made by domesticated animals----again, why? Why is it that the taint of "humanness" ruins the author's enjoyment of nature. There is a vast difference between the industrial noise of coal powered power plant and the sound of Boy Scout's having fun at a campsite, but I am not sure if the author realizes or admits this.

Again, I think this book talks about an important subject and the idea of the role of quiet in our national park system does need to be discussed. It is also abundantly clear the author has done a great deal of thinking (and acting upon) this subject. However, this book does not do justice in presenting this topic. A better editor would have helped reduce much of the repetition in the book. If this subject intrigues you, then I would recommend reading the book. Otherwise, I would recommend you pass it by.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Irony Deficient April 27 2010
By Robert Carlberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've been familiar with Hempton's nature recordings for years, and although not great like Bernie Krause, Peter Cusack or even Dan Gibson, they're still very good. He has an ear for subtlety.

Which is why it's surprising that his book should be so deaf to his own voice. Way too much of the book is taken up with SPL (sound pressure level) meter readings of every place he's ever visited -- 96 dBA here, 70 dBA there, 22 dBA somewhere else, page after page after page. The man apparently carries his SPL meter everywhere, even to a ballgame or a family gathering when he should be paying attention to something else. I mean really, who cares? (In an appendix he graphs approximately 80 of these readings into a very selective "EKG of America," but he graphs the dBs linearly, not exponentially as they should be.) He comes off as a single-issue zealot who alienates park rangers, airline officials and even his own daughter.

He confuses "silence" with "quiet" too. His One Square Inch of Silence project is designed to protect national parks from man-made noise, but he admits that the parks are full of very loud natural noises, some "too loud to talk over." Apparently only man-made noise is bad... because only man is "not natural"? Hempton lobbies the airlines to re-route around national parks, then has the gall to wonder, "Are they thinking about me up there?" Of course they are Gordon, of course they are. Again, single-issue crank.

Is he a Luddite, against all human technology? No, since he uses park roads and visitor centers to reach his favorite campgrounds, drives a polluting (& noisy) '64 VW van and records with a $36K rig. Is he a preservationist? No, he's not above repositioning the rocks on a stream if he thinks it makes the stream sound better. Is he a naturalist? Nope again. He subsists (at least partially) on fast food and name brand foodstuffs (which as another reviewer noted he names compulsively, as if hoping for an endorsement contract). He is, in the end, a bundle of unselfconsciously ironic contradictions -- but one with a legitimate and laudable goal.

The real irony of course is this: if everyone took his advice and contributed to the silence instead of contributing to the background hum... nobody would buy his CDs.
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