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White Noise: (Great Books Edition) [Paperback]

Don DeLillo
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 17 1999 Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century
A brilliant satire of mass culture and the numbing effects of technology, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, a teacher of Hitler studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, bound by their love, fear of death, and four ultramodern offspring, navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. Then a lethal black chemical cloud, unleashed by an industrial accident, floats over there lives, an "airborne toxic event" that is a more urgent and visible version of the white noise engulfing the Gladneys—the radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, and TV murmurings that constitute the music of American magic and dread.

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White Noise: (Great Books Edition) + Gravity's Rainbow (Deluxe Classics) + The Crying of Lot 49
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Product Description

From Amazon

Something is amiss in a small college town in Middle America. Something subliminal, something omnipresent, something hard to put your finger on. For example, teachers and students at the grade school are falling mysteriously ill:
Investigators said it could be the ventilating system, the paint or varnish, the foam insulation, the electrical insulation, the cafeteria food, the rays emitted by microcomputers, the asbestos fireproofing, the adhesive on shipping containers, the fumes from the chlorinated pool, or perhaps something deeper, finer-grained, more closely woven into the fabric of things.
J.A.K. Gladney, world-renowned as the living center, the absolute font, of Hitler Studies in North America in the mid-1980s, describes the malaise affecting his town in a superbly ironic and detached manner. But even he fails to mask his disquiet. There is menace in the air, and ultimately it is made manifest: a poisonous cloud--an "airborne toxic event"--unleashed by an industrial accident floats over the town, requiring evacuation. In the aftermath, as the residents adjust to new and blazingly brilliant sunsets, Gladney and his family must confront their own poses, night terrors, self-deceptions, and secrets.

DeLillo is at his dark, hilarious best in this 1985 National Book Award winner, a novel that preceded but anticipated the explosion of the Internet, tabloid television, and the dialed-in, wired-up, endlessly accelerated tenor of the culture we live in. He doesn't just describe life in a hypermediated society, he re-creates it. His characters repeat phrases, information, and rumor gleaned from television, radio, and other media sources like people speaking in code. And DeLillo has seeded the book with short gemlike episodes that demand to be read aloud, and that haunt the imagination years after their first reading: a visit to the Most Photographed Barn in America. A plane that nearly falls out of the sky. An hour in a classroom, canonizing Elvis. These vignettes are vivid and unique, yet, like the phrases from television shows that interject themselves, out of context, into Gladney's consciousness, they are strangely unconnected to one another--reflections of the lives DeLillo is showing us we lead. --Jan Bultmann

From Publishers Weekly

Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college, Jack Gladney is accidently exposed to a cloud of noxious chemicals, part of a world of the future that is doomed because of misused technology, artifical products and foods, and overpopulation. PW appreciated DeLillo's "bleak, ironic" vision, calling it "not so much a tragic view of history as a macabre one." January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent in scope July 16 2004
Format:Paperback
Jack Gladney is the chairman of Hitler Studies at a quaint liberal arts college somewhere in leafy-green, suburban America. His wife teaches posture classes, his son--an astonishingly precocious young man at the tender age of fourteen--ponders such cerebral questions as the validity of our consciousness--do we really want the things that we want, or are our neurons indiscriminately swimming about in our skulls and haphazardly giving us a false sense of yearning?
Then a chemical spill brings about The Airborne Toxic Event, in which an amorphous black cloud hovers over Gladney's complacent little town, ominously darkening the splashy colors and phosphorescent whites of the super market which gives solace to so many of the local denizens, not excluding Gladney's family. The spill may also serve as a metaphor for what DeLillo calls the "white noise" in America, that insidious current in the air resulting from too many radio signals (t.v, radio, e.g.), the infatuation we as Americans have with consumerism--(note: this was written during the Reagan era). The novel also boldly deals with fear, particularly fear of death, another beast within the machine that many must eventaully face. One of the best parts of the novel occurs toward the end, when Jack Gladney has an edifying Q and A over death and the afterlife with a German nun at a hospital, a stark and unflinching illumination which I found great and daring, if not a little sad.
This is a Don DeLillo book, and those not familiar with Don DeLillo and his sometimes abstruse connotations on American living might be chary upon entering his world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Who will die first?' Oct. 6 2011
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Jack Gladney teaches at the College-on-the-Hill. He and his wife Babette live, with four of their children from previous marriage (Heinrich, Steffie, Denise, and Wilder) in the quiet college town of Blacksmith. Jack and Babette are both afraid of death and it is this fear that is central to the novel. Whose fear is the greater? "Sounds like a boring life." "I hope it lasts forever," she said.

Jack and Babette's fear of death, the world in which they live and participate is conveyed satirically through a series of events (some of more direct consequence than others) which are peppered with laugh out loud moments. There's a subtlety in the observation and the writing that makes this novel work.

`The family is the cradle of the world's misinformation.'

Jack serves as the department chair of Hitler studies, a discipline that he invented in 1968, despite the fact that he does not understand German. Hitler's importance as an historical figure gives Jack a degree of importance by association: `Some people are larger than life. Hitler is larger than death. You thought he would protect you.' His colleague, Murray Jay Siskind, has come to Blacksmith to immerse himself in what he calls `American magic and dread.' Murray is a lecturer in living icons who is trying to establish a discipline in Elvis studies. Murray finds deep significance in things that are ordinary - especially the supermarket: `This place recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it's a gateway or pathway. Look how bright. It's full of psychic data.'

The major events in the novel concern an airborne toxic event and its consequences, and Jack Gladney's search for a mysterious psychopharmaceutical drug called Dylar once he discovers that Babette is participating in an experimental study (of sorts).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed reaction April 10 2004
Format:Paperback
This was a strange book. I was impressed with both the beginning and the end, but tired of the endless theme of mindless consumerism and personal despair. At first I was impressed by DeLillo's sardonic wit and ability to form a plausible tale about a professor of Hitler studies afraid of death. The ending effectively wrapped up the themes and the story and left me with a satisfying read. Maybe he intended this, but I found myself frequently questioning when it would end and feeling tired and frustrated with the world that composed the bulk of the novel. It was interesting that the main character did demonstrate human concerns and emotions, barely visible through the rubble of material and cultural garbage.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Archetypal Arch, Anarchic Americana April 9 2004
Format:Paperback
Reading Don DeLillo, I couldn't keep from imagining the author sitting sequestered in his home tapping out his aren't-I-so-clever story without ever really going out into the world to find out how people act, talk, feel, or think.
His sometimes interesting style is forced upon us rapid-fire at the sacrifice of real characters that, through their interactions with one another, actually make something interesting happen. This book reads that way: way over-rated and tiresomely 'clever' after about one hundred pages. You will feel nothing for any of the characters because you will recognize that they are just sloppy cartoon sketches of contemptible middle-class American nitwits. Of course, we are supposed to identify with them--wink, wink-- because they are meant to mirror our silly and meaningless lives. (Are you tired, yet, of that angle?)
In real life, (American) people may act silly at times, but to suggest that they are all distracted fools who don't ever pause in their stupid routines to contemplate how sad and pathetic their lives really are is truly an arrogantly sophomoric theme to carry throughout the length of a novel.
Honest-to-goodness laughs?: Two.
New insights into life and human behavior: None
A re-tread of that other over-rated 'clever' stinker "Crying of Lot 49?": Yes
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Sluggish and dull
The characters,along with the story, was sluggish,uninteresting, and dull. These people need to get out of the house and get some exercise, drink some vitamin C, take some... Read more
Published on July 4 2007 by Rob J
2.0 out of 5 stars I need to lie down
Delilo's books remind me of a listless stroll down a nondescript street on a cold winters day nursing a mind numbing headache. Read more
Published on June 28 2007 by Adam Stanton
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling Piece of Contemporary Literature
With "White Noise," Don DeLillo has crafted the ultimate suburban nightmare. He collects the Gladney family - a highly intellectualized, somewhat socially awkward, ultra-modern... Read more
Published on June 28 2004 by Brennon A. Slattery
3.0 out of 5 stars Preposterous I Say!!
DeLillo's had such a wild imagination to write in 1984-85 about the reliance on pharmaceuticals to make oneself "happy", the deleterous power of mass communication on... Read more
Published on June 12 2004 by A. Burns
2.0 out of 5 stars Black Noise
The protagonist is a professor who intellectualizes his family, his career, and his experiences into existential angst, like a college sophomore strung out on Sartre and Camus. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by Day Williams
2.0 out of 5 stars Drowning In DeLillo
What a stubborn, perplexing book. If I had any kind of life, I might resent the time this novel extracted from it to afflict me with its arch, dark-gray worldview. Read more
Published on April 28 2004 by Bill Slocum
2.0 out of 5 stars Archetype of Arch and Anarchic
Reading Don DeLillo, I couldn't keep from imagining the author sitting sequestered in his home tapping out his oh-so-clever story without ever going out into the real world to find... Read more
Published on April 9 2004 by Mike Sturdevant
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Novel
Is DeLilo being too "clever," as many readers are saying in their Amazon reviews? Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the point in trying to look inside the head of the... Read more
Published on April 5 2004 by The Judge of the Value of all Entertainment & Art
5.0 out of 5 stars White Noise
In White Noise, DeLillo takes a jab at the modern American family. Although written in 1985, a few years prior to the internet being in every home, White noise is strangely... Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by "cmerrell"
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