One Square Inch of Silence

One Square Inch of Silence

One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World

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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.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416559825 | 
  • March 2009
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Meet Gordon Hempton

Silence is an endangered species and Gordon Hempton, an Emmy Award-winning acoustic ecologist, is on a coast-to-coast mission to preserve and protect the natural environment from manmade noise.

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Author Revealed

Gordon Hempton
Q. how did you come to write One Square Inch of Silence?

A. One Square Inch (the book) began when a New York literary agent read an article about my work at One Square Inch (the place) by John Grossmann that appeared in Delta Airlines in-flight magazine, Sky. She recognized that the loss of quiet from our lives was more than an article—it was a far reaching subject that literally touched everyone’s life but few knew it. Frankly, John and I balked at her invitation because we knew the subject well enough that to cover it well would require at least two years of diligent work with uncertain rewards, a fact that no doubt accounted for the absence of other books on the subject. However, doing something that could make a real difference weighed in heavily. “What better opportunity would exist to save silence? If not now, when?” were two nagging questions every time I hiked up the Hoh to One Square Inch (the place). I knew John was patient listener and had the tenacity of bulldog for accuracy. But did I trust John enough to reveal my most inward thoughts (and doubts) that I had reserved only for private moments alone in aural solitude? There could be no holding back to do this right. We slowly inched forward. First with the book proposal, this proved our suspicions immediately true. Twice as much work as we had calculated. But the story was uncommon, and we knew it. It would take place across America, we could be the ears for the reader to hear the land rise in its own defense against noise. And what about the logistical nightmare of scheduling places, people and events? Why worry about what will happen next—as with all true adventures, something always happens next . Our journey began just before April Fool’s Day, 2007, ready to fire-up my rickety old VW bus, “Here we go!” we said over the phone. And go we did.

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