David Owen’s “Volume Control” gains attention

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New Yorker writer David Owen’s new book, “Volume Control,” continues to attract attention. On Friday, February 7, National Public Radio’s Kara Miller interviewed Owen on her show “Innovation Hub” (look for the episode “Can you hear me now?” in the link above).

Last November 5th, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Owen about his new book on “Fresh Air.” If you haven’t picked up a copy, do so–or tell your library to buy several copies because it’s in demand. Owen’s interview with Kara Miller begins by Owen describing Dr. Arline Bronzaft’s landmark research on the impacts of noise on kids’ ability to learn in Manhattan in the 1970s, a piece of research that led to an ANSI national standard and broad awareness of learning deficits. That was a true success during the brief period in the 1970s before noise was “pushed off the table” by industries that didn’t want to be bothered and a U.S. president who, though hearing-impaired himself, didn’t think the issue merited national attention.

Now it’s back. Owen’s book is one of a string of popular books that have emerged over the past decade on this subject: George Prochnik’s well-reviewed book “In Pursuit of Silence” (2010) became a successful documentary film with the same title in 2015. Garrett Keizer’s 2010 book “The Unwanted Sound Of Everything We Want” got excellent reviews in 2012. And also in 2012, the book “Why Noise Matters,” with a chapter by Dr. Bronzaft, has contributed to the public dialogue on the issue of noise and noise control. And, of course, there’s the National Academy of Engineering report in 2011, “Technology for a Quieter America,” and the World Health Organization’s two-volume “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise.”

But David Owen’s book is not a “policy treatise”—it’s a wonderfully entertaining narrative filled with fascinating first-hand stories. And underneath it all he recognizes that noise is fundamentally a health problem—and a burgeoning public health problem. Watch his short video for The New Yorker to get a taste: 

This book deserves everyone’s attention—so if you’re a member of a book club, please recommend it!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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