When sands sing and rocks ring — and when they escape the ear

Joint review of “The Sound Book” and “I Can Hear You Whisper”, published in The Washington Post:

It may seem odd to learn about sound by silently reading nearly 300 pages of text, but Cox’s breezy and amusing prose helps you share his experience as he searches for the sonic wonders of the world: sands singing in the Mojave desert, rocks ringing in Virginia, Mayan pyramid stairs chirping in Mexico, galleries whispering in England and a road playing music as you ride over its corrugated asphalt in California. While the sounds created by the landscapes, buildings and objects are vividly described, there’s also a site (www.sonicwonders.org) where you can listen for yourself.


Reading “The Sound Book” made “I Can Hear You Whisper” all the more poignant for me. In the latter book, journalist Lydia Denworth is on a far different journey regarding sound; she is searching for answers as her young son Alex is diagnosed with a severe loss of hearing that allows him to perceive only the loudest sounds. Denworth didn’t realize right away that her soothing bedtime stories, lullabies and sweet “I love yous” weren’t being heard.


Writing with clarity and style, Denworth serves as a capable guide to a world that few with full hearing are fully aware of. She talked to a host of people closely tied to these issues, from doctors and medical researchers to inventors and educators. A skilled science translator, Denworth makes decibels, teslas and brain plasticity understandable to all.

About Marcia Bartusiak

Combining her training as a journalist with a graduate degree in physics, Marcia Bartusiak has been covering the fields of astronomy and physics for four decades and has published in a variety of publications, including Science, Smithsonian, Discover, National Geographic, Astronomy. and Natural History. Her latest books are Dispatches from Planet 3, a collection of cosmological essays, Black Hole: How An Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved and The Day We Found the Universe, about the birth of modern cosmology in the 1920s, which was reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a small wonder” and received the History of Science Society’s 2010 Davis Prize for best history of science book for the public. Bartusiak has also written Thursday's Universe, a guide to the frontiers of astrophysics; Through a Universe Darkly, a history of astronomers' quest to discover the universe's composition; and Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony, a chronicle of the international attempt to detect cosmic gravity waves (which was updated and republished in the summer of 2017). Each was named a notable book by the New York Times. Another of her books, Archives of the Universe, a history of the major discoveries in astronomy told through 100 of the original scientific publications, is used in introductory astronomy courses across the nation. In 2006 Bartusiak received the prestigious Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics for her significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, and humanistic dimension of physics and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “exceptionally clear communication of the rich history, the intricate nature, and the modern practice of astronomy to the public at large.”


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