Embracing Serenity | Social Sciences Reviews

Will appeal to readers interested in the effects of this alternative to the noise of modern life; an impressive look at myriad, diverse examples of invisibility that will appeal to those interested in social sciences and the arts

Brox, Jane. Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2019. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780544702486. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780544702516. SOC SCI
In this study, Brox (nonfiction writing, Lesley Univ.; Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light) examines the role and effects of silence in penitentiaries and monasteries over many years. While silence was once imposed on prisoners as a punishment, it was freely accepted by those entering monasteries as a means of deepening their spiritual lives. Nineteenth-century prison founders believed that isolation and silence would lead to convicts’ redemption but failed to see potential dangers in such practices, including a loss of contact with reality and risk of insanity. In contrast, monastic silence was not absolute but intermingled with chanting, reading aloud, and limited conversation. Thomas Merton is cited as a monk who thrived on silence and solitude, although he continued to speak out in his writings about the secular world’s concerns. Silence and isolation are now gone from most American prisons and many monasteries are closed, their silent life vanishing in an increasingly noisy world. Brox’s balanced account shows both the positive and negative aspects of silence and points out the need to be attuned to our inner voice in a world of constant distractions.
VERDICT Will appeal to readers interested in the effects of this alternative to the noise of modern life.—Denise J. Stankovics, Vernon, CT

Busch, Akiko. How To Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. Penguin. Feb. 2019. 224p. notes. ISBN 9781101980415. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781101980439. SOC SCI
In an age of social media and constant surveillance, Busch (faculty, Sch. of Visual Arts; Nine Ways To Cross a River) explores the many facets of invisibility in nature, science, and the arts. Her essays run the gamut from children’s invisible friends to items in literature, such as rings and cloaks that make the wearer disappear, to the science of making objects appear invisible. The author also shares how plants such as the pebble plant blend into the landscape, how camouflage and countershading protect animal species, and how ocean divers are unperceived and ignored by ocean fauna. Artists paint human models to blend into various backgrounds and photograph them. Marginalized populations and women of a certain age seem to disappear to the rest of the world. The author explains how, in Iceland, spirit beings, the Huldufolk or Alfar, are real to many. Busch also investigates augmented reality; for example, artist Mark Skwarek digitally restored the natural landscape of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, deleting the military installations.
VERDICT An impressive look at myriad, diverse examples of invisibility that will appeal to those interested in social sciences and the arts.—Sue O’Brien, Downers Grove, IL

LJ Reviews

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