Silence A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives

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Another "dazzling epic" from the author of Brilliant, exploring an overlooked yet elemental force in our lives — silence — from contemporary Cistercian monks to an extraordinary 19th-century prison.

The author of the "dazzling epic" (Lev Grossman, Time) Brilliant delivers an indelible view of the ways silence affects those who seek it and those who have it imposed upon them. Through her original, intertwined histories of the penitentiary and the monastery, Jane Brox illuminates the many ways silence is far more complex than any absolute; how it has influenced ideas of the self, soul, and society.

Brox traces its place as a transformative power in the monastic world from Medieval Europe to the very public life of 20th-century monk Thomas Merton, whose love for silence deepened even as he faced his obligation to speak out against war. This fascinating history of ideas also explores the influence the monastic cell had on one of society's darkest experiments in silence: Eastern State Penitentiary. Conceived of by one of the Founding Fathers and built on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the penitentiary's early promulgators imagined redemption in imposed isolation, but they badly misapprehended silence's dangers.

Finally, Brox's rich exploration of silence's complex and competing meanings leads us to imagine how we might navigate our own relationship with silence today, for the transformation it has always promised, in our own lives.


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