Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published September 28th 2017 by Viking
Source: Publisher

Behind a cacophony of traffic noise, iPhone alerts and our ever-spinning thoughts, an elusive notion – silence – lies in wait. But what really is silence? Where can it be found? And why is it more important now than ever?

Erling Kagge, the Norwegian adventurer and polymath, once spent fifty days walking solo in Antarctica with a broken radio. In this meditative, charming and surprisingly powerful book, he explores the power of silence and the importance of shutting out the world. Whether you’re in deep wilderness, taking a shower or on the dance floor, you can experience perfect stillness if you know where to look. And from it grows self-knowledge, gratitude, wonder and much more.

Take a deep breath, and prepare to submerge yourself in Silence. Your own South Pole is out there, somewhere.

Let me start this review with an anecdote.

When I was a little girl living in Fiji, I went to New Zealand for a month during summer holidays. When I returned, I was puzzled by something, other than the obvious, different in the place I lived. A little while later, I realized what I felt so acutely, down to the soles of feet, was the absence of noise. Things seemed quieter in Fiji. There were fewer voices, fewer cars, less white noise. In exchange, your thoughts seemed louder and the place seemed bigger.

In Silence: In the Age of Noise, Erling Kagge ruminates on…well…silence and how it is becoming as endangered as any of the animals human beings have nearly killed out. One of the quotes that he shared and that particularly resonated with me is by the Norwegian author and playwright, Jon Fosse.

Perhaps it’s because silence goes together with wonder, but it also has a kind of majesty to it, yes, like an ocean, or like an endless snowy expense. And whoever does not stand in wonder at this majesty fears it. And that is most likely why many are afraid of silence (and why there is music everywhere, everywhere).

While I can certainly empathize with the feelings of emptiness that silence can sometimes lead to, it is certainly undeniable that unless we are silent, we cannot listen, and if we don’t listen we cannot hear–neither other people who may be talking nor our own thoughts. Like Kagge alludes to, our fear of silence is not just a fear of the majesty but also a fear of ourselves. Simply put, we are afraid what the silence will reveal to us about ourselves.

Kagge leads us through his own experiences with silence and the lack of it in small essays, almost vignettes, that describe his trek through the antarctic, his conversations (or lack of) with his children, and his run-ins with silence. The book is short and quite accessible, demanding nothing from the reader except space and yes silence in which cogitate about the things Kagge discusses.

No matter your relationship to silence, I reckon this book is worth a read.