some reviews for Zero Decibels

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, March 2010: "The author's quixotic quest is quirky, inventive and alluring, and readers everywhere whose auditory nerves are rattled by the shriek of car horns or babies will readily identify." 

From the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, May 26 2010: "Foy is the most self-revelatory. ... He admits that his “lust for silence is only the point man for a platoon of other worries.” The reader can’t help being impressed by how many quiet places fail to provide the real quiet he seeks. Not his bath tub, not the commercial isolation tank, not the catacombs beneath Paris, not Joseph Pulitzer’s sound-insulated bedroom on the Upper East Side, not a mine shaft 7,000 feet below the surface of Ontario — all of these have some noise, often a tinge of the urban hum he refers to as “monster breath.” Only enclosure in a special “anechoic” chamber at a lab in Minneapolis brings him close to what he’s after, but even there Foy hears something (does it come from his own body?) and wonders if true silence is findable. 
(The book) had me saying, “I know just what you mean,” within the first few pages … it was a moment, described in the first paragraphs of “Zero Decibels,” that took place on the uptown platform of the Broadway local at the 79th Street station. A perfect storm of subway noise enveloped him when all four trains (two express and two local) screamed through the station at the same time. He put his hands over his ears “and screwed my face into the scrunched expression of a root-canal patient. I usually despise people who do that on subway platforms, . . . who cough if someone is smoking across the street, who wear cardigans and bicycle clips; for God’s sake, if you’re so delicate, move to an ashram! But here I was doing the same thing.”

FROM BOOKLIST, March 23, 2010Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence. Foy, George Michelsen May 2010. 208 p. Scribner, hardcover,  $22.00  Foy’s thinking about quietude began where it never exists: the New York City subway. With an audiometer, he measured the decibels of its deafening cacophony in addition to levels in his apartment, the street, and the former mansion of Joseph Pulitzer, who hated noise. So acting as empiricist, Foy deployed his gadget everywhere he went for this book, including a space shuttle launch and a Cistercian monastery in France; but acting as a writer, Foy explored variegated aspects of silence. He studied evolutionary explanations for humans’ acuity of hearing; he queried scientists who research the physics of sound; he spoke with members of cultural groups that prize silence over conversation; and he sorted through philosophers and authors who valued quiet. As part of his sound project, Foy also moved his family away from Manhattan’s ambient clamor to quieter yet still audible Massachusetts, where no remission was found from the modern world’s relentless aural assault from televisions, cell phones, and irate drivers. Foy’s is an adventurous and perceptively ruminative investigation of acoustical annoyances. 


first reviews, Finding North

From OUTSIDE MAGAZINE, May 2016: [Foy] first ventures across the world to explore our greatest, or most mysterious, navigational accomplishments. This includes visiting a Greek temple that might’ve been the headquarters of a secret navigational cult and sailing on an overcrowded Haitian cargo sloop to observe the use of old navigation techniques he’ll use on his own journey. In one chapter, Foy travels to London to try and understand the cognitive capacity of cabbies, who have to memorize over 23,000 streets, and every practical route to and from each one. His interest is so piqued that he enrolls in a taxi training class. While navigating the streets himself, Foy recalls living in London as a younger man, eating kidney pie in the cafes and watching people rush by. “You learn that our navigation centers are also our memory centers,” he told me. “Since our memories are tied to feelings, they plot the position of emotions.” 
Some of Foy’s strongest moments happen when he taps into that internal map, through his own personal, sensory-based history with a particular place. He’s a great storyteller, which comes in especially handy when he sets out to learn what happened to his great-great-grandfather 171 years ago.

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, April 2016: Foy (Zero Decibels) ruminates on the primal skill of navigation and its metaphysical links to human nature while investigating the final voyage of his great-great grandfather Capt. Halvor Michelsen, who was lost at sea in 1844. Resolving to reenact Michelsen's final voyage, Foy begins with general research into navigation, traveling to the Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, which controls America's GPS system, and the Royal Institute of Navigation in London. He visits the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University of London, where he learns that the hippocampus, which governs our navigational abilities, also governs memory. This leads Foy to the philosophical revelation that "human identity equals memory; memory equals navigation; human identity therefore equals navigation." He spends some time discussing failures of the GPS system and continually muses on the perils of relying on machine-based navigation. He finally comes to the realization that navigation begins with loss: "Living, no matter how much it hurts, comes down to losing landmarks... and then striving to find where we are again." Deep waters and deep thoughts fill these pages. With skillful prose and insight, Foy's account of the different aspect of navigation packs a powerful punch, especially when he embarks on his own voyage at sea. 

From OCEAN NAVIGATOR, May 2016: "Finding North is both a fascinating and sobering look at how partaking of the fruit of easy GPS navigation may be changing ourselves in ways we don’t fully realize." 

From KIRKUS REVIEWS, March 2016: "The author's work is most successful at its most visceral: the feeling of 'slaloming around lobster trap buoys, like a plane lost in clouds,' or the sight of lifejackets 'hung like orange fruit in the rigging.' Armchair sailors will enjoy the vicarious thrills of Foy's journeys, and even those with no intention of abandoning their smartphones will find something to ponder in his speculations about the challenges of gadget-free navigation."

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