An environmental studies professor illuminates and celebrates the emergence of the varied sounds of our world. In mammoth ivory flutes from Paleolithic caves, violins in modern concert halls, and electronic music in earbuds, we learn that human music and language belong within a larger story of ecology and evolution, beginning with the origins of animal song and traversing the whole arc of Earth's history.
... [an] exquisite new book ... Haskell’s own joy of discovery makes it irresistible to tune in. The calls of spring peepers pop from his pages and the swamps of upstate New York; the male tree frogs broadcasting not only their location, but their size and health ... Haskell is a deeply nuanced, meditative writer who finds beauty amid the din of exploitation. He celebrates life’s surviving song even as he bears witness to profound sensory loss ... Haskell is spot on that sensory connection can inspire people to care in ways that dry statistics never will. His contention that the songs of katydids and house sparrows could motivate ethical action is at once too fanciful to believe—and too imperative to dismiss ... Haskell has given us a glorious guide to the miracle of life’s sound. He has helped us hear. Will we listen?
Haskell creates a pleasing poetry of nature, his carefully crafted sentences luring readers in for the long haul. Open the book to any page, let your eyes fall on a paragraph, and the feeling is akin to walking the halls of a large university and hearing a professor speak with such passion and knowledge about some otherwise obscure topic that you wander through the open door and take a seat in the last row. Before you know it, hours have passed ... Reading ignites the brain centers associated with listening, Haskell explains, such that we cannot help but 'hear' writing in our head. The physical details of this process might become technical and muddy in the hands of a lesser writer, but Haskell’s voice fills the reader’s auditory pathways with echoes of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Whether describing the human brain or the ways different conifer forests change the voices and crooked beaks of red crossbills in Colorado, compared to those in Washington, Haskell speaks a celebratory poetry of nature. At times it may resemble the cadence familiar to modern ears from the wildlife documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, but Haskell’s voice is unique in contemporary nature writing. 'The Earth’s sounds matter in part because they are ephemeral manifestations of order and narrative,' he writes near the end of the book. The same might be said of the glorious music of Sounds Wild and Broken.
From vibrations picked up by single-celled organisms, to the childlike babbling of newly hatched birds, to the astounding invention of the first human instruments, played in cave chambers selected for their resonance, this tale brims with enchanting facts you won’t believe you never knew. Haskell’s prose is suffused with enthusiasm and poetic in form. The way in which he loads each sentence with information is so animated, it’s fair to say this is a book that would talk with its hands if it could ... Where Sounds Wild and Broken truly glows, however, is in the way it invites readers to imagine the listening experiences of others, breaking down the assumption that we all hear alike. With the long history of sound in his grip, Haskell’s definitions of hearing, communication and song become expansive and inclusive.