We tend to think of revolutions as loud: frustrations and demands shouted in the streets. But the ideas fueling them have traditionally been conceived in much quieter spaces, in the small, secluded corners where a vanguard can whisper among themselves, imagine alternate realities, and deliberate about how to achieve their goals. This book is a search for those spaces, over centuries and across continents, and a warning that—in a world dominated by social media—they might soon go extinct.
Its title notwithstanding, The Quiet Before crackles with noise: Chartist orators whipping up support for suffrage... Futurist manifesto-shouters...white supremacists chanting ... But Gal Beckerman’s elegantly argued and exuberantly narrated book also features quieter groups whose conversations, he demonstrates, eat away at the underpinnings of established authority ... What gives Beckerman’s book its appealing freshness is his focus on the vehicles of communication themselves ... This is not least because his episodes are humanized by vivid biographical vignettes of the founders, each framed at a critical moment in their outreach to the potentially like-minded ... As brilliant as Beckerman often is on the makers and sustainers of these networks, he is less satisfying on (or perhaps just less interested in) the eventual upshot of their efforts, doubtless because so many of them ended in frustration ... [The] book (white supremacists aside) is full of genuinely moving scenes of prelapsarian innocence, catching the networkers in the bright dawn of their community-making.
Like other works on the 'smart thinking' shelf that swing between cultural history and how-to manual, The Quiet Before scavenges past events and present trends on a pattern-seeking quest ... To his credit, Beckerman puts a much less instrumental spin on his disparate material as he advocates for 'built-in slowness' ... Beckerman...chooses historical examples with an intriguingly eccentric eye. It widens his horizons but scrambles any simple message ... With the internet, The Quiet Before finds a more consistent line ... The Quiet Before can’t offer any fail-safe recipe for slow-cooked innovation. It can help readers to imagine — and join — a better kind of conversation in the kitchen of ideas.
Beckerman’s wide range is impressive and makes The Quiet Before the most original book I’ve read in a long time ... Beckerman’s analysis of the Tahrir events is right as far as it goes, but it is also disappointingly limited. An enormous amount has been written about the so-called Arab Spring by Western observers, Arab journalists, and participants; Beckerman adds little that is new. And though he briefly mentions Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, formed in 2008 to support striking workers, he ignores years of political organizing by farmers, civil servants, students, and neighborhood activists. The Quiet Before is a study of radical movements’ antecedents; here the author gives them short shrift.