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on 7 September 2009
I must confess (if there is any 'confessing' about it) that I have always been a rather silent person myself. Silent in two ways: I both enjoy being in a silent environment (going walking and camping by myself, the lonelier and more desolate the more I like it), and in groups tend to be 'a silent type' as well. But even then, I had never before given this much thought. To me, it was just another aspect of my personality and interests (just as I like bird-watching, or reading, or mountains), and I had no idea there was so much to say about silence and its effects.

But obviously there is a lot to say about silence (and, when you think of it, why shouldn't there be?). Sara Maitland has done a fine job here both in extensively researching what other people have said and written about silence, but also sets out to experience silence in all its shapes and forms herself (like Thoreau, to whom she frequently refers, settling on Walden pond). I couldn't help thinking that - if circumstances were different and, to name but one, I wouldn't be married and father to three (adorable) small children - I could very well have ended up settling on some desolate moor myself.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed this book. At the very least I was always intrigued and curious, at times envious of some of the experiences she had. Inevitably, much of what she writes is personal and subjective (how could it be other?). One of the major reasons why Maitland actively sought (and seeks, I presume) silence is to pray, and if you're not a praying person yourself (such as I), it is sometimes difficult to 'understand' her when she writes about this, or to appreciate the importance she obviously attaches to it. Likewise, on occasion I doubted the validity of some of the statements she makes (for instance when she argues that 'the antisocial, even violent, behaviour in younger people in the West at present must be related to a lack of silence and a lack of training in how to use silence.').

Be that as it may, this is nevertheless still a very thought-provoking book and one that, judging by the other reviewers' comments, comes at the right time and answers a very real need with many people.
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on 28 January 2014
Sara Maitland has spent a good few years now exploring the nature of silence, and this is her summary of her findings so far. One or two reviewers have said that they would prefer her just to concentrate on her own experience, without all the additional material culled from other people. Personally, I was glad to have those other reference points. Prolonged silence is so unfamiliar to most of us that I would hardly have trusted any conclusions drawn from one person alone.

When Maitland is reporting her own experiences of silence, she is honest and enthusiastic. She is clearly not a quiet person, and there is no sense of her escaping into solitude. Instead, she is engagingly eager for the joys silence brings her. I was fascinated by her descriptions of the different kinds of silence found in differing environments, and equally intrigued by the contrast between hermits seeking God in silence and artists seeking inspiration in solitude. Maitland is drawn to both, being a prayerful Christian and a creative writer. Her difficulty in finding both kinds of silence simultaneously leaves the book feeling very unresolved at the end. I don't think that's a weakness; more an indication that her silent life remains a work in progress. I look forward to hearing more from her to see if this tension will be resolved. In the meantime, I was left wanting to find more silence in my own life, which I guess is a testament to this book.
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on 10 February 2011
I enjoyed this book, the author expressed so many of my own views and feelings in a straightforward, sensible manner and the references to other works will lead to further reading. I will read this book again in the future. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who 'wants to be alone' - most people think I'm odd!
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on 22 March 2009
Sara Maitland's affinity with nature, her love of quiet remote places and her true understanding of silence shone through throughout the book and I loved every minute. If you too are a nature lover, enjoy your own company, seek out quiet times and have to an extent rejected the material world I think this book will appeal to you. Written with intelligence, grace and so enormously thought provoking you may decide to change the way you live your life.
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on 15 January 2011
A beautifully written book on that rare topic...silence.
Silence addicts ( I'm one ) will love it. If you think the world ( or that bit of it in which we live) is too noisy, just reading Sara's book is like bathing in total peace and quiet. Inspiring, informative,curious and, for silence devotees, reassuring.
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on 11 December 2013
This book is summed up by the title. Sarah Maitland is developing a style of life which takes into each day periods of silence. She discovers through these a new perspective into living. Her life is enlarged through this. but this is personal to her. She has read widely of other people and their ways of exploring silence. Nearly all have been enriched, but here are also some dangers, and these have to be recognised. Some readers may bring a Christian approach and this can be a valuable adjunct and Sara is a practising Christian but the book is not directly for Christians; it is for the human experience.
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on 20 April 2014
Just occasionally a book makes a little change to the shape of your soul and for me, this was one of those books. Silence is undervalued in this world of ever-increasing noise and Sara Maitland makes a compelling case for it's beauty and benefits. Her descriptions of moors and desertscapes, hallucinations and revelations captivated me and gave form to a hitherto unarticulated yearning for silence and solitude in my own life. I suspect the effects will reverberate down the years as I continue to carve out space for them, spurred on by a deepened understanding of their history, effects and joys.
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on 27 February 2009
The book combines personal experience with research into the meaning and pursuit of silence. This is achieved with a style of writing that is eminently readable. Most people would be happy with periods of 'peace and quiet' in their lives, but the author goes far beyond 'normal' requirements. She pursues the experience of silence with the fervour and zeal of a true scientist; recording her feelings, observations and levels of introspection along the way. Quite why she would want to do this, the author does not explain. As if to support her 'findings' and give balance to her book, the author records the many attempts through history to experience true silence, invariably for religeous reasons. The author records particularly the role of women in this last regard.
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on 31 August 2009
I really loved this book and gained a lot from it.
I found it easy to read, engaging and thought provoking. It covered a massive area and questioned Silence in a number of ways, ways in which I would not even have thought of before reading Sara's book.
I accepted any personal history Sara provided as creating a context for further discussions, enabling Sara to relay her own experience in integrating more silence into her life, and why. In today's society with the need to generate independent income and maintain even a simple standard of living, I am intrigued as to the day to day minutiae of life with this amount of silence, and the domestic aspects descibed were really interesting!
Thanks for this - I shall certainly read more of Sara's books.
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on 16 November 2014
A writer recounts her explorations into the nature of silence and the conflict between the social and inner worlds for those trying to add more silence to their lives.

Maitland doesn't hold back. In tones that alternate between bravery and stubbornness, she questions her own motives in retiring from a large part of the social world. She also demonstrates reasonable objectivity when detailing the benefits and possible dangers of a life spent in silence.

I would warn potential readers that Maitland is a lover of primary and secondary sources. She's a scholar as well as a writer. The historical and philosophical discussion can get dense, even turgid in spots. Chapter four, Silence and the Gods, is especially challenging in this respect. And chapter six, Desert Hermits, required a real effort to absorb. I'm incapable of ignoring a footnote, so I spent a lot of time flipping to the back of the book.

A BOOK OF SILENCE is a fascinating look at the contemplative life by a woman who struggles to put her ideals into practice in a society that doesn't particularly value introspection. It isn't an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one.
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