In this remarkable history, critically acclaimed and award-winning author Jane Brox examines the institution of silence from monastic communion with God to the punitive isolation of inmates. With precision and grace, SILENCE explores the use of silence as both a threat and a tool over time, and our often-fraught relationship with communication and solitude as it has evolved in our digital lives.

Brox starts in 12th century Provence when Cistercian monks took vows of silence to achieve stillness and profound meditation. The story continues as this monastic tradition, along with European concepts of prison reform and the American Enlightenment, gave 19th century social reformers high hopes for the capacity of silence to redeem and rehabilitate at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Through moments of subtle, heart-stopping tension, Brox reveals how this heritage has led us into an age in which peaceful, transformative quiet is increasingly difficult to come by.


Jane Brox is the author of four other books: BRILLIANT: The Evolution of Artificial Light (one of Time Magazine’s top ten nonfiction books of 2010); CLEARING LAND: Legacies of the American Farm (in 2004 a Best Book of the Year: Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution); FIVE THOUSAND DAYS LIKE THIS ONE, (a 1999 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction); and HERE AND NOWHERE ELSE (awarded the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award). She has received the New England Book Award for nonfiction, and her essays have appeared in many anthologies including Best American Essays, The Norton Book of Nature Writing, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She has been awarded grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Maine Arts Commission. She lives in Brunswick, Maine.