I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

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Overview

An investigation into the science of hearing, child language acquisition, neuroplasticity, brain development, and Deaf culture. 

A mother notices her toddler is not learning to talk the way his brothers did… Is something wrong?  Her search for answers is a journey into the mysteries of the human brain.

Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing ...

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I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

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Overview

An investigation into the science of hearing, child language acquisition, neuroplasticity, brain development, and Deaf culture. 

A mother notices her toddler is not learning to talk the way his brothers did… Is something wrong?  Her search for answers is a journey into the mysteries of the human brain.

Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. Her sweet boy with the big brown eyes had probably never heard her lullabies.

Denworth knew the importance of enrichment to the developing brain but had never contemplated the opposite: Deprivation.  How would a child’s brain grow outside the world of sound most of us take for granted? How would he communicate?  Would he learn to read and write—weren’t phonics a key to literacy? How long did they have until Alex’s brain changed irrevocably? In her drive to understand the choices—starting with the angry debate between supporters of American Sign Language and the controversial but revolutionary cochlear implant—Denworth soon found that every decision carried weighty scientific, social and even political implications.  As she grappled with the complex collisions between the emerging field of brain plasticity, the possibilities of modern technology, and the changing culture of the Deaf community, she gained a new appreciation of the exquisite relationship between sound, language and learning.  It became clear that Alex’s ears—and indeed everyone’s—were just the beginning.

An acclaimed science journalist as well as a mother, Denworth interviewed the world’s experts on language development, inventors of ground-breaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists at the frontiers of research.  She presents insights from studies of everything from at-risk kids in Head Start to noisy cocktail party conversation, from songbirds to signal processing, and from the invention of the telephone to sign language.

Weaving together tales from the centuries-long quest to develop the cochlear implant and simultaneous leaps in neuroscientific knowledge against a tumultuous backdrop of identity politics, I Can Hear You Whisper shows how sound sculpts our children’s brains and the life changing consequences of that delicate process. 

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The author of this book about human hearing is a former Newsweek journalist and People London bureau chief, but her topic wasn't a reportorial assignment: When her toddler son was two, he was diagnosed with profound and progressive hearing loss. I Can Hear You Whisper interweaves her personal story as a loving mother with a detailed, yet accessible account of the evolving science of hearing and the development of cochlear implants. A "memoir plus" with major crossover potential.

Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
In this moving and informative book, former Newsweek reporter Denworth recounts her emotional and intellectual quest to help her deaf infant son hear. Throughout, she recreates the emotional highs and lows of the boy’s journey. Among the many luminous moments is a moving description of Denworth’s onset of sadness before her son’s cochlear implant surgery: “In the predawn darkness of a December morning,” she writes, “I watched Alex sleeping in his crib for a moment and gently ran my fingers along the side of his sweet head just above his ear. In a few hours, that spot would be forever changed by a piece of hardware.” Denworth balances such scenes with well-researched glimpses into the labs of researchers and doctors trying to understand the mechanics of the rich human aural experience. Of particular interest are the passages in which she explores brain plasticity, a potential explanation for why our still-primitive cochlear implants work at all: humans’ pliable brains adjust to, and improve on, the machines. “I began to understand that the brain was in there, that there was a miracle in play here,” she quotes one cochlear implant researcher. This is a book that parents, particularly of deaf children, may find indispensable. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Praise for I Can Hear You Whisper

"Writing with clarity and style, Denworth serves as a capable guide to a world that few with full hearing are fully aware of...A skilled science translator, Denworth makes decibels, teslas and brain plasticity understandable to all." - Washington Post

"In this moving and informative book, former Newsweek reporter Denworth recounts her emotional and intellectual quest to help her deaf infant son hear. [...] This is a book that parents, particularly of deaf children, may find indispensable." - Publishers Weekly

"All parents will recognize the moments of both terror and pride that mark the journey; parents of deaf children will garner both information and insights." - Kirkus Reviews

"I Can Hear You Whisper is a triptych of reportage, popular science, and memoir. As reportage into the controversy surrounding cochlear implants it's both timely and rigorous, though Denworth admits her own pro-implant bias. As popular science, it's enthralling, offering a window into the latest research into perception, language, and the weaving of conscious awareness. As a memoir it is tender and involving; accompanying Denworth and her son on their journey, and imagining making the same journey with my own children, I was often deeply moved." — The New York Review of Books

"Eloquently explains how hearing works...An excellent book for anyone with deafness in the family or with a desire to better understand how people hear, why hearing loss occurs, and how it is treated." - Booklist

“Lydia Denworth has written a beautiful book that combines superb scientific reporting with powerful and deeply enjoyable storytelling. Her quest to acquire every shred of knowledge she can to help her deaf son is an odyssey that all parents who worry about their children (i.e. all parents) can intimately relate to. Her discoveries about the workings of language and the intricacies of brain development will change the way you think about hearing, speaking, and selfhood. And her fascinating exploration of the politics of deaf identity is sure to spark a larger conversation about how we talk about, think about, and treat children with special needs in our time.” —Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

“Read this if you have ears or ever interact with humans. What a moving and brilliant tour of the scientific, emotional and political landscape of hearing impairment. As a reader, I'm grateful to Lydia Denworth. As a writer, I'm jealous.” —David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us and The Forgetting

“Denworth provides a lucid, engaging, and thoughtful description of the science of hearing. If you are interested in hearing, speech, and language —as a parent, educator, clinician, or scientist—this book fills an important gap and is a terrific read. Careful about the science and sensitive to the psychological complexities, Denworth provides a masterful account of the path from ear to the brain, from sounds to words.” —David Poeppel, Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, New York University

“Lydia Denworth’s beautiful personal account and thorough investigation connect the dots between her son’s hearing loss, the essential import of spoken language on the developing brain, and what parents, doctors, and teachers can gain from a deeper understanding of how the mind acquires language.” —Dana Suskind, MD, Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago and Director of The Thirty Million Words Initiative

I Can Hear You Whisper is both an affecting and searching personal story and a fascinating job of science reporting, specifically the science of audiology—how we hear, why some of us don't, and how an amazing, but controversial, technology was invented. Lydia Denworth’s son Alex, the beautiful boy at the center of the personal story, is lucky to have a mother like her. The rest of us are lucky to have such a perceptive, lucid, and touching book.” —Richard Bernstein, author of A Girl Named Faithful Plum

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Science writer Denworth understands the importance of hearing to the developing brain, so she agreed to a cochlear implant (a controversial new technology) when she learned that son Alex suffered from profound and progressive hearing loss. You know Denworth from MSNBC's The Cycle.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-06
A science journalist and mother of a child born with a congenital deformity of the inner ear brings both perspectives to bear on this account of her journey into the science of hearing and the world of the deaf. Former Newsweek and People journalist Denworth's (Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead, 2009) third son, Alex, was given a cochlear implant shortly before turning 3. That procedure, along with a hearing aid in his other ear, has enabled him to live and function well in the world of the hearing. The author based the decision on a clear understanding of what the consequences of not doing so would mean for Alex. Denworth employs her skills as a researcher to tell the story of early attempts to help the deaf. She visited the laboratories of neuroscientists studying the brain to understand how it processes sound, interviewed doctors, consulted surgeons and listened to educators at Gallaudet University, where communication occurs primarily through American Sign Language. Occasionally, the details get overly technical, but for the most part, Denworth understands how to keep readers engaged; for clarity, she includes a couple of line drawings of the ear, an implant and the brain. The Deaf community, choosing to regard deafness as a "difference" rather than a "disability," has at times voiced fierce opposition to the use of cochlear implants, especially in young children, arguing that it removes children from the world of Deaf culture while not granting them full entry into the world of the hearing. The language of opponents has sometimes been harsh, with words like "genocide" occasionally used, but Denworth pulls back from the controversy. She learned to sign, acknowledging its value, but there is no doubt that she believes she has made the right choice in bringing her child into the wider world of spoken language. All parents will recognize the moments of both terror and pride that mark the journey; parents of deaf children will garner both information and insights.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525953791
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/17/2014
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 329,440
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lydia Denworth

LYDIA DENWORTH is a former Newsweek reporter, London bureau chief at People, and professor of journalism at Fordham. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Child, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and other publications. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted March 21, 2015

    A great book!

    Even though I haven’t finished reading it yet, I am glad that Lydia Denworth did the research and wrote it. When I was born, deafness meant deaf and dumb, and that’s how it was left with me. No one bothered to talk to me—or they were told not to. All I will say now, is that I made it through life in spite of how I started out.

    Yes, I wish someone had helped me; I do hope others are helped. It’s interesting that just a couple of days before I found out about the book, I had said I can’t hear whispering, I have never been able to hear someone whispering to me.

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  • Posted September 30, 2014

    I Can Hear You Whisper is a thoroughly researched, beautifully w

    I Can Hear You Whisper is a thoroughly researched, beautifully written and very engaging account of the physiology of hearing, brain plasticity, deaf culture and a mother’s pursuit to both understand and help her son, Alex.   Denworth provides a wonderful balance between the science and the complex history of deafness, on the one hand, and her own family’s struggle to grasp what it means to deal with a child’s severe hearing impairments, on the other.   Denworth has assembled a fascinating and detailed account of the development of the Cochlear implant both from a scientific standpoint as well as the controversy it caused within the deaf community.  Indeed, one of the many unexpected treasures in this book is a history of deaf culture and what it means to identify as deaf in a hearing world.  Through superb storytelling and an excellent grasp of the underlying science, the book explores the many aspects of brain development and language.   One of her many gifts as an author is to sift through enormous amounts of material (both written research and dozens of interviews) and assemble a clear, understandable and fascinating explanation of the science of language and how hearing affects so many aspects of how we learn.     At its heart though this book is a wonderfully inspiring story of a mother’s love for her son and her quest to help him.  And what’s a better read than a love story with a happy ending?

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