“Lennard Davis is impressed by a compendious account of all the ways the hearing world has tried to put Deaf people right”
“Virdi has written a landmark study in the history of technology: one that shows in powerfully specific and deeply personal ways how technologies construct social norms and mold the way we live. Her nuanced account of the history of technologies designed to ‘cure’ the way that certain people experience the world is a powerful testament to the need for people from marginalized groups to have a seat at the table when technological fixes are proffered by tech corporations and the medical establishment.
author of Programmed Inequality Mar Hicks
A well-rounded history of deafness and its associated pseudo-curative “quackery.”
In an effective amalgam of research and memoir, Virdi astutely traces hearing loss treatments and attitudes from the mid-1800s through the modern era. She also incorporates her personal struggles with deafness throughout her life, which lends the narrative a sense of depth and intimacy beyond the more clinical analysis. The author describes how she became gravely ill with nearly fatal bacterial meningitis at age 4 while her family was living in Kuwait. The illness rendered her deaf. For Virdi, the physical, social, and cultural struggles of being deaf became a strange new world populated by clunky analog hearing aids and stigmatized labeling. Being initially misclassified as hearing-impaired instead of profoundly deaf, Virdi experienced struggles with identity formation throughout her early years and into young adulthood. Digging into archival histories, the author explores the early use of restorative diets, acoustic instrumentation such as ear trumpets, artificial eardrums (“an attractive alternative to awkward and bulky acoustic aids”), and other ostensible treatments, including many unconventional, usually ineffective “cure-all” therapies. The text advances onward to more progressive technology like custom-fit hearing aids and cochlear implants, which provided helpful treatment even as hoax cures continued to proliferate. The author is most engaging when she graphically illustrates these oddly fascinating medical and technological treatments administered to hearing-impaired patients. Even readers with a casual interest in audiology and the cloaked cultural strictures of audism will find Virdi’s meticulous research and honest evaluation commendable; some may even wish for more of the author’s journey. Her multifaceted narrative offers both a personal and historical perspective on the plight of the deaf and how modern technological advancements usher in new possibilities. Virdi enhances the text with vintage photos and ads for a variety of products and “fanciful fads.”
A sweeping chronology of human deafness fortified with the author’s personal struggles and triumphs. (b/w illustrations)
Hearing Happiness is a must read for a broad audience interested in modern U.S. history, histories of medicine, technology, science, disability and deaf culture, and Disability and Deaf Studies. Virdi draws the reader in through a combination of masterful narrative, storytelling, and humor. Written in accessible prose, interwoven with the familiar from the broader tapestry of U.S. history, this text is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate courses. Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History is a stunning masterpiece of historical scholarship."
"Informative and engaging."
In part a critical memoir of her own life, this archival tour de force centers on d/Deafness, and, specifically, the obsessive search for a “cure”… This survey of cure and its politics, framed by disability studies, allows readerseither for the first time or as a stunning example in the fieldto think about how notions of remediation are leveraged against the most vulnerable.
Hearing Happiness is as much a personal memoir as it is a contribution to science, technology, and the history of medicine in North America from roughly the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.
Hearing Happiness provides so much surprising and interesting historical information, as well as many answers about audism, the history of technology, and our perception of hearing loss. Virdi’s personal story is moving, and her research takes us on all kinds of trips back in time. Fascinating.
author of 2019 National Book Award finalist Deaf R Ilya Kaminsky
Everyone needs to read this fascinating history of hearing loss, technology, medicine, and audism. In examining deafness cures and sharing her own personal story, Virdi reveals society’s ever-evolving processes in creating and enforcing normalcy.
founder and director of Disability Visibility Alice Wong
"The most striking thing about Virdi’s book is how it confirms that hearing loss isn’t a minor annoyance that afflicts a few people. Rather, with tremendous archival work, she shows us that, over the past three centuries, Anglo-American culture has been virtually obsessed with trying to cure deafness."
Poetically weaving her own experiences as a deaf person into a history of hearing loss, Virdi makes a compelling argument that deafness is as much a cultural construct as it is a physical phenomenon. Rigorously researched and eminently readable,
Hearing Happiness is packed with historical gems that will fascinate any reader.
author of 'The Butchering Art' Lindsey Fitzharris
Told with clarity and compassion, Virdi’s moving story will resonate with any reader seeking to understand what it truly is like to be deaf in the US."
"Offers a well-illustrated history of the marketing of hearing aids, particularly in North America. The material proves to be remarkably rich, and also rather troubling. . . . An enlightening book."
Times Literary Supplement
In her insightful book, Virdi probes how society perceives deafness and challenges the idea that a disability is a deficit. . . . [She] powerfully demonstrates how cures for deafness pressure individuals to change, to ‘be better’.
"This unique book combines autobiography with broader history. Virdi traces her own personal history along with the history of treatments, assistive devices, and attempted cures for deafness in the U.S. from the 1860s to the present."
Hearing Happiness provides a welcome extended view of the medical-technological impetus to“fix” deafness, revealing an unsettling historical continuity concerning the perversities and shortcomings of deafness cures over the last two centuries. For this, Hearing Happiness is a resounding success, exploring the deep ambivalences that often arise from normalization projects and their attendant medical technologies."
ISIS: A Journal of the History of Science Society
Hearing Happiness… gives us analytical tools to be able to write history and political tools to investigate how illness, abnormality or disability is created in today’s society.”
"I always love reading books by deaf authors who grew up mainstream like me. If you want to learn about mainstreamed deaf people and the medical mysteries of deafness and its history, read this book! Virdi shares lots of fascinating information that I never knew before."
Youtuber and deaf activist Rikki Poynter
"Virdi’s book offers an educational and personal exploration of the cultural history for treatment of deafness. She provides an engrossing examination of the remedies and ministrations that display the spectrum of diversity within the deaf community. Virdi’s research proffers a strong voice for every person who is impacted by the inability to hear."
"An innovative and engaging historical study of deafness cures,
Hearing Happiness details the complex relationship between deaf people, technology industries, medical specialists and consumer culture. . . .This refreshingly accessible work will likely become a durable historical resource inside and outside of classrooms."
Social History of Medicine
Hearing Happiness is smart, captivating, and immensely important. We can only grow as a society when we listen to the people we’ve placed on the fringes of it. Deaf people don’t need curesthey deserve respect and support. If you want to be a person on the front lines of necessary change, start with this book!
creator of #DisabledAndCute and author of The Pret Keah Brown
"[Virdi] guides us through the history of deafness cures as both a historian immersed in the archive as well as a deaf woman with her own experiences navigating today’s landscape of treatments and so-called cures. It’s a special gift for a history like this. Virdi is interested in the efficacy of various deafness cures only inasmuch as they demonstrate the huge variety of choices and experiences deaf and hard of hearing people have had in navigating a hearing world. That is, this is not a book about debunking quackery. It is something much more interesting: a history of who makes decisions about what is normal, who is designated impaired or disabled, who determines such criteria, and how people who experience different types of hearing loss have understood their own bodies and identities."
Virdi has written a landmark study in the history of technology: one that shows in powerfully specific and deeply personal ways how technologies construct social norms and mold the way we live. Her nuanced account of the history of technologies designed to ‘cure’ the way that certain people experience the world is a powerful testament to the need for people from marginalized groups to have a seat at the table when technological fixes are proffered by tech corporations and the medical establishment.
author of 'Programmed Inequality' Mar Hicks
“ Hearing Happiness is a spell-binding book of research and stories. . . . In positioning her own story so centrally to the book, Virdi consolidates the power of her argument, and it operates as a political intervention into deafness as well as being a brilliant contribution to the historiography of deafness.