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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in Silence by Stephen Kurczy

I was most intrigued by Kurczy's exploration of the National Radio Quiet Zone and the nearby military facility, but the book felt a little disjointed to me when he delved into some of the regional goings-on that weren't seemingly related to the main topic.

Around the country, the tourism bureau had begun distributing a new brochure that read:

"Welcome to the National Radio Quiet Zone. 13,000 square miles of land, federally protected from artificial radio wave interference, where the secrets of the universe can be revealed by the world's largest steerable radio telescope at the Green Bank Observatory. Meaning no cell service. No Wi-Fi. Just you, your family, and our grand outdoors. Find your peace."

Technology in Green Bank, West Virginia, is not allowed by law--unless you're working in the Green Bank Observatory. Astronomers there use cutting-edge technology to search the stars--while everyone in the area is barred from using devices whose radio frequencies might interfere with scientific study. That means no cell phones, no iPads, and no constant connectivity. At least on paper.

"You do have a cellphone that works, correct?" Linda asked.

I shook my head.

"You don't have a fucking cellphone?" Thompson said. Even he had a cellphone, just no data plan because money was tight. "Really?"

By exploring an area of rural Appalachia where cell phone signals and Wi-Fi are banned, journalist Stephen Kurczy considers one of the few places in the United States where technology purportedly does not rule society.

But not everyone who comes to Green Bank finds the quiet they're searching for. And many Green Bank locals don't want to abide by the Quiet Zone rules at all--and don't. In fact, Kurczy finds that he seems to be one of a distinct minority in the region who is not carrying a cell phone and hooked up to Wi-Fi.

I had to come to Green Bank on the presumption that the less connected life was richer--which seemed to be bearing itself out. But I was also staring down a rabbit hole of alien hunters, government spies, and Wi-Fi refugees.

I was interested in the various links and synergistic relationship between the observatory and a nearby military facility, and I was most hooked on the way The Quiet Zone illustrates the contradictions and complications of the seemingly idyllic, forced radio silence in the area.

But by the time Kurczy dug into some of the most alarming real-life characters from the Green Bank community (including the doctor who once dressed as a clown--the person the Robin Williams-starring movie Patch Adams was based upon--and members of a well-known hate group that has taken root on a mountaintop in the area), the book began to feel a little disjointed.

Yet Kurczy's nonfiction explores the treasure of a promise of quiet in a world largely filled with noise, stimulation, information, images, and constant input, and I found the early sections of the book particularly compelling.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you like nonfiction books, you might like the titles on the Greedy Reading List Six Compelling Nonfiction Reads.


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