Of Sound Mind
How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World
- Selected as NPR's Book of the Day
- 2022 PROSE Award Winner, Biomedicine
- Winner of the Gold Award, Science and Cosmology, Nautilus, 2022
How sound leaves a fundamental imprint on who we are.
Making sense of sound is one of the hardest jobs we ask our brains to do. In Of Sound Mind, Nina Kraus examines the partnership of sound and brain, showing for the first time that the processing of sound drives many of the brain's core functions. Our hearing is always on—we can't close our ears the way we close our eyes—and yet we can ignore sounds that are unimportant. We don't just hear; we engage with sounds. Kraus explores what goes on in our brains when we hear a word—or a chord, or a meow, or a screech.
Our hearing brain, Kraus tells us, is vast. It interacts with what we know, with our emotions, with how we think, with our movements, and with our other senses. Auditory neurons make calculations at one-thousandth of a second; hearing is the speediest of our senses. Sound plays an unrecognized role in both healthy and hurting brains. Kraus explores the power of music for healing as well as the destructive power of noise on the nervous system. She traces what happens in the brain when we speak another language, have a language disorder, experience rhythm, listen to birdsong, or suffer a concussion. Kraus shows how our engagement with sound leaves a fundamental imprint on who we are. The sounds of our lives shape our brains, for better and for worse, and help us build the sonic world we live in.
“Nina Kraus is a brilliant communicator in her explorations of music and the brain. Of Sound Mind is an engaging and entertaining read. With lively analogies and diagrams, the book is accessible for those just getting their 'ears' wet, but has much to offer for musicians and researchers as well.”
Renée Fleming, soprano and arts and health advocate
“A highly informative and clearly written book: Kraus's enthusiasm for the understanding of the place of sound in our world is infectious. She shows us just how deeply sound, and in particular music, is intertwined in the brain with everything else that makes us who we are: how it can harm and how it can heal. I know of nothing quite like it.”
Iain McGilchrist, Consultant Psychiatrist and author of The Master and His Emissary
“One of the most beautiful, evocative, illuminating books ever written about how what we hear shapes who we are. I never wanted this book to end.”
Maryanne Wolf, University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World
“”Fascinating, clarifying and personal—this simple-to-read, science-based description of hearing will change the way you listen. Bravo!”
Gordon Hempton, author of One Square Inch of Silence
“A startling work. Sound and rhythm are fundamental mysteries of the universe, and this book connects the dots. What does sound have to do with our daily lives? How does it connect us to the world? How can we understand the power of music and why it sends a chill up our spine? As a lover of sound and the science of sound, Nina Kraus makes the case that the world is sound.”
Mickey Hart, musicologist and drummer for the Grateful Dead
“This is really a book that only Kraus could write, but everyone should read. It will change the way we think about—and value—our sonic experiences, from background noise and everyday sounds to spoken word and music. From infancy to aging, it's all here, and narrated beautifully with personal stories and anecdotes from her own musical and scientific life.”
Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music
“With eyes closed and not seeing, while exhaling and not smelling, we hear. Hearing never takes a break. So our relationship with sound is complicated, our brain filtering and selecting, turning the volume up and down, creating meaning and vivid memories. This is the best book I've seen about what sound is—and what sound means to us.”
Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace
"Popular science has mostly ignored our most important sense perception: hearing. That's because sound is so ephemeral, ubiquitous and invisible. Neuroscientist Nina Kraus hasn't allowed that to bother her one bit—and she has duly produced a book that amazes and delights in its clear descriptions of how jiggling air molecules shape every aspect of us from intelligence to mood to physical health and more. Rejecting the antique notion of a 'hearing center' in the brain, Kraus explains that auditory regions are cabled to brain regions that process feelings and emotions, memories, thoughts, sensations of reward—and that a continuous feedback loop between these areas is what gives rise to speech, music and (dig this) our difficulty tasting salty and sweet in noisy environments. Just when I thought the book couldn't get any more interesting, I learned why we know that plants hear: they release their pollen only when they perceive the most advantageously pollen-spreading bee-buzz frequency. If that doesn't convince you of the evolutionary importance of music and hearing, nothing will!"
John Colapinto, author of This is the Voice and As Nature Made Him
"Of Sound Mind by Nina Kraus explains how our brain constructs a meaningful sonic world and shows for the first time that the processing of sound can drive many of the brain's core functions."
"Drawing on hard science and exuberant appreciation, Of Sound Mind examines why we love music, how we make words, and what we mean when we say, 'It's good to hear your voice.' It also, significantly, advocates for creating our own healthy sonic environments, to 'allow sound to change us for the better.'"
"This is a must-read for anyone who is a musician or who has a fascination with how our own bodies work—or both. Put it on your to-read list; you won't be disappointed."
"Why returning to pre-pandemic noise levels can be harmful for plants and animals." Read an op-ed from Nina Kraus in the LA Times
“Of Sound Mind is heartfelt and rigorous in its exploration of the power of sound”
“Of Sound Mind is strongly recommended to any reader”
“Of Sound Mind offers a deeply scientific yet often poetic look at the hearing brain and provides an in-depth narrative about why such explorations are important. The expertly rendered illustrations by Katie Shelly that accompany the text make complex processes easy to understand; their cartoonlike quality make science seem familiar, friendly, easy to access....Ms. Kraus's greatest triumph is in making the invisible visible, in vividly rendering those vibrations of air through the medium of her words and reminding us to pause and listen."
Wall Street Journal