Volume Control: A Book About Hearing From New Yorker Staff Writer David Owen

January 12, 2022
Blake Cadwell
Written by
Blake Cadwell
Soundly Staff
Reviewed by
Soundly Staff

I've known that I had hearing loss for the better part of two decades, but it wasn't until 2020 that I decided to pursue treatment. Like most people, I started searching online and realized just how much I didn't know about my ears.

That first Google search led me down a long rabbit trail of research, conversations with experts, and ultimately this website.

In the middle of one of my information binges, someone recommended reading Volume Control by David Owen.

David is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has been recognized as one of America's 50 funniest writers. An aspirational title for the dad jokester in me.  

When I spoke to David in late 2021, he described himself as kind of an anti expert. Instead of playing insider, he likes to be an outsider and ask all the questions no one else will.

David has written more than a dozen books on topics ranging from high school (he spent four months pretending to be a high school student as research) to golf and sustainable living. He told me that he once let someone shoot him point-blank while he wore a bulletproof vest.

Truly the kind of guy you want to get a beer with.

Volume Control is well researched and decidedly no-nonsense. I listened to the book on Audible and finished the 288 pages of content in a week. David brings his tenacious, relatable, and sometimes humorous style to this topic that affects millions of Americans every day but doesn’t often get talked about.

He shared that he wasn't entirely sure what sound was when he began the project.

The book opens by talking about soundwaves and breaking them down in understandable terms.

Volume Control ventures into the biology of the ear with a few chapters dedicated to how our brain and ears interact. Throughout the book, David shares present-day and historical examples of hearing loss to illustrate the experience that so many have every day.

Of course, the book also explores the sprawling and quickly changing world of hearing health.

David spent time at top hearing aid manufacturers, audiologists, and industry disruptors.

It's in this section that David's outsider status shows. The book doesn't concern itself with industry politics and gives a direct and unapologetic report of the hearing health landscape.

Don't read Volume Control for the latest products or industry news (it's likely already outdated) but do read it if you want to understand the science behind sound, your ears, and the broad dynamics of hearing healthcare.

Other top reviews of Volume Control.

“[Volume Control] is the best primer I’ve ever read on sound and hearing, and full of advice for people of any age to consider. . . . [Owen] gives us a wonderful insight into the world of the hard of hearing and deaf.” —Wall Street Journal

“An informative, sympathetic and eye-opening book.” —AARP

“he makes earwax interesting. . . . The book brims with useful advice.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Owen's writing and thinking about the nature of ears, sounds, and communication are lively. . . . Volume Control will remain relevant for decades to come.” —Pacific Standard

“Timely and informative. . . . This well-researched and accessible introduction to the complicated subject of hearing loss is highly recommended for all science readers, not just those experiencing hearing impairments.” —Library Journal

“Accessible and surprisingly entertaining. . . this work addresses an important issue for the growing pool of aging baby boomers.” —Booklist

“Owen, a New Yorker staff writer, wrestles with the complexities of the human ear in this informative…illuminating account of human hearing.” —Publishers Weekly

“In Volume Control David Owen brings his superb skills as a reporter and storyteller to the increasingly urgent issue of hearing loss. The baby-boomers are aging—and so are their ears. Fortunately, and probably because of this demographic trend, both science and commerce are at last paying attention to this invisible but epidemic problem. Owen is an erudite and entertaining guide not only to the new technologies that make hearing aids better and more affordable, but to the myriad byways and curiosities he encounters in his research.” —Katherine Bouton, author of Smart Hearing and Shouting Won't Help

“David Owen aptly addresses the medical, emotional, and social aspects of hearing loss, along with some surprising revelations about technology and hearing aids. He presents the latest information in a way that makes you want to keep reading.” —Barbara Kelley, executive director, Hearing Loss Association of America

“As this book makes clear, most of us will encounter hearing loss at some point in our lives;, we all stand to gain from reading Volume Control for practical reasons alone. But David Owen brims with a curiosity that's beautifully matched by his journalistic alacrity. How many times I beamed with sheer delight simply to follow the author down one fascinating path after another.” —Leah Hager Cohen, author of Strangers and Cousins

“A wide-ranging exploration of our vital sense of hearing, and the consequences when it wanes. Owen makes accessible not only the fascinating biology of hearing, but the complexities of remedying its loss.” Jerome Groopman, Dina and Raphael Recanati Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of The Anatomy of Hope

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