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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times best-selling writer explores what our unique sonic signature reveals about our species, our culture, and each one of us. Finally, a vital topic that has never had its own book gets its due.

There’s no shortage of books about public speaking or language or song. But until now, there has been no book about the miracle that underlies them all - the human voice itself. And there are few writers who could take on this surprisingly vast topic with more artistry and expertise than John Colapinto. Beginning with the novel - and compelling - argument that our ability to speak is what made us the planet’s dominant species, he guides us from the voice’s beginnings in lungfish millions of years ago to its culmination in the talent of Pavoratti, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Beyoncé - and each of us, every day.

Along the way, he shows us why the voice is the most efficient, effective means of communication ever devised: It works in all directions, in all weathers, even in the dark, and it can be calibrated to reach one other person or thousands. He reveals why speech is the single most complex and intricate activity humans can perform. He travels up the Amazon to meet the Piraha, a reclusive tribe whose singular language, more musical than any other, can help us hear how melodic principles underpin every word we utter. He heads up to Harvard to see how professional voices are helped and healed, and he ventures out on the campaign trail to see how demagogues wield their voices as weapons.

As far-reaching as this book is, much of the delight of listening to it lies in how intimate it feels. Everything Colapinto tells us can be tested by our own lungs and mouths and ears and brains. He shows us that, for those who pay attention, the voice is an eloquent means of communicating not only what the speaker means, but also their mood, sexual preference, age, income, even psychological and physical illness.

It overstates the case only slightly to say that anyone who talks, or sings, or listens will find a rich trove of thrills in This Is the Voice.

©2021 John Colapinto. All rights reserved. (P)2021 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Strange choice to become political

Great book... until the penultimate chapter. At that time, the author (a Canadian, no less) decided it was a great opportunity to become an unabashed Obama fanboy of shocking proportion. This, of course, is immediately followed by the equally jarring vehement denunciation of President Trump. None of this seems remotely necessary to the topic and is sure to disturb at least 25% (and likely much more) of his audience, but that's what you get these days: an embarrassing effort at virtue signaling...

9 people found this helpful

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Good Science, Bad Optics

The science parts are great, but the constant complaints regarding politics get old fast.

4 people found this helpful

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Interesting subject

The author missed a few important facets - not the least is understanding how people who are born deaf acquire language and a voice. I also felt he allowed the chapter on voice of a leader to be too politicized.

3 people found this helpful

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Exceeded my expectations

This is a great book because it addresses not only the topic of voice but also issues of linguistics, politics, cultural, accent, population of migration in terms of how sounds move and even the evolution of the voice.

I was a bit surprised that we got into politicians until I realized that it was really the only way to address the issue which was brought up by Cicero. At the same time it always came back to how the voice was used so I’m just incredibly impressed with this author’s work.

2 people found this helpful

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You'll start listening to yourself more...

I was intrigued when the announcer on NPR teased of the interview with the author of a book about the voice.
I missed the interview, but I pre-ordered the audible book 5 days ahead of release.
It's everything I would have imagined a non technical but totally scientific explanation of the voice to be.
Listen to it. Afterwards, you'll want to listen to more of yourself

2 people found this helpful

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A “must-listen” Experience!!

This is the voice is a very unusual book, combining history, anthropology, physiology, the arts, and more into an insightful treatise on what turns out to be the very essence of humanity. My humanity and yours. I picked it up, so to speak, in an audiobook format and I’m really glad to have done so. The narrator does more than justice in his performance about the subject all the way to the raspy tones in the last chapter appropriately in titled “coda“.For me, at age 84, that was the capstone and it’s message resonated as I resolve to, as the author says, project my voice with new confidence that what I have to say has meaning.

I cannot believe how much there is to learn about this subject and its connection to so many contemporary issues, Bj how we manage technology in the future, coping with systemic racism, I’m connecting with my fellow human beings in a hyper political society.

I would give this book 6 stars in all three readings if it were allowed. You’ll find it captivating, wonderful to return to, and I believe best listen to rather than read because of the outstanding production and audio performance by the narrator. After all, a book about the voice is best enjoyed using our ears assimilating the nuances of accent timber and prosody; a word new to me and oh so rich in meaning.

1 person found this helpful

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Too Political

I happen to agree with the author’s politics, but I didn’t buy a political book and I’m not interested in hearing yet another rehash of the same narrative again that’s been playing on endless repeat for the past four years.

Aside from that the book was interesting, though somewhat less practical than I was expecting. I “learned” a few things, but reading some of the other comments here it seems I can’t really take any of it away without doing some independent verification.

1 person found this helpful

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More than what the title says.

Overall, I found this book to be fantastic and very interesting.

I thought the book would be more on training the voice. However, the book goes into voice, language, and language learning.

All great information but it through me off from the title.

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Got weird fast

This was mostly a decent, if not very in depth, introduction to random topics in language use with an emphasis on phonetics. I didn't think there was nearly enough detail to be useful, but, it may be a good "gateway book" to the topic for those who have no background in it.

There's one chapter that focuses on language use in politics, which starts out fine, but then just gets cringeworthy. There are extensive sections where the author forgets to even try to make it seem relevant.

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Interesting dive into an overlooked feature

As a Speech Language Pathologist I’ve studied the voice and worked with voice patients. Since I haven’t worked with that population recently I figure this might be a good book to get me back into it. It didn’t disappoint. There was a lot of information I already knew but I still enjoyed hearing about it from the author’s POV. There we’re definitely some new things I learned too. Our voices are often overlooked or not adequately attended to and I loved the detail this book went into. Great information from the evolutionary history of the voice to the communicative nature, to even how voice is shaped by politics and religion.

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  • Chris Healey
  • 04-09-21

An opportunity missed

Started off interesting, I enjoyed the insights into the significance of music. However, a huge detour into rhetoric that takes the author off topic onto his own political tirade against populism & how much he loves Obama & hates Trump as well as an offhand & reductive summary of Brexit mean takes away from developing the more interesting ideas that arose earlier. It’ll turn off fifty percent of his readers & the book won’t age well as a result. An opportunity missed.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-18-21

Brilliant book, beautifully written and incredibly well researched

Could not put this down
So many fascinating insights
Highly recommended
Sublime synthesis of so much in-depth information, fashioned into a fast paced, scintillating narrative...enjoyed it so much and sad to have finished it