The natural world teems with remarkable conversations, many beyond human hearing range. Scientists are using groundbreaking digital technologies to uncover these astonishing sounds, revealing vibrant communication among our fellow creatures across the Tree of Life.
At once meditative and scientific, The Sounds of Life shares fascinating and surprising stories of nonhuman sound, interweaving insights from technological innovation and traditional knowledge. We meet scientists using sound to protect and regenerate endangered species from the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic and the Amazon. We discover the shocking impacts of noise pollution on both animals and plants. We learn how artificial intelligence can decode nonhuman sounds, and meet the researchers building dictionaries in East African Elephant and Sperm Whalish. At the frontiers of innovation, we explore digitally mediated dialogues with bats and honeybees. Technology often distracts us from nature, but what if it could reconnect us instead?
The Sounds of Life offers hope for environmental conservation and affirms humanity’s relationship with nature in the digital age. After learning about the unsuspected wonders of nature’s sounds, we will never see walks outdoors in the same way again.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the PROSE Award in Popular Science and Mathematics, Association of American Publishers
"meticulously researched and colorfully presented ... the first [book] to integrate so many dimensions of the field in a way that is accessible to nonexperts. It is a wonderful mix of animal ecology, narratives of sciencedoing, futurism, and accounts of Indigenous knowledge that is as interdisciplinary as the field itself."—Benjamin Gottseman, Science
"Bakker's well-researched stories showcase the mysterious communication styles of whales, elephants, turtles, corals, plants, and bees as told by the scientists who care enough to listen. These scientific breakthroughs couldn't come at a better time..."—Krystal Vasquez, Sierra
"Bakker ladles academic research liberally onto the reader in short, spare sentences that build up to a comprehensive whole. Her deep knowledge is worn lightly throughout the book, so that you never feel overwhelmed."—Chris Stokel-Walker, New Scientist
"I couldn’t put [The Sounds of Life] down….a fascinating and forward-looking book"—Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today
"Nature lovers will delight in the...chronicle of the emerging technologies tuning us into a new world of non-human sound and conversation"—The Globe and Mail
"In this beautifully written study, Karen Bakker. . . . compares digital technology that can reveal these sounds with the microscope’s effect on vision. By extending our hearing, the technology allows us to encounter “new soundscapes around the world and across the Tree of Life”."—Andrew Robinson, Nature
"A fascinating account of a rapidly advancing understanding of the sonic world that binds life together on this planet."—Graeme Gourlay, DIVE Magazine
"The Sounds of Life is a charming and timely book, packed with stories of remarkable, eye-opening (and ear-opening?) discoveries."—Hilary Lamb, Engineering and Technology
"Bakker is talking about the extension of our experience and our understanding and our sympathy in ways not possible before the advent of digital technology"—John Wilson, First Things
"Bakker’s book is full of stories of wonder and curiosity about the world of sound that constantly surrounds humanity."—Mongabay
"This is a fascinating and surprising look at how the natural world teems with remarkable conversations, many beyond human hearing range. . . .a great read"—Lorraine Connelly, The Countryman
"Impeccably written, soundly researched, and utterly fascinating... Between and around the book’s hard science, the author wraps accessible and warmly told human narratives such as the tale of the dying man who on his last sea trip first realized whales communicated with each other. Thus, The Sounds of Life is filled with a certain kind of wild, brilliant charm that makes it very readable for the scientific and the nonscientific minded alike."—Compulsive Reader
“Can we mobilize digital tech to fight back against biodiversity loss? The Sounds of Life gives us a rare gift: hope in a time of environmental emergency.”—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything
“Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and packed with insight. A wonderful invitation to expansive listening.”—David George Haskell, author of Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction
“The whole world is communicating and singing. Even plants are in on the conversation. This astonishing book will forever change the way you hear the world. More important, it will make you a better listener. Karen Bakker’s writing and storytelling are fully up to the subject, and her scholarship is impeccable.”—Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and Becoming Wild
“The Sounds of Life is an ode to the symphonies below our feet, hidden in the skies and beneath the water, and singing to us across hills, valleys, and forests. Come encounter how the best of science can listen in to our planet and help us become the ancestors future generations need us to be.”—Éliane Ubalijoro, Global Hub Director, Canada, Future Earth
“This book harmonizes ancient wisdom with contemporary research about the sounds of life. In clear and compelling prose, Bakker reveals how Indigenous knowledge mingles with cutting-edge scientific inquiry to deepen our understanding of life’s rhythms. If whales, fish, bats, turtles, plants, and bees could write endorsements, I think they would highly recommend this book.”—John Borrows, University of Victoria
“The Sounds of Life is a fascinating and engaging read for scientists and the general public alike. The book is meticulously researched and illuminates the captivating world of natural sounds, many of which evade the human ear.”—Holger Klinck, K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, Cornell University