The Quiet Before: Book summary and reviews of The Quiet Before by Gal Beckerman

The Quiet Before

On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas

by Gal Beckerman

The Quiet Before by Gal Beckerman X
The Quiet Before by Gal Beckerman
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Book Summary

A provocative, incisive look at the building of social movements - from the 1600s to the present - and how current technology is undermining them.

We tend to think of revolutions as loud: frustrations and demands shouted in the streets. But the ideas fueling them have traditionally been conceived in much quieter spaces, in the small, secluded corners where a vanguard can whisper among themselves, imagine alternate realities, and deliberate about how to achieve their goals. This extraordinary book is a search for those spaces, over centuries and across continents, and a warning that—in a world dominated by social media—they might soon go extinct.

Gal Beckerman, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, takes us back to the seventeenth century, to the correspondence that jump-started the scientific revolution, and then forward through time to examine engines of social change: the petitions that secured the right to vote in 1830s Britain, the zines that gave voice to women's rage in the early 1990s, and even the messaging apps used by epidemiologists fighting the pandemic in the shadow of an inept administration. In each case, Beckerman shows that our most defining social movements—from decolonization to feminism—were formed in quiet, closed networks that allowed a small group to incubate their ideas before broadcasting them widely.

But Facebook and Twitter are replacing these productive, private spaces, to the detriment of activists around the world. Why did the Arab Spring fall apart? Why did Occupy Wall Street never gain traction? Has Black Lives Matter lived up to its full potential? Beckerman reveals what this new social media ecosystem lacks—everything from patience to focus—and offers a recipe for growing radical ideas again.

Lyrical and profound, The Quiet Before looks to the past to help us imagine a different future.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Beckerman surveys small circles that incubated subversive thinking...[she] unearths fascinating lore about these ideological hothouses, from the Futurists' love triangles in early 20th-century Italy to the alt-right's public-messaging strategies. The result is a timely and stimulating take on how the fringe infiltrates the mainstream." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"With a sharp eye for telling detail, the author uses direct, at times explicit, quotes from primary sources. At times witty, at times cautious, the text is sincere and thoughtful as Beckerman questions what it has meant to form a community in the past and what it means today. An invigorating text ripe with pertinent information about the methods of connection that can lead to real change." - Kirkus Reviews

"The moment for this book is now as we navigate this new era of virtual interactions and wonder how we got here and where we're headed." - Susan Orlean, author of On Animals

"Rarely does a book give you a new way of looking at social change. This one does." - Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breaker

"In this penetrating feat of the intellect, Gal Beckerman explains the long and complicated relationship between the envisioning of new principles and the realization of such principles in the form of social transformation. This book should be read by anyone interested in thinking." - Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree

This information about The Quiet Before was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Gal Beckerman

Gal Beckerman is a writer and editor at the New York Times Book Review and the author of the widely acclaimed When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone, which won the National Jewish Book Award and the Sami Rohr Prize and was named a best book of the year by the New Yorker and the Washington Post. He has a Ph.D. in media studies from Columbia University and writes for many publications, including the New Republic and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two daughters.

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