The best books about sound

13 authors have picked their favorite books about sound and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Herman Klein and the Gramophone

By William R. Moran,

Book cover of Herman Klein and the Gramophone

Herman Klein wrote for the magazine, Gramophone during the 1920s and his reviews of the then-current 78 r.p.m. recordings are among the best you can read. This book from Amodeus Press contains all his reviews and articles for that magazine and is a fascinating, essential read. This is another book that I have read and re-read over the years, scribbled in the margins, and quoted from in my own writing.

Who am I?

Having been a professional singer for about five decades and having grown up with, and studied the early recordings of operatic singers for just as long, I feel that I am in an unusual position when it comes to analysing their art. The ability to describe a singer’s voice on paper is a unique challenge but one that I enjoy solving – especially since each voice is a law unto itself. When done correctly, analysis like this should make the reader want to go and find the recording so that they can listen for themselves.

I wrote...

Early 20th Century Opera Singers: Their Voices and Recordings from 1900-1949

By Nick Limansky,

Book cover of Early 20th Century Opera Singers: Their Voices and Recordings from 1900-1949

What is my book about?

In the first book of this kind to appear in decades, Nicholas Limansky explains why critical listening is important and describes the merits of analyzing and comparing the recordings of previous generations of singers with those of the present. He also recounts how markedly record collecting has changed through the decades-especially in large cities like New York-mainly due to technological advances. He not only treats collecting 78 rpm disks, but LPs and CDs as well.

With an emphasis on today's student and collector, Limansky provides information about where, how, and on what labels given recordings can be found. He discusses printed resources that offer the interested even more information. Beginners and veterans alike will find much of interest in this far-ranging book.

Ten Ways to Hear Snow

By Cathy Camper, Kenard Pak (illustrator),

Book cover of Ten Ways to Hear Snow

Ten Ways to Hear Snow commemorates the sounds of winter. Lina sets off alone to visit her grandmother (another Little Red Riding Hood reference!) the morning after a blizzard. As she walks through the neighbourhood, she notices the sounds snow makes while building a snowman, shoveling snow, and more. At her grandma’s place, they form a new point of connection because her grandma can’t see well and so relies on listening.


Who am I?

I love the outdoors, and there are so many benefits to playing, imagining, and being outside. I grew up on a fruit farm in Southern Ontario, so I spent much of my growing years playing outdoors and enjoying the natural world. When I became a professional educator, I read the research about the very concrete benefits being outside every day has on young learners. Bring on the recess! Books have a way of sparking action. When we read about how someone else enjoys the outdoors, it makes us want to do the same. Books are inspiring.


I wrote...

Salad Pie

By Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo (illustrator),

Book cover of Salad Pie

What is my book about?

Maggie is determined to make Salad Pie at the playground—alone. But then Herbert appears. He wants to play. Maggie resists. Herbert watches and waits. Maggie’s imagination flourishes with the attention. Then, Salad Pie tumbles down, Herbert saves the day, and an unexpected friendship begins.

Perfecting Sound Forever

By Greg Milner,

Book cover of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

Going back 125 years in recording history, Milner’s book will make you question what “good recorded sound” is, and how that notion, surprisingly, is a political one that has changed over time. A diversity of genres and artists are brought in to prove his points. He demonstrates why technological innovations such as the cylinder, the 78RPM record, magnetic tape, albums, transistors, the cassette, the CD, ProTools and of course MP3s changed the sound and content of music forever. And also how such changes greatly affected the bottom line of the music business, increasing or decreasing revenue as the case may be. Might change how you view your music collection.


Who am I?

As an author and educator, my work centers on the history, business, and art of the music industry and film industry. I don’t think my fellow historians use musical evidence enough as a primary document that reveals much about the society and time period one is writing aboutjust as much as the usual primary and secondary documents historians use.  I try to ensure my books are entertaining as well as rigorously researched. I’m also a songwriter, with many years in the music biz, and have done much work in radio, especially crafting music shows. I’m always discovering amazing stuff from various eras, and it’s not much fun if you don’t share it, which is part of why I’m on Twitter.


I wrote...

Duke Ellington's America

By Harvey G. Cohen,

Book cover of Duke Ellington's America

What is my book about?

The most thorough, nuanced portrait yet of this towering figure, Duke Ellington’s America highlights Ellington’s importance as a historical figure as well as arguably America’s greatest composer. Harvey G. Cohen paints a vivid picture of Ellington’s life and times, taking him from his youth in black Washington, D.C., to the heights of worldwide acclaim. Mining extensive archives, many never before available, plus new interviews with Ellington’s friends, family, band, and business associates, Cohen illuminates his constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business—as well as issues of race, equality, religion and the Cold War.

Ellington’s own voice animates the book throughout, giving Duke Ellington’s America an intimacy and immediacy unmatched by any previous account. One of the Washington Post’s best books of the year.

Tuning the Human Biofield

By Eileen Day McKusick,

Book cover of Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy

If you want your mind blown, and want to cultivate a new understanding of how the universe works: buy this book! Eileen opens up the cosmology that we all learned and shows us that there is another way to view how the world works. And with that understanding, we have a way to see ourselves as part of the world instead of separate from it. This connection is the start of healing. And all of that is only the first half of the book. 

She then takes the reader on a wild ride into understanding how the field that surrounds the body – called the aura or the biofield – works, holds information, and also holds one of the keys to healing and well-being. This book is engaging, inspirational, and totally not what you were expecting!


Who am I?

I remember being a kid and wanting to know everything about everything. After I’d been teaching yoga for several years, and finding myself struggling with stress and trauma that the yoga wasn’t helping, I really started to dive into the world of Energy. That world is fascinating, endless, and powerful. And the more I study and learn, the better my life gets. I’ve created my own teaching methodology from all the studies I’ve done and helped thousands of people find their own inner strength and healing. I love learning how other people overcame their struggles and how at the root, we basically all want to help each other! That's the kind of world I aspire to. 


I wrote...

The Energy to Heal: Find Lasting Freedom From Stress and Trauma Through Energy Medicine Yoga

By Lauren Walker,

Book cover of The Energy to Heal: Find Lasting Freedom From Stress and Trauma Through Energy Medicine Yoga

What is my book about?

We all struggle with stress and most all of us have had at least one traumatic experience in our lives. It takes a lot of energy to get through these experiences, but most of us don’t fully complete, process or release that energy. We just move on in our lives, and the stagnant and toxic energy of stress or trauma remains in our bodies and quietly goes to work breaking us down. Imagine if you had simple, practical, and gentle tools to actually heal from your traumas and stressors? The Energy To Heal gives you just that!

Perfected over years of study, Energy Medicine Yoga is a customizable program with step-by-step practices that help you recover from trauma and gain resilience. 

How Music Works

By David Byrne,

Book cover of How Music Works

More than anything, what comes across in How Music Works is how much David Byrne loves music. He’s not offering a technical or theoretical explanation in this tome so much as exploring the value of music in society—what music gives us, how it shapes us, and how it emerges from various scenes and other social settings. Above all, Byrne argues, music is rooted in time and space. Music blossoms when it has a place in which to gestate, and the peculiarities of that place inevitably inform the shape the music takes. It’s impossible to read this book and not want to start making music immediately.  


Who am I?

Music is a major passion of mine. I’m highly involved in making and promoting independent music both locally and internationally via social media. The primary focus of all my endeavors is promoting a do-it-yourself ethos. Whenever I work with musicians, I’m always fascinated by how their creativity allows them to do a lot with a little. Hence, I suppose, the story of Frankie Lumlit. It’s a story about falling in love with music and finding a way to make it even when the world says no.


I wrote...

Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

By Marc Schuster,

Book cover of Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

What is my book about?

When his parents tell him that he can’t have a drumkit, Frankie Lumlit builds one out of odds and ends he finds in the family recycling bin. Frankie’s excitement, however, is dimmed when his friend Alfonse laughs at his creation. But then Frankie’s favorite band overhears his drumming and asks if they can borrow his drums. As a token of appreciation, they invite him to that night’s concert where Frankie Lumlit’s janky drumkit takes center stage. 

The Audible Past

By Jonathan Sterne,

Book cover of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

Sterne explores the cultural history of how and why Americans developed technologies that reproduced and transmitted sound. It is a surprising story that takes us through the Civil War and ideas about death, deaf children and their teachers, the discipline of medicine, and the practice of folklore. It turns out that cultural shifts encouraged the preservation of sound, and those machines we developed in turn changed the ways we listen.


Who am I?

I have been doing research in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. The region is diverse and magnificent. Caribbean people have sought creative solutions for racial inequality, climate and sustainability, media literacy and information, women’s and family issues. The transnational connections with the US are complex and wide-ranging, and knowing more about this region is an urgent matter. I work to understand how sound and media work because they structure our reality in important ways. Listening as a way of approaching relationships in work and play is key to our survival. So is understanding how media works, where we get our information from, and how to tell what’s relevant, significant, and true, and what is not. 


I wrote...

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

By Alejandra Bronfman,

Book cover of Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

What is my book about?

The Caribbean has always been a site of explorations of modernity and technology, and this book makes that case through a history of broadcasting and media. With a peripatetic approach, the book scans the emergence of broadcasting as the central medium in the region with attention to Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. While in Haiti the US military occupation brought radio as a disciplining and governing tool, in Cuba it was US commercial interests that supported the radio boom. In Jamaica, by contrast, local radio was limited by the colonial government until an explosive anti-colonial rebellion changed everything. The book tracks radio’s significance in politics, racial dynamics, and cultures of belonging. 

Decomposed

By Kyle Devine,

Book cover of Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music

Just as important as thinking about how music sounds and what it means is thinking about where technology comes from and crucially, where it goes after we’re done with it. This book lets no one off the hook and insists that anyone who cares about music should be cognizant of its economies of waste and decomposition. 


Who am I?

I have been doing research in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. The region is diverse and magnificent. Caribbean people have sought creative solutions for racial inequality, climate and sustainability, media literacy and information, women’s and family issues. The transnational connections with the US are complex and wide-ranging, and knowing more about this region is an urgent matter. I work to understand how sound and media work because they structure our reality in important ways. Listening as a way of approaching relationships in work and play is key to our survival. So is understanding how media works, where we get our information from, and how to tell what’s relevant, significant, and true, and what is not. 


I wrote...

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

By Alejandra Bronfman,

Book cover of Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

What is my book about?

The Caribbean has always been a site of explorations of modernity and technology, and this book makes that case through a history of broadcasting and media. With a peripatetic approach, the book scans the emergence of broadcasting as the central medium in the region with attention to Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. While in Haiti the US military occupation brought radio as a disciplining and governing tool, in Cuba it was US commercial interests that supported the radio boom. In Jamaica, by contrast, local radio was limited by the colonial government until an explosive anti-colonial rebellion changed everything. The book tracks radio’s significance in politics, racial dynamics, and cultures of belonging. 

Perfect Sound Whatever

By James Acaster,

Book cover of Perfect Sound Whatever

A beautiful book by one of my favourite comics about one man’s mental breakdown and how music and the people who made it saved him from the worst year of his life. It’s funny and tender and all the music he references was made by people going through their own shit and about how they used their music to save themselves. It’s a book about how we fall apart and how we put ourselves back together and you don’t have to know about music to be moved by it.


Who am I?

Hi there, I’m Lucie and I’m a writer (allegedly) but before that I’m a human and I know how hard it is to be a human. It’s a constant battle with yourself, the people around you, the world, and it’s exhausting and sometimes it can be too much but we find ways to keep going and books help me do that (as well as crying, screaming, potatoes). I find life absurd most of the time so I have to laugh about it or I’d go insane. And I’m still alive, despite constantly being in a fight with my brain, so I think I’ve got this.


I wrote...

Sad Janet

By Lucie Britsch,

Book cover of Sad Janet

What is my book about?

A black-hearted comedy for anyone who’s dreaded Christmas. Thirty-something misfit Janet works at a rundown dog shelter in the woods trying to block out how sad the world is. Everyone around her pretends to be happy (because they’re all on drugs) and they want her to be happy too, but she’s fine how she is. When a pharmaceutical company claims they’ve created a new pill to make Christmas tolerable, Janet, out of boredom mostly, decides to take the leap. Over the next few months, Janet takes part in a trial of this new drug with hilarious and profound consequences for everyone around her. A misanthropic tale goes awry in this depression comedy with a Fleabag-esque antihero at the centre.

Noise Uprising

By Michael Denning,

Book cover of Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution

Michael Denning was my dissertation advisor in grad school and one of the most impressive scholars of American culture that I know. What I like about Noise Uprising is that it gives us a whole new perspective on the beginnings of jazz. No longer is American jazz at the center of the universe. Instead, it’s a small piece of a larger mosaic of popular music that stretched from Havana and Rio to Seville, Cairo, Jakarta, and Honolulu. Before reading this book I had no idea that musical recording even went on in all these far-flung places, beginning in 1925, even before the great wave of recordings appeared from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. We learn about the origin and first recordings of such major genres as samba, son, tango, flamenco, tarab, kroncong, and hula. All of these styles were deeply embedded in the social and political struggles…


Who am I?

I grew up hearing jazz thanks to my dad, a big swing fan who allegedly played Duke Ellington for me in the crib. My father couldn’t believe it when I developed a taste for “modern jazz,” bebop, even Coltrane, but he never threw me out. Fifty years later I still love to play jazz on drums and listen to as much as I can. But along the way, I realized the world might be better served by me writing about the music than trying to make a living performing it. I had the great privilege of studying jazz in graduate school and wrote about big-band jazz for my first book, which helped launch my career.


I wrote...

Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

By David W. Stowe,

Book cover of Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

What is my book about?

Bands were playing, people were dancing, the music business was booming. It was the big-band era, and swing was giving a new shape and sound to American culture. Swing Changes looks at New Deal America through its music and shows us how the contradictions and tensions within swing—over race, politics, its own cultural status, the role of women—mirrored those played out in the larger society. Drawing on memoirs, oral histories, newspapers, magazines, recordings, photographs, literature, and films, Swing Changes offers a vibrant picture of American society at a pivotal time and a new perspective on music as a cultural force.

The Sound of Silence

By Katrina Goldsaito, Julia Kuo (illustrator),

Book cover of The Sound of Silence

Little Yoshio lives in noisy Tokyo, where “the sounds of the city swirled all around him” like a “symphony hall.” As he walks around on a rainy day, absorbing these sounds, he comes upon a woman playing a koto, a stringed instrument. The woman shares that her favorite sound is “ma,” or silence. So, Yoshio begins a search for the sound of silence but can’t find it anywhere! Buses and trains aren’t silent; even bamboo stalks make a swishing sound. Everywhere he goes, Yoshio hears sounds but not silence. Finally, he discovers that silence is “underneath every sound.” A lovely, understated story of how “ma” exists inside all of us, if only we stop to listen. The illustrations reflect different aspects of Tokyo’s culture and energy.


Who am I?

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is somewhat autobiographical, as I tend to crave quiet. For many years, I’ve been meditating twice a day for 25 minutes. I relax my mind and body, sometimes silently repeating a word or sound or just breathing rhythmically. I’m almost always more peaceful and energized after meditating. In addition to being a writer, I’m a therapist with a mindfulness specialty. I believe deeply that every child (and adult, too) can tap into their quiet place inside by noticing what’s happening in their mind and body, no matter what’s going on in their lives. We all need this skill—now more than ever!  


I wrote...

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

By Deborah Sosin, Sara Woolley (illustrator),

Book cover of Charlotte and the Quiet Place

What is my book about?

Charlotte likes quiet. But wherever Charlotte goes, she is surrounded by noise—her yipping dog, Otto; the squeaky, creaky swings; the warbling, wailing sirens. Even in the library, children yammer and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place? Sara Woolley’s vibrant watercolors bring Charlotte’s city to life when Otto leads her on a wild chase through the park. There, Charlotte discovers a quiet place where she never would have imagined.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place shows how a child discovers mindful breathing and the beauty of silence. Children will relate to the unfolding adventure and message of self-discovery and empowerment. 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Gold Award Winner, 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medalist, and 2015 National Parenting Publications Bronze Award Winner.

Or, view all 15 books about sound

New book lists related to sound

All book lists related to sound

Bookshelves related to sound