After almost ruining his voice while trying to add vocal gusto to an improvised rock band, John Colapinto—an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker and bestseller author—discovered how much he didn't know about the voice. In This Is the Voice, he diligently delivers his newfound knowledge and hard-earned perspective, aided by an exhaustive lineup of scholars, scientists, historians, physicians and voice artists. From Cicero to rock stars to demagogues to opera divas to newborns, Colapinto learns, enlightens and entertains.
Humans begin to learn language even before birth, absorbing their mothers’ words from within the womb. Our ability to use the voice in speech secures our spot at the top of the food chain and separates us from our closest cousin, the chimp, only by the lower placement of the human larynx. Our voices gives life and meaning to our words—and as humans, Colapinto says, we do crave meaning. Differences in prosody, timbre, tone and pitch further color our communications.
To understand all this, Colapinto first examines the physiology and anatomy involved in speaking—how the vocal cords, tongue and lips work together with our lungs and brain to produce sounds. Things take a darker turn when he recounts how Hitler, along with other incendiaries, learned to use his voice to incite his followers to violence. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Barack Obama are here, too, their voices technically explained and offered as examples of how oratory can inspire.
This is an intensely researched compilation that includes evolution, history, politics and competing scientific theories, launched by Colapinto’s personal struggle to save his voice. Fact-heavy yet digestible, This Is the Voice requires time and attention to absorb, but it’s worth it. In the end, Colapinto's book becomes its own clarion call, asking that we listen to each other, despite our different accents and their dividing origins, and that we use the power generated by our brains, lungs and vocal cords to understand and respect the effects our voices have on each other.