Page last updated at 20:16 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

First Book honour for author Ross

Alex Ross
Ross is the music critic on The New Yorker

Alex Ross has won the Guardian First Book Award for The Rest is Noise.

The book charts the history of the 20th century through its popular music, from Stravinsky's The Rites of Spring through to the Velvet Underground.

The judges called Ross's debut "a triumph with a magisterial quality and marvellous scope".

This year's shortlist also included A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif and A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz.

God's Own Country by Ross Raisin and Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews completed the list.

The world of music was far bigger than I knew
Alex Ross

The Rest is Noise was also nominated as one of the New York Times's 10 best books of 2007, and was also shortlisted this year for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

Writing on his blog, the classically-trained Ross said the book retold his own journey of discovery into last century's music.

"I grew up listening exclusively to 18th and 19th Century classical music, from Bach to Brahms. I even tried to write my own pieces in quasi-Viennese style. Only when I got to college did I realise that the world of music was far bigger than I knew," he said.

The work of early 20th Century composers such as Strauss and Stravinsky led him to more abstract post-World War II work by figures such as Stockhausen, the free-jazz of Ornette Coleman, and some of rock's most esoteric bands such as Sonic Youth.

The title, he added, was "a reference to Hamlet's last words 'The rest is silence'.

"I had in mind the widespread perception that classical composition devolved into noise as the 20th Century went on," he said. What may sound like noise on first hearing may reveal hidden beauty if you give it a second chance."

This year the competition included an online reading group for the first time, which helped the judges decide the winner.

Judges this year were novelist Roddy Doyle, broadcaster and novelist Francine Stock, poet Daljit Nagra, historian David Kynaston, writer Kate Mosse and Guardian deputy editor Katharine Viner, as well as chair Claire Armitstead.

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