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On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring Paperback – September 3, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

A New York Times Notable Book of 2012
A Slate Staff Pick for 2012
One of Kirkus Reviews' Top 25 Nonfiction Books of 2012

One of Booklist's Top 10 Science and Health Books of 2012
One of Booklist's Top 10 Biographies of 2013

"Quietly thrilling...Souder treats Carson's personal life sensitively...But the real drama involves how her book shaped a new way of understanding our relationship with the earth."
—Boston Globe

“This is the great strength of On a Farther Shore. Without overstating the point, Souder draws a portrait of cultural and political life in the middle of the 20th century and places Carson squarely at the center of it...In Souder’s telling she was a quintessential woman of her time.”
—Washington Post

"A suspenseful tale of the literary life….That, in 1962, a 55-year-old single mother could take on the government and pesticides industry and triumph in the face of illness, sexism, ageism and a deeply funded campaign against her makes for an utterly inspiring tale that also sounds a cautionary note."
—San Francisco Chronicle

“In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating…Souder is at his best when he places Carson’s intellectual development in context with the nascent environmental movement…Souder writes vividly and with great empathy for his subject and her cause…An absorbing narrative.”
—Elizabeth Royte, New York Times Book Review

"This is the book to read about Carson's short life and work.”
—Wall Street Journal

"On a Farther Shore does full honor to the woman who wrote The Sense of Wonder….In the end, the book Souder has written is, like a poem, the thing itself, so perfectly does it capture a way of being in the world that Rachel Carson, both in her person and her work, radiated.”
—Vivian Gornick, The Nation

“Beautifully written…Souder skillfully situates Carson’s life and particularly her writing career into the context of important events in the United States and around the world.  More to the point, Souder’s Carson is a portrait of the writer and, significantly, her writerly influences. Finally, Souder carefully analyzes Carson’s personality and relationships… Even when the stories ring familiar, his deft turn of phrase imbues them with new vitality. Thus, he offers readers a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a naturalist, author, and inspiration to the modern environmental movement.”
—Frederick R. Davis, Science

“William Souder’s deeply studied, well-written biography of Rachel Carson helps us see her life work as crafting a narrative in which science is used to care for Earth.” —American Scientist

“Offer[s] a deep sense of Carson and her path to fame…Souder is throughout a sensitive and insightful biographer. That becomes clear when he explores the relationship Carson formed with Dorothy Freeman…No one has better gauged the relationship that provided the emotional sustenance that helped Carson endure the physical and emotional torments of her last years…Souder is an excellent environmental historian and always a lively writer… Both Carson and Silent Spring remain vital and controversial to this day. William Souder has told this story with all the richness and complexity it deserves.”
—Mark H. Lytle, The Buffalo News

"A compelling and compulsively readable portrait of one of the most influential writers of the last 50 years; a fascinating glimpse into the history of science’s dark incursions and excesses; and an illuminating portrait of the birth of the environmental controversies we know today.”
—Christian Science Monitor

“A three-dimensional, deeply illuminating picture of the life and times of this shy, unassuming trailblazer.”
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A poignant, galvanizing, meaningful tribute...[Provides] readers with a clear sense of the political, economic and social ramifications of DDT use and the threat of atomic warfare and how Carson's writing played a vital role in progressive public policy for decades after her death."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"At a time when genetic modification of foods remains politically charged and scientifically debatable, the story of Silent Spring and its author is valuable and relevant, and for those who have celebrated Carson’s work, this book is a treat full of big ideas and little details that satisfy and inspire. Fans of Carson, as well as of science writers like Aldo Leopold and Steven Jay Gould, will devour this book. As an achievement in biography and a celebration of science writing, it is strongly recommended."
—Library Journal (starred)

“In this expansive, nuanced biography, Souder (Under a Wild Sky) portrays Carson as a woman passionate in friendship, poetic and innovative in her books about the sea, gentle but ambitious, assiduously keeping tabs on her publisher's promotion of her work.... [and explores] cold war anxiety about nuclear annihilation, the chemistry of pesticides like DDT and their flagrant postwar use, and an emerging understanding of ecology. Carson, under severe stress and exhaustion from a cancer that took her life, synthesized these issues in Silent Spring, a meticulously researched, policy-changing picture of an earth poisoned by humanity. Fifty years later, her insights are suprisingly relevant: "We're challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery not of nature, but of ourselves."
—Publishers Weekly

"To mark this watershed, Souder, author of a John James Audubon biography (Under a Wild Sky, 2004), brings a fresh and delving perspective to Carson’s trailblazing achievements and heroic sacrifices.... Souder returns Carson to us in all her poetic glory and strength as a singular artist and clarion champion of the living world."
—Booklist (starred)

"William Souder’s On a Farther Shore is one of those rare and extraordinary biographies that are at once brilliant portraiture and important environmental history. The great Rachel Carson comes alive again in these vivid pages--honest, committed, brave."
—Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University, author of Wilderness Warrior and Cronkite

"In William Souder, Rachel Carson has a Carsonesque chronicler—morally incisive, poetic but unsentimental. On a Farther Shore is a vital and nuanced portrait of a giant of American letters and an absorbing history of the environmental movement."
—Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie

"Rachel Carson changed the way we live now, and in William Souder she has a biographer who has given us a powerful portrait of a woman and of her work. Anyone interested in the intellectual, political, and cultural life of the past half century should read this fine book."
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

"William Souder eloquently and convincingly argues for the relevance of Rachel Carson’s writings to today’s daunting environmental challenges. In this beautifully crafted biography, Souder shines a light as luminescent as some of Rachel Carson’s favorite specimens of marine life on one of the twentieth century’s most important figures."
—Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, author of Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
 
"Rachel Carson was not a saint but, better, a prophet--that rare soul who turns our attention into the path of the oncoming truth. In these illuminating, perspective-setting pages you feel her love for the living world, and the burden she bore in giving birth to the modern environmental movement, her gift to us all, that she never lived to see."
—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point

"William Souder tells the story of Rachel Carson's life with grace and sympathy. On a Farther Shore explains why Carson still matters, fifty years after the publication of Silent Spring."
—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe

"Rachel Carson is the great green heroine, the first person to combine her love of the natural world with a penetrating glance at industrial modernity. William Souder captures her importance in this engaging biography."
—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Earth

"For those of us who know Rachel Carson's name but little else, this is the book to set us straight. In crystal clear prose, William Souder captures her remarkable journey from essayist to polemicist, from nature's gentle acolyte to its fierce defender, while he also provides us with the science we need along the way. We are in Souder's debt for vividly reminding us of the lesson Carson taught: we have the power to seriously harm nature and the solemn responsibility to conserve and protect it."
—Louise W. Knight, author of Jane Addams: Spirit in Action

About the Author

WILLIAM SOUDER is the author of two previous books, A Plague of Frogs and Under a Wild Sky, a biography of John James Audubon that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Grant, Minnesota.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307462218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307462213
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Souder is the author of three books. "A Plague of Frogs" in 2000 followed the investigation of outbreaks of deformed frogs across North America. "Under a Wild Sky," a 2004 biography of John James Audubon, won numerous awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson," was published by Crown in September 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Carson's "Silent Spring." Mr. Souder lives in Grant, Minnesota.

Customer Reviews

This book is very well written.
KD Stinkypaws
Having read Silent Spring and another bio of Rachel Carson I found this also very interesting and informative.
Carol R
The author of this book, William Souder, goes beyond describing the books that Rachel Carson Wrote.
David M.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By jem on September 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Yes, William Souder has written a comprehensive biography of Rachel Carson, but more importantly this book describes her lasting environmental influence through her ability as a writer to explain difficult scientific concepts to a mass audience with a literary style nearly poetic. She was rewarded by the fact that her books achieved best seller status and she personally won prestigious awards from scientific and environmental groups. Her first three books made the deep mysteries of the ocean she loved accessible and intriguing to readers who explored its shores.

But her most important "legacy" is undoubtedly the government response and eventual regulations her book "The Silent Spring" caused. Demand from a public alarmed by her warnings about the indiscriminate use of pesticides and their potential harm to humans overcame lax research and protocols for use both by chemical manufacturers and government agencies. Souder has been true to his subject with his exhaustive research into her relationships with family, friends, scientific colleagues, and publishers. At times readers will be tested to be as patient with his detailed descriptions as her publisher was when she missed manuscript deadlines. There is a great deal of detail to absorb and understand. One of the author's most fascinating chapters is the epilogue in which he allows himself to speculate how Carson would be responding today to challenges such as climate change.

Although there is no evidence that it was in any way related to the pesticides she researched, the irony of her own death from cancer in her fifties, shortly after the publication of her most famous book, is not lost upon the reader.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By she treads softly on October 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder is a biography of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. On a Farther Shore is being published on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. It seems to me that everyone should know who Rachel Carson is and what Silent Spring was about, but, much to my surprise, that is not the case. With its publication in 1962 Silent Spring exposed the dangers of DDT to the general public and really set into motion the beginning of the modern environmental movement. At the time DDT was the miracle pesticide and it was going to eradicate many of the pests that plague human populations.

Souder's thorough biography portrays Carson as an unassuming, likeable woman with great underlying strength. While she was trained as a biologist at a time when a woman in the sciences was uncommon, she also had always enjoyed writing. Carson found a way to combine her two interests. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a writer but also wrote articles in her free time. Carson never married and supported her family all her life.

Souder also covers many of the writers who influenced Carson (Richard Jeffries, Henry Williamson, and Aldo Leopold) and plenty of information about the times in which she lived (nuclear testing, cold war tensions) as well as the emerging discovery that pesticides perhaps were not the answer. Half the book covers the writing of Silent Spring and the repercussions that followed. Carson, exhausted from her battle with cancer and under enormous stress, died shortly after the publication of Silent Spring in 1962.

In On a Farther Shore, Souder, an esteemed environmental writer, has given us a very well written, well rounded, well researched tribute to Rachel Carson.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David M. on December 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Ask someone who Rachel Carson was, and if they know anything about her, they will probably know that she was the author of Silent Spring, and little else. On a Farther Shore, goes much deeper. Having read this book from cover to cover, I now know for the first time, who Rachel Carson was as a person. Her dedication and commitment to sound science is truly inspiring. Imagine being a woman in the 1950's battling cancer and at the same time dealing with an avalanche of critics from pro-industry people while still seeing through a book that would become a huge best seller selling hundreds of thousands, if not millions of copies! I don't know anyone with this kind of courage, conviction and commitment.

The author of this book, William Souder, goes beyond describing the books that Rachel Carson Wrote. He describes also her personal struggles, her one friend Dorothy who spiritually sustained her, and her love of the sea.

Let us not forget that it is largely because of Rachel Carson that environmental movement arose in the 1960's and 1970's resulting eventually in the creation of the US EPA and new laws like the clean water act and clean air act.

Sadly, even today there are some people who can't see any of the amazing good that Carson has done (witness the one star review.. so biased it deserves to be ignored). Many people seem to forget that Rachel Carson did not advocate for the complete abolition of pesticides but for the more reasonable use of them. Read the book... it's in there in detail.

50 years past the publication date of Carson's seminal book Silent Spring, William Souder has done those of us who care about our nation's environment a tremendous service by keeping the memory of Rachel Carson alive, and perhaps introducing our youth for the first time to one of America's greatest environmental heroes and advocates.
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