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Silent Spring [Unabridged] [Paperback]

Rachel Carson , Linda Lear , Edward O. Wilson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (354 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is now 35 years old. Written over the years 1958 to 1962, it took a hard look at the effects of insecticides and pesticides on songbird populations throughout the United States, whose declining numbers yielded the silence to which her title attests. "What happens in nature is not allowed to happen in the modern, chemical-drenched world," she writes, "where spraying destroys not only the insects but also their principal enemy, the birds. When later there is a resurgence of the insect population, as almost always happens, the birds are not there to keep their numbers in check." The publication of her impeccably reported text helped change that trend by setting off a wave of environmental legislation and galvanizing the nascent ecological movement. It is justly considered a classic, and it is well worth rereading today. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This new edition of Carson's classic features a new introduction by Vice President Al Gore.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"Her book is a cry to the reading public to help curb private and public programs which by use of poisons will end by destroying life on earth. ... Miss Carson, with the fervor of an Ezekiel, is trying to save nature and mankind ..." -- The New York Times

"Her book is a cry to the reading public to help curb private and public programs which by use of poisons will end by destroying life on earth. ... Miss Carson, with the fervor of an Ezekiel, is trying to save nature and mankind ..." -- Review

Silent Spring, one of the first calls for public awareness and environmental action and a seminal work of the 1960s, examines the way dangerous chemicals have been used without sufficient research or regard for their potential to harm wildlife, water, soil, and humans, creating a sinister chain of poisoning and death. Silent Spring is meticulously researched and accessible to the lay reader; its message is as clear as it is devastating: humans have willfully disturbed the whole web of life, the "intimate and essential relations" between the earth and all its passengers, animate and inanimate. Rachel Carson's work is informed by an appreciation of the intricate beauty of a flourishing environment, her sorrow over what has already been irrevocably changed or lost, and her sense that humankind is immeasurably diminished by heedlessness and aggression. Thirty years after it was first published, this landmark study is still eloquent, chilling, and, regrettably, timely. Also a portrait of corporate greed and the arrogance and irresponsibility of control agencies and individual specialists, Silent Spring speaks out against the way in which a single species, gifted with ingenuity and intelligence, has misused its power to assault the integrity of the environment. An elegy to a world once perfectly in balance, it is a heartfelt call for imagination, care, and humility, as we move to pre-empt our own destruction and find a way to live harmoniously in our natural world. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Prudence Hockley --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) spent most of her professional life as a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the late 1950s, she had written three lyrical, popular books about the sea, including the best-selling The Sea Around Us, and had become the most respected science writer in America. She completed Silent Spring against formidable personal odds, and with it shaped a powerful social movement that has altered the course of history.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction by Linda Lear

Headlines in the New York Times in July 1962 captured the national sentiment: “Silent Spring is now noisy summer.” In the few months between the New Yorker’s serialization of Silent Spring in June and its publication in book form that September, Rachel Carson’s alarm touched off a national debate on the use of chemical pesticides, the responsibility of science, and the limits of technological progress. When Carson died barely eighteen months later in the spring of 1964, at the age of fifty-six, she had set in motion a course of events that would result in a ban on the domestic production of DDT and the creation of a grass-roots movement demanding protection of the environment through state and federal regulation. Carson’s writing initiated a transformation in the relationship between humans and the natural world and stirred an awakening of public environmental consciousness.
It is hard to remember the cultural climate that greeted Silent Spring and to understand the fury that was launched against its quietly determined author. Carson’s thesis that we were subjecting ourselves to slow poisoning by the misuse of chemical pesticides that polluted the environment may seem like common currency now, but in 1962 Silent Spring contained the kernel of social revolution. Carson wrote at a time of new affluence and intense social conformity. The cold war, with its climate of suspicion and intolerance, was at its zenith. The chemical industry, one of the chief beneficiaries of postwar technology, was also one of the chief authors of the nation’s prosperity. DDT enabled the conquest of insect pests in agriculture and of ancient insect-borne disease just as surely as the atomic bomb destroyed America’s military enemies and dramatically altered the balance of power between humans and nature. The public endowed chemists, at work in their starched white coats in remote laboratories, with almost divine wisdom. The results of their labors were gilded with the presumption of beneficence. In postwar America, science was god, and science was male.
Carson was an outsider who had never been part of the scientific establishment, first because she was a woman but also because her chosen field, biology, was held in low esteem in the nuclear age. Her career path was nontraditional; she had no academic affiliation, no institutional voice. She deliberately wrote for the public rather than for a narrow scientific audience. For anyone else, such independence would have been an enormous detriment. But by the time Silent Spring was published, Carson’s outsider status had become a distinct advantage. As the science establishment would discover, it was impossible to dismiss her.

Rachel Carson first discovered nature in the company of her mother, a devotee of the nature study movement. She wandered the banks of the Allegheny River in the pristine village of Springdale, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, observing the wildlife and plants around her and particularly curious about the habits of birds.
Her childhood, though isolated by poverty and family turmoil, was not lonely. She loved to read and displayed an obvious talent for writing, publishing her first story in a children’s literary magazine at the age of ten. By the time she entered Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College), she had read widely in the English Romantic tradition and had articulated a personal sense of mission, her “vision splendid.” A dynamic female zoology professor expanded her intellectual horizons by urging her to take the daring step of majoring in biology rather than English. In doing so, Carson discovered that science not only engaged her mind but gave her “something to write about.” She decided to pursue a career in science, aware that in the 1930s there were few opportunities for women.
Scholarships allowed her to study at Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, where she fell in love with the sea, and at Johns Hopkins University, where she was isolated, one of a handful of women in marine biology. She had no mentors and no money to continue in graduate school after completing an M.A. in zoology in 1932. Along the way she worked as a laboratory assistant in the school of public health, where she was lucky enough to receive some training in experimental genetics. As employment opportunities in science dwindled, she began writing articles about the natural history of Chesapeake Bay for the Baltimore Sun. Although these were years of financial and emotional struggle, Carson realized that she did not have to choose between science and writing, that she had the talent to do both.
From childhood on, Carson was interested in the long history of the earthh, in its patterns and rhythms, its ancient seas, its evolving life forms. She was an ecologist—fascinated by intersections and connections buttttt always aware of the whole—before that perspective was accorded scholarly legitimacy. A fossil shell she found while digging in the hills above the Allegheny as a little girl prompted questions about the creatures of the oceans that had once covered the area. At Johns Hopkins, an experiment with changes in the salinity of water in an eel tank prompted her to study the life cycle of those ancient fish that migrate from continental rivers to the Sargasso Sea. The desire to understand the sea from a nonhuman perspective led to her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, which featured a common sea bird, the sanderling, whose life cycle, driven by ancestral instincts, the rhythms of the tides, and the search for food, involves an arduous journey from Patagonia to the Arctic Circle. From the outset Carson acknowledged her “kinship with other forms of life” and always wrote to impress that relationship on her readers.
Carson was confronted with the problem of environmental pollution at a formative period in her life. During her adolescence the second wave of the industrial revolution was turning the Pittsburgh area into the iron and steel capital of the Western world. The little town of Springdale, sandwiched between two huge coal-.red electric plants, was transformed into a grimy wasteland, its air fouled by chemical emissions, its river polluted by industrial waste. Carson could not wait to escape. She observed that the captains of industry took no notice of the defilement of her hometown and no responsibility for it. The experience made her forever suspicious of promises of “better living through chemistry” and of claims that technology would create a progressively brighter future.
In 1936 Carson landed a job as a part-time writer of radio scripts on ocean life for the federal Bureau of Fisheries in Baltimore. By night she wrote freelance articles for the Sun describing the pollution of the oyster beds of the Chesapeake by industrial runoff; she urged changes in oyster seeding and dredging practices and political regulation of the effluents pouring into the bay. She signed her articles “R. L. Carson,” hoping that readers would assume that the writer was male and thus take her science seriously.
A year later Carson became a junior aquatic biologist for the Bureau of Fisheries, one of only two professional women there, and began a slow but steady advance through the ranks of the agency, which became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1939. Her literary talents were quickly recognized, and she was assigned to edit other scientists’ field reports, a task she turned into an opportunity to broaden her scientific knowledge, deepen her connection with nature, and observe the making of science policy. By 1949 Carson was editor in chief of all the agency’s publications, writing her own distinguished series on the new U.S wildlife refuge system and participating in interagency conferences on the latest developments in science and technology.
Her government responsibilities slowed the pace of her own writing. It took her ten years to synthesize the latest research on oceanography, but her perseverance paid off. She became an overnight literary celebrity when The Sea Around Us was first serialized in The New Yorker in 1951. The book won many awards, including the National Book Award for nonfiction, and Carson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was lauded not only for her scientific expertise and synthesis of wide-ranging material but also for her lyrical, poetic voice. The Sea Around Us and its best- selling successor, The Edge of the Sea, made Rachel Carson the foremost science writer in America. She understood that there was a deep need for writers who could report on and interpret the natural world. Readers around the world found comfort in her clear explanations of complex science, her description of the creation of the seas, and her obvious love of the wonders of nature. Hers was a trusted voice in a world riddled by uncertainty.
Whenever she spoke in public, however, she took notice of ominous new trends. “Intoxicated with a sense of his own power,” she wrote, “[mankind] seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.” Technology, she feared, was moving on a faster trajectory than mankind’s sense of moral responsibility. In 1945 she tried to interest Reader’s Digest in the alarming evidence of environmental damage from the widespread use of the new synthetic chemical DDT and other long-lasting agricultural pesticides. By 1957 Carson believed that these chemicals were potentially harmful to the long-term health of the whole biota. The pollution of the environment by the profligate use of toxic chemicals was the ultimate act of human hubris, a product of ignorance and greed that she felt compelled to bear witness against. She insisted that what science conceived and technology made possible must first be judged for its safety and benefit to t...
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