Rachel Carson sent tremors through American society with the publication of her 1962 book "Silent Spring." Carson, a marine biologist who died two years after publication of the book, wrote "Silent Spring" when she received a letter from a concerned citizen lamenting the mass death of birds after a DDT spraying. Carson continues to serve as a touchstone for both mainline and radical environmental groups, from the Sierra Club to Earth First!. It is not difficult to see why; Carson's call for active involvement in our environment is still an absolute necessity today as the industrial system continues its rapid march across the landscape. If we do not want our children born with gills and fins, keeping Carson in mind is important.
Carson's analysis of DDT and other synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides resulted in a deeply ominous conclusion-pesticides destroy the environment and threaten everything within the ecological system. Carson examined the composition of pesticides, revealing that synthetic pesticides have the ability to not only kill their intended targets, but they also move right up the food chain, eventually reaching the human population. The pesticides then build up in the tissues of the body, rarely breaking down but often building in intensity through continued exposure or changing into forms that are even more toxic by interacting with other ingested chemicals. Even worse, these chemicals cause tremors, paralysis, cancer, and a host of other unpleasant ailments. Carson cites numerous stories about exposed people falling ill and dying shortly after spraying these toxic chemicals. Carson also shows the biological process these poisons take when they enter the body, when they cut off oxygen to the cells and raise the metabolic rate to unhealthy levels. Carson proves these chemicals move on to succeeding generations of offspring through mother's milk and other biological processes.
Most of the book deals with the effects of chemical spraying on wildlife in the environment. Separate chapters deal with birds, insects, fish, and plant life. Needless to say, the picture painted here is not pretty. Too often, spraying chemicals in the 1950's and 1960's brought into play the full ignorance of the human race. Carson's book shows how farmers applied pounds of poisons to their land, far exceeding the recommended application levels. Spray trucks moved through neighborhoods, hosing down the community with poison while the kiddies played outside in the yard. On several occasions, planes sprayed poison on cities. This reckless disregard for life in any form ruined landscapes, created mounds of animal corpses, and gave us tasty water that can melt your teeth.
What is surprising about Carson's book is that people knew all about the effects of these poisons. "Silent Spring" made a difference because it puts it all together, showing how a series of localized incidents is, in fact, a national problem. Carson also wrote her book in a style where even the densest yokels in the herd could figure out the dangers of the problem. Since I am a science idiot, I appreciated Carson's clear articulation of the problem without sacrificing the hard data behind the examples.
Carson delivers a stinging rebuke to our conception of mankind as the dominant force in the universe. If humanity truly rules the roost, so to speak, why are we such idiots about sustaining the very environment that feeds us? The ignorance of man in this book is astounding. Repeatedly, we destroy and destroy again even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the damage we are causing. Local governments kept spraying even when evidence showed it was a failure. Birds literally fell out of the sky while the trucks went out for another pass through the neighborhood. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
"Silent Spring" concludes with a call for sanity. Carson's answer to the insane escalation of chemical spraying is to seek out biological control methods. Many insects have natural enemies that, if introduced into a problem area, will keep down pest populations. Even localized spraying will work better than mass, indiscriminate spraying. Carson argues that biological control methods are increasingly important because insects are building up resistance to pesticides, requiring the creation of even more virulent poisons in a never-ending cycle where nobody wins.
"Silent Spring" is required reading for anyone concerned about the environment. Carson's book led to significant changes in environmental law (some would say not enough change) and resulted in the outright ban of DDT. My only problem with the book is the introduction written by Al Gore, as the publisher marketed the book with that fact in mind. Gore's name seems to merit equal billing with Carson's on the cover. One must remember Al Gore is a politician and is in league with the destroyers because he needs their money to run his expensive campaigns. Carson would be appalled.
on August 2, 2011
Anyone who has read this book has easy reference to multiple studies that ALL show DDT is an entirely ineffective long-term solution to malaria. It isn't hard to miss the sexism in a lot of these comments, calling Carson out as "emotional" especially stands out-anyone who has actually read her book would struggle to find a trace of emotion as she describes case studies in depth. She loved nature, this is true, but the woman never made a single assertion that wasn't backed up by abundant research. The haters can call Carson names and accuse her of murder all day long, but the fact is there isn't a single study out there that gives any hope of DDT being a sustainable solution to malaria (or anything else, really. Does cancer count?). The only reason it is being sprayed in poor areas is because there is restricted funding for sustainable methods of mosquito-control, and DDT is well, cheap. But a cheap poison is still a poison, and at the end of the day none of the trolls on this page can produce any credible research to back up their opinionated claims. So they display this scientist, a woman who was never known to display anything other than calm composure, even when testifying in front of congress and the nation, as an overly-emotional wackjob who decided to rampage against toxic killers one day in the middle of a bad period. She was in fact, the exact opposite- a meticulous, exacting scientist who disliked open displays of emotion and cited all her assertions with plentiful evidence. Read this book, you won't regret it. Unless of course, you already hate facts- then join the trolls on this page!
on June 4, 2003
Too many reviewers see only one thread of Carson's argument: that DDT and pesticides like it endanger the environment. The other thread is that DDT resistance in mosquitoes develops very quickly, and the more quickly the more it is used. Which leaves us right back where we started. Her argument is not that pesticides should not be used, but that they should be used intelligently. In this age, when antibiotic resistant bacteria are becoming a very serious problem precisely because of antibiotic overuse (and not only in hospitals, but, most egregiously, as growth enhancers for livestock), this argument should be indisputable.
on December 2, 2008
Every once in a while a book comes a long that has such a profound effect on society that it creates a movement for awareness and betterment. Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, is one of those. Silent Spring did for the environmental movement what Upton Sinclair's The Jungle did for the labor movement and Uncle Tom's Cabin did for the anti-slavery movement. Carson took a stand on environmental abuses, especially against the chemical industry in this work of social criticism. Carson opened the eyes of many and forced many to take responsibility for their actions, which sparked a modern environmental and awareness movement that is still active today.
Silent Spring discusses the implications of using harmful chemicals to all life--plant, animal, human and the like. They cause negative cyclical reactions--the processes do not continue to work, so it is the harmful chemicals to the Earth are repeated year after year. Though the chemical industry would make you believe the levels in use are not harmful, that is a fallacy. They are extremely dangerous chemicals and poisons, which build up over time in one's body and in the Earth, over time make them lethal.
Carson did well in creating a book that everyone, not just science and environmental enthusiasts could both read and understand. The information presented captures the urgent and sincere trouble that the United States was heading down during the time Silent Spring was written. The use of chemical insecticides and pesticides was going against nature and creating irreversible damage to all living things. The Earth and its facets have its own built-in system to correct problems and to make it work in harmony. Industry, farmers, and others trying to self correct these--mainly by using large amounts of dangerous chemicals, upsets this balance and creates even more problems. It is a cyclical action where there is no positive end in sight.
The actual idea of a "silent spring" which Carson helps the reader visualize in chapter one is a dreary one. Carson goes on to describe specific chemicals (especially DDT), their make-up, and specific hazards they pose. Pesticides and insecticides are both broken down into the dangerous poisons that they are. Carson discusses how these poisons are passed through the food chain, therefore leaving every living thing at risk. Unhealthy consequences, such as disease often occurs, resulting in death if exposed heavily. It is important to understand that the use of these chemicals creates the decline of the Earth's natural defenses against insect populations. By understanding that these poisons exterminate insects only temporary, it's clear that most insects develop resistance to the chemicals rendering them useless. For example, once insects become resistant they can take over in even greater numbers.
Carson uses several chapters to focus on specific aspects of the Earth and how they are specifically affected by these poisons--water, soil, and plants are examined in detail. Carson goes into specific massive spraying campaigns that were used rigorously, but at the expense of the health of the planet and those inhabiting it. One in particular included the spraying in the Midwest for eliminating the Japanese beetle. The Japanese beetle became resistant to the chemicals and has now increased their population. The Midwest completely disregarded the fact that other parts of the United States had successfully used natural predators of the beetle. Again the "easier" and cheaper plan was used at the cost of much of the wildlife in that area.
There was much research and reference to the effect this all had on the bird populations in the United States. This is likely because birds were greatly affected, but also because Carson began this book project after hearing about her friend's experience--many birds died in this friend's hometown as a result of a spraying campaign of DDT. Since birds eat insects and worms (which feed on the insecticides and pesticides) they are extremely vulnerable to being poisoned. Birds were also greatly affected by the mass spraying of DDT for Dutch elm disease. The birds' natural habitat was once again being negatively harmed.
Rivers, streams, and lakes, along with the life that goes with it have also been greatly influenced. Groups of salmon were killed in the campaign against the spruce budworm in forests. Another forest campaign was against the gypsy moth--many people were affected by this (along with many other campaigns) as areas outside of the forest region were sprayed. This is not an uncommon occurrence though. There are few people in the world who do not carry residue from these chemical poisons in their body. Carson uses some of the last chapters to explain the human body's make-up and just how detrimental chemical insecticides and pesticides can be. This leads to diseases such as cancer and eventually death.
As far as some negatives of the book--obviously since the book was written in the early 1960's it is not all up-to-date and relevant. Also, Carson becomes repetitive throughout the book. Though it may not be specifically relevant, it did occur and therefore it affects us nowadays in some way. Not all has been resolved as well--we have a long way to go to become universally environmentally friendly. This book should be used as a tool to help present day and future generations learn from the mistakes of the past. Also, it is fairly one sided with the information. Carson is presenting her findings, but not exactly presenting valid counterarguments.
Carson does not just go over all that is wrong and leave it at that--she wraps up by explaining possible alternative methods of insect control, including some methods that have been tested and proven valid. These "biological" methods are based on understanding the living organism that needs to be controlled, as well as the environment surrounding it. Alternatives include the "male sterilization" technique, using natural enemies of the insects, creating weapons from the insects own life--understanding and then using the insects' venoms, attractants, repellants, and secretions against it. Also, sound repellent and the use of natural diseases of the insects and crops are also alternative ideas.
Overall, Silent Spring is an incredible wake-up call for the fragility of earth and for the dangerous "butterfly effect"--one mistake can set off a chain of events critical to all life as we know it. Silent Spring is a classic work of literature that should be read by school children and adults alike, as a reminder to how vital it is to respect our amazing planet. Because it is not just the birds in danger, it is all of nature and all of humanity.
on February 11, 2000
Silent Spring is, without a doubt, the most amazing book I have ever read. Though it is gut-loaded with facts, Carson' s ingenious wording makes reading it a somewhat enjoyable experience. It seems as if the words had an almost surreal quality. For example one of her chapters is entitled, "Realms of the Soil," and another is, "The Earth's Green Mantle." One can tell that this is her style of writing because she also used such titles in her other books such as Under the Sea Wind. With this style, the drawbacks are that about every sentence is difficult to understand, with few I completely did not understand at all. Then again, I am just a preteen; Silent Spring was intended for adults to read, comprehend, and then heed its warning. I most definitely can see why the people of the 1960's were so moved by this single book, for I could have almost be fooled to thinking that it was a piece of classic fictional literature when I began reading it.
This book was also quite informative, as I was appalled by some of the actual events mentioned, like the story of a factory or warehouse that polluted the water around it so much that over time, the menagerie of chemicals bonded to form an additional one. It is true that Carson exaggerated a bit, but the point is, her message was sent far beyond a person's imagination. Silent Spring was the smoking gun against chemical toxins. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed Silent Spring, and at times I found it hard to put down. After all, I did not give it such a high rating for nothing.
on October 9, 2003
As an entomologist I would like to clarify what I have seen in some of the prior reviews. I would also like future readers of this book to understand that it was written in 1962. It's important to understand what Rachel Carson's book was trying to do. She had to make an impact to millions of readers, and do so in layman's terms. That was a near insurmountable task, especially the way in which women in science were treated during that era.
I do agree with others in that some of her statements are based on shaky evidence. However, I don't agree that see is responsible for thousands of deaths due to malaria. Diseases have existed for THOUSANDS OF YEARS, and all animals have had to deal with it, including humans. For example, humans with sickle cell anemia are immune to malaria.
It is easy for someone in America to say that DDT should not be used in Africa to fight disease, because we don't have to deal with the thousands of people dying every day. Perhaps DDT can be used in more precise applications to cut down on mosquitos (which are the vectors or carriers of the disease). However, malaria and other autochthonous diseases in Africa can be dealt with by means other than DDT, and thanks to Rachel Carson, funding for research into areas such as creating transgenic mosquitos is a reality. Someday we may have the ability to eraticate malaria, and credit would undoubted have to partly go to her.
The issue of the safety of DDT has been mentioned in many of these reviews, and the truth is NO ONE IS RIGHT! There has been almost no testing into the safety of DDT, so it's impossible for anyone to say that it's safe or dangerous (to humans). A famous toxicologist once said, "The poison is the dose". The big problem with DDT is that it biomagnifies and is fat soluble; in other words gets easily passed through the food chain and increases consequently in concentration while been stored in fats. So basically, that "dose" increases and increases and can more easily damage organisms. But again, not a lot of scientific research has been done in this subject, so I wouldn't say anything about DDT other than a my own hypothesis.
In summary, read this book, its a little dry, overstates its point, but it changed the world's perspective on pesticides.
If you want to see a good reference on insecticides look for:
Pedigo, L. P. 2002. Entomology & Pest Management, 4th edition. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. xxii + 742 pp.
on February 12, 2006
Silent Spring - Rachel Carson (40th Anniversary Edition)
It was finally time for me to pick up the book that is often credited with inspiring or starting the modern environmental movement. I'd heard of Silent Spring many times from environmental speakers and had seen it referenced in The Ecology of Commerce and in Megatrends 2010 (see other reviews). The title has lost nothing of its timeliness or relevance with the passage of more than 40 years since its first printing. To that point, First Mariner Books published a 40th Anniversary Edition with introduction and afterword by Linda Lear and Edward O. Wilson, respectively, that place the book and author in historical context and give credit for the impact both have had on our world.
I want to first of all give the author praise for being much more balanced and far-seeing in her thinking than any of the detractors whose reviews I've read on Amazon would hint at. The main charge post-humously leveled is that rampant unthinking DDT (or worse) use would have saved lives lost to malaria had it not been for one woman writing a slanderous attack on the petrochem industry whose only apparent reason for being is to improve life. Rachel Carson's prose may have been very eloquent, pursuasive and moving but she was not advocating an extreme or unthinking position. Whereas she may have been extremely passionate about the need to make changes in the spray away mindset of the day, she did not call for throwing away what science could contribute to public health and well-being or even economic productivity. Quite the contrary, based on an ecological mindset and a commitment to understand nature and work with her, Carson encouraged exploring biologically wise means to control pests that thrive in a bio-defense impoverished monoculture. She cited figures and facts on successful pioneering integrated pest management programs and made a cost-benefit analysis that set the balance right.
I may have majored in Economics, but I'll gladly take my science from scientists like Rachel Carson rather than the PR department of a chemical firm with a vested interest in selling a "silver bullet" that has to be reapplied year after year in greater amounts. Carson makes an ironclad case for the dangers of bioaccumulation of toxins in the food chain (yeah and guess who's at the top), the ill-targetted dispersal methods, insect resistance due to extremely short reproduction cycles and the mutagenic qualities of many of the new wave of pesticides. She lays out her arguments in such clear language and with sufficient analogies and background that a layman can easily follow and be more conversant in the concepts of the subject matter. The other criticism of the book by detractors' reviews is that there are "too many facts" referenced in it - I don't think these readers have any sense for the time period that Rachel Carson was writing in and the need for a woman, an outsider, to make damn sure that she lined up all the facts she could behind her case so as to not just be dismissed ad hominem when raising concern about how the men in the white coats were wisley dragging us down the wrong path.
What's with all the wingnuts claiming that Carson is responsible for millions of malaria deaths by banning DDT? Nice Limbaughesque talking point, but as often, WAY OFF TARGET. The main thrust of the book is against agricultural pesticides where the damage caused by the target pest is economically less significant than the collateral damage of control efforts to the environment and human well-being. The reference to mosquito control in the actual book these buffoons claim to be reviewing is 1). a warning on mosquito resistance, 2). risk of wiping out the mosquitos natural predators with indiscrimminate control strategies (Nissan Island WWII), 3).exploring other more targetted control measures such as ultrasound.
on April 21, 2005
The legacy of Rachel Carson's famous work is living on today and is still the nemesis of the chemical industry. It appears that a few chemical snake-oil pushers and/or their apologists have been leaving bad reviews amongst the mostly glowing reviews, confirming the success and timeless message of Carson's work long after her passing in 1964.
Indeed, *Silent Spring* is still one of the most referenced works when it comes to environment and chemical contamination of the environment. One will understand why after reading this monumental achievement.
Ms Carson's work put environment and ecology squarely into our collective consciousness and part of that success is owed, inadvertently, to the chemical manufacturers who ruthlessly attacked her as a person and the integrity of her work. She was called before congress to testify about the dangers of pesticide/herbicide use and to prove her work while simultaneously being challenged by scientists and chemical manufacturer representatives.
The outcome was that chemicals such as DDT, which were wiping-out non-targeted life forms such as the Bald Eagle, were eventually banned from use in the U.S.
The controversy over pesticide use stirred-up another important issue and that was the chemical manufacturers insidious influence of university-level research. Manufacturers have always funded university research with rich grants for which they expect data to support their products success in the market-place. Researchers are often coerced by threat of loosing funding or their credibility challenged if their findings are not favorable to industry. Unfortunately, a few of those researchers are gladly willing to take part in this nefarious pseudo-science and seem not to loose any sleep over it.
After the backlash of government and public outcry caused by Ms Carson`s efforts, chemical manufacturers to this day think twice before attempting to publicly defame decent/honest chemical detractors, indeed, the possibility of being exposed by the dreaded "Silent Spring Syndrome" haunts them in a poetic gesture to the memory and work of Rachel Carson.
After Ms Carson's exhaustive studies and field work, where the damage of pesticides and herbicides showed their insidious bad habits of spreading beyond target areas, polluting and disrupting biomes, her clear message to the public was simply stated:
"Now at last, as it has become apparent that the heedless and unrestrained use of chemicals is a greater menace to ourselves than to the targets (bugs), the river which is the science of biotic control flows again, fed by new streams of thought." (p 279) Indeed!
Carson's legacy is enhanced by a host of dedicated people who keep her work not only referenced, but updated and disseminated through such beautiful books as: Sandra Steingraber's "Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment" and for empathy and understanding of the insect world, there is Joanne E. Lauck's "The Voice of the Infinite in the Small: Re-visioning the Insect-Human Connection".
In 1964, and after Ms Carson died, Robert L. Rudd, a zoologist and expert on the dangers pesticides, published his
study: "Pesticides and the Living Landscape". This work underscored and corraberated the importance Ms Carson's work and showed that many scientists could not be bought or intimidated by the chemical companies.
The sad irony of the chemical manufacturer's dangerous assault on insects is that all bugs have a purpose, but then so do the chemical companies: to make a ton of money selling insanity to an unwitting and uneducated public. This constitutes one of the most irresponsible and insidious snake-oil scams in history.
To learn more about Rachel Carson's legacy and resources for action, go to: [...] and the Racel Carson Council: [...]
on May 31, 2008
As an environmental science student at Melbourne University, I was told "Silent Spring" launched the environmental movement and paved the way for much greater knowledge of the environment. In contrast, on conservative book lists, the book is sometimes listed as a bigger killer than Mein Kampf because of its ban on DDT, but the liberal "Modern Library" listed it as the fifth best nonfiction book of the twentieth century.
The reality is that "Silent Spring" is neither quite the pioneer in ecology that it is sometimes supposed to be nor could anything in it be said to pave the way for a huge number of deaths from the spread of malaria. First of all, the book does not offer any serious insight into the actual functioning of ecosystems, even though Carson must have known quite a lot about these questions considering the amount she wrote about marine biology. There is nothing in "Silent Spring" that discusses even the most basic human ecology or resource depletion problems. Although the book's viewpoint that humans were capable of altering the environment is drastic manners via the use of artificial chemicals, was a genuine revelation, anybody seeking a precursor to Marc Reisner,Tim Flannery or even Sylvia Earle will be disappointed.
On the other hand, though the descriptions of the way in which pesticides killed fish in many American rivers is truly graphic and all the better for it, claims that Rachel Carson actually advocated the complete banning of pesticides that killed malarial mosquitoes can be shown in the book itself to be false. It was only the hysteria that came after the book that led many people to advocate complete bans on pesticides, and those who see her as a mass murderer overlook two facts.
The first is that one of "Silent Spring"'s most essential points - that insects become resistant to specialised insecticides very quickly - means that it is exceptionally unlikely DDT is likely to keep malaria eradicated for long periods. The second is that Carson was not nearly so misanthropic as her critics would have it. Rather than advocating rapid growth of pests that would reduce the food supply, she advocated much more efficient use of pesticides that would probably serve to reduce resistance and make for much less ecological damage as well as potentially lower costs. The fact that oil's cheapness is "Silent Spring"'s day eliminated this potential gain is consistently but naturally overlooked by her critics.
What makes "Silent Spring" valuable is not that it merely shows pesticides have done damage, but that it is able to see far worse consequences. The most telling are the way in which the absence of one insect from spraying leads to another becoming a worse pest, which has an (unfortunately overlooked) analog in the biological control which Carson advocates as the answer to pest problems - though I know all too well from studying the cane toad that such a view is simplistic and Carson fails to mention that agents used for biological control as often as not become pests themselves. Her idea of using such methods as fertility control, however, is actually further ahead of its time than anything else in "Silent Spring" as it was not studied significantly before the 1990s.
This ability to move beyond simplistic arguments has had many benefits for "Silent Spring" over the years. Most especially, Carson's ability to see beyond simplistic cause-and-effect analyses is one reason why "Silent Spring" has held up with age vastly better than The Population Bomb or Unsafe at Any Speed, which are so often bracketed with it. I sincerely hope people can get beyond the hype to see a book that has held up very well and remains an impressive read even a half-century later as well as a superb look into the technology and life of its time. Such is a rare combination.
on March 16, 2009
In 1962, while still in college, I received, as a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company, c. 1962). It opened my eyes to something I'd never considered: environmental destruction. It made me, rather abruptly, an environmentalist! I decided to re-read Silent Spring, and coincidentally noticed a remark in a magazine saying no one actually reads Carson's book these days. In part this is due to the fact that many of her "scientific" assertions never had merit. Indeed, her alarms regarding DDT, leading to its banning (and the resultant deaths of millions of Africans), amount to one of the great tragedies of the past century.
Carson launched her work with a quotation from Albert Schweitzer: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." That's her fear. She herself was losing a battle with the cancer which killed her when she wrote the book, and she feared the earth, as well as she, might die, poisoned by pesticides. She feared the chemical flood we've unleashed since WWII might overwhelm the delicate biological networks which sustain life on earth. "The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible" (p. 6).
We've done this, Carson argued, primarily to eliminate a few alleged "pests"--insects and weeds which annoy us. In fact, few of these "pests" pose significant threat to human survival or welfare, and in our effort to eliminate them we failed to understand three important facts: 1) the insects and weeds we try to destroy rapidly adapt to the poisons and thenceforth prove even graver threats; 2) the broadside spraying of chemicals kills good as well as bad creatures--thus the natural predators which kept populations balanced were often wiped out along with pollinating insects like bees which are necessary for plant life; 3) poisonous substances, such as DDT and DDD, though initially applied in small amounts, concentrate as they move up the food chain and remain permanently imbedded in certain tissues (fatty tissues in mammals, for example).
Carson described the kinds of chemicals (she calls them biocides) which are most widely used in pesticides and herbicides, enabling non-scientists like myself to comprehend their composition and lethal power. Then she illustrates how these chemicals, mainly used in agriculture, flow into surface waters and leech into ground water. We're increasingly aware of water shortages, legal water wars between states such as Arizona and California, and poor water quality. I suspect Carson's still accurate in saying: "In the entire water-pollution problem, there is probably nothing more disturbing than the threat of widespread contamination of groundwater" (p. 42).
She illustrates the crisis with the case of Clear Lake, California, 90 miles north of San Francisco. A good lake for fishing, it was also plagued by a gnat, annoying but not harmful to humans. In the late 1940's, DDD was applied at a ratio of one part per 70 million parts of water. The gnats quickly recovered, however, so in 1954 another spraying was done, this time at the ratio of one part per 50 million, followed by a third application in three years. Some noticed that many of the western (or swan) grebe began dying, and fatty tissues in the birds were found to contain 1600 parts per million of the poison. By 1960, of the original 1000 pairs of nesting grebe, only 30 remained. The gnats endured, as much a nuisance as ever; the birds, however, perished.
"Silent spring," of course warns of the disappearance of birds like the grebe. Massive amounts of herbicides and pesticides have been applied, unsuccessfully trying to deal with problems such as Dutch Elm Disease, only to end up killing songbirds such as robins. Dumped into streams and rivers, such "biocides" kill fish. And, ultimately, they also kill men and women who eat the fish. Carson explains, with consummate literary skill, the life of cells and the oxidizing wonders of tiny mitochondria within them, showing how they sustain life. Toxic chemicals, however, interrupt normal cell life and provoke abnormal reactions and growth.
Much has changed since Carson published her treatise. Savagely attacked at first, her agenda, if not her research, has succeeded. Her concerns have encouraged others to continue her work, and toxics are no longer used as recklessly as they were in her time. This book endures as more of a classic literary work than a scientific work, a book which will be read in coming generations because it alerted us to a momentous problem and illustrated how science can be written so as to engage the popular mind.