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On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 4, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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 Eaarth

"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

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030746220X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307462206
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #765,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a great book for those interested in the environmental movement and/or great and influential women in contemporary American history. It is billed as a biography of Rachel Carson, but it also turns out to be a comprehensive history of the American environmental movement with various tangents that take off on side issues. So it is not just a biography of Rachel Carson, but it does contain interesting documentation of inter-related other scientific developments. For the scientifically minded, the side-trips are worthwhile. For those who want only a biography of Rachel Carson, they may find it somewhat distracting.
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Format: Hardcover
If you grew up in the middle decades of the 20th Century (or your parents did ... or your grandparents did), "On a Farther Shore" will teach you a great deal about the United States of America as it was, before Rachel Carson and her fellow environmental stewards shook us awake to the idea that human beings are capable of poisoning not just ourselves and the other animals around us, but the planet itself.

Pay no attention to those who bemoan the side-trips Mr. Souder takes as he places Miss Carson in the context of her times. That is what all great biographers do! And this, make no mistake, is a great biography, which -- like Rachel Carson's work -- will stand the test of time.
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Since Rachel Carson ranks in the top five of my all time most admired people, I was hesitant to read another biography but I was not disappointed. The author did his research well and treated both her public and private life with sensitivity.I am now re-reading her earlier books because of this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a splendid book. VERY engaging; it is hard to put down once picked up. For me, it is so interesting tolearn about this incredible woman who has contributed so much to understanding and protecting our environment.
It is so well written - a pleasure to read.
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