Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal book, Silent Spring, here is an indelible new portrait of Rachel Carson, founder of the modern environmental movement.
She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.
Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.
Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action—despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.
Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson's romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman and of Carson's death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.
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"On a Farther Shore is a very well researched and insightful analysis of Rachel Carson's writing career. I was not aware that she had a huge following prior to the publication of Silent Spring, which is one of the reasons she was able to gather such wide readership for her landmark work on the ecological effects of biocides. As a wannabe natural history writer myself, I found it comforting to read that this heroine in the field of science writing also described the process as laborious and stressful. I also did not know that she died of cancer, and moreover, kept this very private throughout the process of writing Silent Spring. Souder does not comment on the irony of this in his meticulous biography, which left me wondering if she talked about this with anyone close to her. It must have been, to some extent, the fire that kept her going to complete the book."
Kathy (4 out of 5 stars)