Rachel Carson – Silent Spring

Silent Spring written by marine biologist Rachel Carson in 1962, was one of the most influential nonfiction books of the twentieth century and is generally credited with jump-starting the modern American environmental movement by exposing the dangers of toxic pesticides.

Carson, born in Pennsylvania in 1907, worked for the US Bureau of Fisheries for fifteen years and wrote her first book on marine life in 1941. Her 1951 book The Sea Around Us won the National Book Award and established Carson’s reputation as an eloquent explainer of complex science to general audiences. After the book’s success, she quit her government job to devote herself to writing.

Although Carson spent most of her life in Maryland, she summered in Maine, where she became disturbed by the rapid disappearance of the state’s rugged seashore to human development. Carson’s first two books were largely apolitical, but watching the pristine Maine coast disappear helped turn her into a champion of land conservation.

Silent Spring, which took Carson four years to write, combined her expert understanding of chemistry and biology with a sharp attack on chemical companies and the government. In the book, Carson claimed that pesticides like DDT were killing birds – potentially leading to a “silent spring” – and endangering human health, too. Her book was immediately attacked by the pesticide industry, but virtually all of her reseach was soon vindicated, and DDT is now banned in the United States.

Carson died of cancer in 1964, but her book had an enormous and continuing impact. Prior to Silent Spring, the environmental movement was largely defined by support for land conservation. By exposing the corporate malfeasance poisoning the atmosphere, Carson focused the environmental movement of pollution, a new emphasis that led to the passage of major antipollution laws in the 1960s and 1970s.

From The Intellectual DevotionalAmerican History by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim

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