I got annoyed by The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2022 and wanted to read some really good science. I’ve had Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in mind ever since 1964 when it was first published and my 9th grade science teacher gushed about it. Okay fine – and I heard about it all through the rest of school and once in awhile since. Now is the time. Then I found it included in my membership at Audible and the Kindle version was available at the library. Oh yay me!
by: Rachel Carson
1962/ 150 pgs Kindle)
Read by Kaiulani Lee – 10 hrs and 36 mins
Rating – 10: classic environmental science
(Both read and listened)
I’m not sure what I was expecting from a book my teacher was enthusiastic about 60+ years ago, but it’s a whole LOT more than whatever I was thinking. So I dived right in and a few hours later didn’t want to go to bed.
Yes, it’s real science and yes it’s beautifully written catching both the particulars of the science and the poetry of nature. Fwiw, the narration is soft and somewhat understated adding in some way to the whole effect. As Carson states in the book, “In nature, nothing exists alone.”
After World War 2 both insects and plants were targeted by new approaches of control. From the Introduction, “They should not be called “insecticides” but “biocides.”
I’m sure the book was startling back in 1962. It’s not an easy book to read even today when so many chemicals and poisons are banned or heavily controlled by different regulating agencies. During WWII a lot of poisons were developed for the war and by the 1950s they were in the hands of the corporations for use by the public, farmers, consumers, golf course managers, etc.
Somehow. someone. somewhere realized that the pesticides and herbicides developed for the war might also work after the war. And so they did – on the insects as well as on humans. DDT was one of the first.
The sales force was good – use more, use more, use more. But they were putting poison in the gardens of humans and into the food stuff for humans so guess what? Humans suffered as well as other animals.
The pesticide and herbicide industriesgrew with the help of the US Department of Agriculture and Carson is hard on everyone – government and manufacturers. The government pushed the use of pesticides as hard as the developers and nobody really did enough research. Where we used to at least have a skull and crossbones on poison and everyone over age 8 knew what that meant – the producers of DDT didn’t bother with that – And DDT was all the rage for awhile. (My mom knew there was DDT in it but she didn’t think it was enough to matter – until later.)
Since forever, plants and animals have migrated along with humans so Klamath Weed got transported from Europe to California. Beetles and other insects feed on it in Europe so that’s what was done in the US with great success in some places. Other transplants were not so successful for the new home, When there are no natural predators the newcomers take over – check out the cactus in Australia.
There are excellent sections on Dutch Elm Disease, fire ants, and more – the war against fire ants affected many birds because birds eat worms and worms were sprayed. Cancer gets its own chapter (“One in Every Four”).
Carson pulls no punches. She “tells it like it is,” or was anyway. It definitely alerted the population and the marketers were up in arms (of course – remember tobacco?). The current data of Silent Spring is dated but the general warning is definitely not, so now I want to read “Silent Spring 60 Years Later “ from Pepperdine or “The Legacy of Silent Spring” from Treehugger. T
The book ends on a positive note pointing to the advances being made (at the time) in using natural biological remedies. I’d love to read this again but we’ll have to see about time! Meanwhile – it gets a 10 for substance and writing and being a classic.
An Introduction by Linda Lear: http://www.lindalear.com/introduction_to_the_40th_anniversary_edition_of__i_silent_spring__i__by_rachel_ca_27239.htm
Also see Amazon’s sale page for a great Introduction.
Yes, I was late to reading Carson too, which made it even more depressing because although there is some improvement, there is still so much to be done!