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Silent Spring

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Silent Spring is an environmental science book. The book documents the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting the industry's marketing claims unquestioningly.

The book appeared in September 1962 and the outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement.

378 pages, Paperback

First published September 27, 1962

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About the author

Rachel Carson

49 books1,113 followers
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award, recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths.

Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A variety of groups ranging from government institutions to environmental and conservation organizations to scholarly societies have celebrated Carson's life and work since her death. Perhaps most significantly, on June 9, 1980, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. A 17¢ Great Americans series postage stamp was issued in her honor the following year; several other countries have since issued Carson postage as well.

Carson's birthplace and childhood home in Springdale, Pennsylvania — now known as the Rachel Carson Homestead—became a National Register of Historic Places site, and the nonprofit Rachel Carson Homestead Association was created in 1975 to manage it. Her home in Colesville, Maryland where she wrote Silent Spring was named a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Near Pittsburgh, a 35.7 miles (57 km) hiking trail, maintained by the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, was dedicated to Carson in 1975. A Pittsburgh bridge was also renamed in Carson's honor as the Rachel Carson Bridge. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection State Office Building in Harrisburg is named in her honor. Elementary schools in Gaithersburg, Montgomery County, Maryland, Sammamish, Washington and San Jose, California were named in her honor, as were middle schools in Beaverton, Oregon and Herndon, Virginia (Rachel Carson Middle School), and a high school in Brooklyn, New York.

Between 1964 and 1990, 650 acres (3 km2) near Brookeville in Montgomery County, Maryland were acquired and set aside as the Rachel Carson Conservation Park, administered by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. In 1969, the Coastal Maine National Wildlife Refuge became the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge; expansions will bring the size of the refuge to about 9,125 acres (37 km2). In 1985, North Carolina renamed one of its estuarine reserves in honor of Carson, in Beaufort.

Carson is also a frequent namesake for prizes awarded by philanthropic, educational and scholarly institutions. The Rachel Carson Prize, founded in Stavanger, Norway in 1991, is awarded to women who have made a contribution in the field of environmental protection. The American Society for Environmental History has awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation since 1993. Since 1998, the Society for Social Studies of Science has awarded an annual Rachel Carson Book Prize for "a book length work of social or political relevance in the area of science and technology studies."

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_C...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,012 reviews
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews6,945 followers
March 23, 2018
A must read book for the concerned. Carson brings forth, without ever putting on alarmist garbs, all the horrors of the warfare that we have undertaken against ourselves.

The book is of course outdated and most of the bigger concerns have been, if not addressed, at least taken seriously. But the true value of the book is in understanding how long a time frame has to elapse before such matters of truly catastrophic nature follows the process of scientific suspicion, investigation, verification, then the slow seepage into public consciousness, then the denialism and finally the first baby steps of public policy.

Reading the book so many years after its intended audience we have to go beyond the book and apply the concern to the current issues that we face. It is not the facts or the issues that is important, it is the attitude that Carson endorses.

With the potent weapons in our hands, can we still afford to be so lax in our reaction to life threatening dangers sneering in our face? Will nature be so forgiving next time around?

As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the incomplete human knowledge has been hurled against the fabric of life without any consideration of the risks which is beyond our current understanding or technology to calculate.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
769 reviews3,500 followers
December 12, 2021
One person alone can achieve anything if there is a dedicated public behind it.

It´s inspiring to see what a human with a vision has achieved on his own, because the book has changed the behavior of one of the most influential, one could also use other adjectives, governments of the world. Although only in the short term and partly, but at least a beginning until corporate environmentalism and greenwashing came and ruined everything again.

More than half a century after its publication, politics and the economy are still downplaying poisoning the environment, the sixth extinction, and general background extinction with dubious and unscientific arguments and ideas. For example that, without toxic sprays, the erosion would wash away the topsoil as in for example... and so on. They design lists and concepts that assign economic values of benefit to natural spaces and the forms of life they contain and in this way, it´s determined which animals cease and which ones get a place in the ark, zoo, or genetic manipulated breeding program to get more meat out of it in shorter time.

Too small areas are designated as nature reserves and if not the stress is what kills the animals, the incest certainly does. There are still many similar howlers and bigoted blossoms in the environmental policies and the recommendations of ministries of agriculture, often with the same interests and goals as in the ministries of economics all around the world. At least not a collision of interests so that the state can keep destroying, aka working, effectively.

A person's initiative is an indictment for those who say they can´t do anything. They say that one vote wouldn´t be worth anything in an election or getting active in NGOs would be just a frustrating waste of time and in earlier times, the refutations may have been correct on several points. The media were even more monopolized and the reporting heavily censored. Also, people were so conservative that it was easy to help them get massive personal and professional problems by violating opportunism if they got too progressive. The opportunity to network with other like-minded people was sparse, but in the 21st century, these justifications are obsolete and a cheap vindication.

Today, social media and the global cooperation of NGOs and civic movements can, has, and will achieve much more. That there is still a long way to go is another matter altogether and it´s far too easy and one-sided to blame the adolescents and young adults for not engaging in activism. Many never get in closer contact with the subject because of their big city or suburbian environment, are brainwashed by traditional media, and therefore can´t form an unindoctrinated, enlightened consciousness. The fact that they are deprived of deliberately hidden opportunities to engage is society's fault, or let's point the finger at it and call it the astonishing achievement of the cooptation of all social and general media, that just don´t touch these touchy topics with a ten foot pole in blind obedience to their corporate, advertising, overlords.

Instead, the raised index finger should be wielded in the direction of the teachers and parents, with a special focus on comparing the environmentally conscious, engaging parents with the shopaholic and indifferent legal guardians, and the bigoted do gooders that keep benefiting from the system while practicing token fake activism to whitewash their cognitive bias dissonance overkill, the tragic picture is fully revealed. The children imitate this behavior, sometimes even during puberty if they´re well trained don´t see, hear, speak monkeys, I don´t know if indifference or pseudo patching superficial problems while the cores of the problem stay unnamed, is more insane and bipolar.

The classic, stereotypical problem is that one doesn´t believe what one doesn´t see because the visible parts of pollution and environmental degradation have been widely exported to developing countries and poor or uninhabited areas of industrialized, rich countries and there, the companies don´t even have to bother to conceal or simulate waste separation. One can dump any waste anywhere, exporting it is big business.

When there are talks about pollution, environmental issues, background extinction, etc. in wealthy industrialized countries, the positive achievements of recent decades are overemphasized, such as that it has become an important economic factor to prevent environmental damage and that it´s cheaper to take precautions than to repair the massive damage. That's splendid bigotry, as less economical harmful natural destruction and long-term consequences are ignored.

Corporations often manage to shirk legal claims by bankruptcies of a subsidiary before paying financial penalties and reparations but sadly, as the focus of public attention has become stronger, it´s increasingly difficult. On the other hand, if the illegal landfill is in a faraway country, it doesn´t directly affect people at home. In combination with lack of coverage the perfect mix for total silence, as media don´t ever report about it.

The idea of environmental protection should not be limited to a furry animal or one's own country, but expanded the consciousness that everything is part of a single, interlinked cycle, that it´s one planet, not separate and independent worlds on each continent or even country, which also kind of satirizes the practice of using globalization to generate profits for some while others get the toxic waste and deserted, dead nature.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
August 11, 2022
Silent Spring, one of the most environmentally significant publications in history, was published on September 20, 1962. I update this review in the face of some mildly encouraging news on speaking to climate change from the Biden administration, which I hope is not as I fear, too little, too late.

Original review: Happy Earth Day, 2020, though it feels more like a dirge than a waltz we are dancing today, as Trump takes the occasion of a global pandemic to relax all environmental poison controls while we are supposedly listening daily to his self-promoting campaign speeches. To allow more mercury to be dumped into, for instance, my/all of our Great Lakes, is both homicidal and suicidal, that particular combination of arrogance and ignorance that characterizes "our" approach to the environment today. Read Rachel Carson to recall that getting back into the bars and back on the beaches and back to business as usual may not be the best central purpose for this year's Earth Day.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”--Mitch McConnell, about Elizabeth Warren (and also was said of Rachel Carson, decades ago)

Poisoning the Planet with Impunity [Part 2, 2017]

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth”—Albert Schweitzer

This lovely, eloquent, poetic book, published in 1962 and nominated for The National Book Award, was read to me by the woman, Kaiulani Lee, who played the part of Rachel Carson in a recent film biography of her, in a gentle voice that belies the storm the book still faces even today. The book was written by a scientist, marine biologist Carson, who had written the perhaps more poetic and less scientific but also popular The Sea Around Us, published seven years before, and its successor, The Edge of the Sea. These books were essentially about the love of nature and “the sense of wonder” we need to appreciate the world around us. But these books are not just books about beauty; they are science-based warnings about the impending ecological disaster we are well into experiencing right now, only to get much worse, of course (if you want to challenge me on this assertion, I will debate you only after you have read this book and two of the twenty books on climate change I will recommend to you).

Carson saw horrific, ignorant things happening to the environment in the fifties. She took four years to carefully research and document all across this country the poisoning of the country. Carson and her publisher braced themselves for the response they knew was surely coming. Even before publication they were sued by chemical companies, unsuccessfully, and were on publication almost immediately and relentlessly vilified by what was already then Corporate Farming America [yes, some of the same people who are now bringing the planet Frankenfood], something that has continued unabated to this day by an amalgamation of anti-environmental climate change deniers and so on. Hundreds of thousands of dollars then were spent by the chemical industry in an attempt to discredit the book and to malign the author—described as an ignorant and hysterical woman who wanted to turn the earth over to the insects.

“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth”—Carson

Occasionally there are books that change the world. One such book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe that almost singlehandedly turned women (of all colors) in particular firmly against slavery by depicting the cruel sale of slave children taken from their mothers. Silent Spring similarly warns us of the health concerns for (especially) children, even warning of the possibility of future birth defects. Carson, a scientist writing in a popular science mode, carefully lays out the case against DDT and other indiscriminately sprayed chemicals that were destroying ecosystems, endangering lives. She made the link between these poisons and cancer and other man-made diseases. As a direct result of the message in Silent Spring, President Kennedy set up a special panel to study the problem of pesticides. Though it took ten years to do it, DDT (as well as many other poisons) was banned in 1972. The chemical industry still has people defending DDT and other poisons as harmless. And yes, we are still poisoning the environment.

Carson, with Silent Spring, almost singlehandedly ushered in the environmental movement based on her study of 1950’s pesticides. We would not have had the EPA without Carson, possibly. When I was a kid in the sixties we drove through a putrid fog from Grand Rapids through Gary to Chicago. We swam in Lake Michigan in the midst of dead fish. I doubt you could swim in the lake on the Chicago side during those years. Lake Erie was a dumping latrine. But beginning in the mid-sixties we began to turn around the destruction of the environment, and many gains were made, though it is the truth that this destruction was just slowed down, as you know. The world’s oceans have raised a frightening 2 degrees in just the past fifty years. Which is not sustainable, actually, and only getting worse. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth”--Carson (she wrote this in 1962 and most of the world nevertheless yawned through decades of neglect)

To those of you romanticizing deregulation (freedom from the oppressive state, let’s support Big Biz Profits instead of protecting Greedy Poor People and the environment, right on), I hope that the roll back of The Clean Water Act makes you happy as the world drys up its remaining fresh water:


Because, you know, we obviously need more Flint, Michigans, and see what, years later, is still unfolding as we see the criminals flee to the gutters as we find and expose their self-serving and murderous emails.

Save the planet, I say. Prove Schweitzer wrong. Vote for the planet and take to the streets.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
September 25, 2020
This is a classic. It has not lost its validity. It has an important global message still today, 54 years after publication. Everyone should read this at least once.

This reads as a horror story, but it is true.

-The scientific studies are numerous, clear and to the point.
-The demise of habitats and living creatures are lyrically depicted.
-The author expertly alternates between poetic expression and scientific accuracy.
-Eloquent prose.

That’s the essential.

Carson shows through carefully identified and quantified examples the inherent danger of pesticides, that they not only do not work and that they have serious side effects. She goes one step further and identifies better alternatives - biotic controls.

Here is what I wish. I wish another author would follow up her analyses and describe how pesticides and herbicides are used today. Furthermore it would be interesting to know whether her suggestions concerning alternative methods have come to fruition.

The audiobook narration by Kaiulani Lee was superb! Perfect speed, perfect intonation and performed with a poetic lilt when the lines so demanded. Beautifully and masterfully performed.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,109 reviews44.3k followers
April 14, 2021
Netflix recently released a documentary called Seaspiracy, which details exactly how the fishing industry is decimating the ocean. Have you seen it yet?

Seven years prior another documentary called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret detailed exactly how animal agriculture, namely cow farming, is decimating the natural world. And this is not a new phenomenon or a new discovery. Writers as far back as Plato have been discussing the environmental problems associated with animal farming and its lack of sustainability (but nobody really listened.)

And here we have Silent Springs, an erudite, passionate and informed argument about the dangers and problems associated with the misuse of pesticides. These problems stem not only from our exposure to them, but also from the consequences of their impact on the natural world at large. This was written in 1962, and all these arguments have since been taken very seriously by society. However, when this was written it was a completely different story. Naturally, industry giants attempted to debunk the facts in this work, but before that they even tried to block its publication entirely. They did not want this to be seen.

“In the age where man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources have become the victim of his indifference.”

I make the comparison of this book and the documentaries here simply to illustrate how long it takes for change to occur. The fishing industry attempted to prevent Seaspiracy’s debut on Netflix, simply because the facts would be seen by too many people. And that would be bad for business. The problem is we can have all the dangers down on paper. We can have it all well documented and researched, a particular issue can even be scientifically proven, and change still does not happen. The culprits will attempt to deny the problems, people will attempt to justify their behaviour and use excuses that make no sense (often because they have not been exposed to all of the facts.)

Apathy is also a problem. Many people don’t actually care about things that do not affect their immediate lives. We are reluctant to accept that our ways are harmful, and even more reluctant to actually do anything about them.

“Nature is not so easily moulded.”

However, if the last year has taught us anything, it is that nature can and will strike back. As Carson noted in the 1960s that insects were building up resistance to pesticides, today a pandemic spread across the world that originated in a wet market. And wet markets are one of the most excruciating ways we abuse nature today. My point here is a simple one: we cannot continue with such destructive behaviour because worse things will happen when nature strikes back. Carson understood this. We need an entire shift in the way we think about nature and our place in it.

This really is a powerful piece of writing and there are many crossovers with modern day issues because the same patterns are emerging. This book did give me some hope, hope that in time more people will understand the dangers we fact today.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
350 reviews398 followers
March 22, 2015
How could I forget the first book I read about pesticides, and how they are destroying our planet? Rachel Carson is literally my hero. After reading Carson's book, I decided this is what I wanted to do with my life. I spent many years in the field of environmental geology, and I have her to thank. I believe this book is as relevant today as it was when she wrote it in 1962. She has an ease of writing, that not only expresses her deep concerns for the environment, but also feels highly personal. Her love of nature shines through on every page. Time has surely been the test of her writing, as I look around today and see what profound affects these chemicals have had on our world, our planet, and our health. It is fascinating to read of one highly intelligent woman's concerns for the future, and how we had the opportunity to act years ago. As fascinating a read now as it was then. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,793 followers
April 7, 2020
"We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's poem, they are not equally fair. The road we are travelling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road - the one 'less travelled by' - offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth". (p.240)

I found Rachel Carson's famous Silent Spring a beautifully written book, that in the breadth of its interests (ecological collapse, cancer, invasive species, toxic build ups in the environment, natural defences against pests and so on) reminded me of Darwin.

A while back I read Elizabeth Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction, while both cover similar ground - a testament to the lack of impact of Carson's book, Kolbert's prose style suggested that she was a journalist covering a story, and once she was done she would bugger off back to her own planet and leave us to it. Carson I felt, was in contrast, entirely committed and in awe of the complexities of ecology, of the web of life, although at the end I felt she was probably too optimistic in her faith in supporting natural predators, and probably too in the power of changing public opinion. While it is often enough said that the banning of DDT is attributable to Carson's book she herself is clear that already in the 1950s DDT was of of rapidly declining value because of the development of resistant insect populations.

Reading, all the stories she was telling about pesticide resistance, invasive species, unintended consequences of chemical use, the discovery of chemicals in the fatty tissues of creatures in remote from where the chemicals had been used were all very familiar to me from repeated news stories, again suggesting to me that Carson's big point was ignored. This is not really a book about specific chemical usage in the years up to the publication of this book (1962) it is more about human attitudes towards nature. It reminded me too of the Vietnam war - not because of the use of herbicides - but because of the technological mindset, that by deploying enough technology you could get what you wanted. The issue of whether the technology was appropriate to the task, or if the situation could be sufficiently well understood by those who controlled the technology, whether those people understood themselves sufficiently and their powerlessness in the face of the world, were all taboo.

After reading Herland I wondered too that if this book had been written instead by Rachel's fictional but no less talented brother Billy, maybe it might have been taken more seriously and maybe the USA might even have adopted the precautionary principal.
Profile Image for Ken-ichi.
593 reviews555 followers
October 30, 2008
I picked this up because it's a a classic of American nature and environmental writing, and ostensibly marks the beginning of American environmental activism in the modern sense (i.e. more "we deserve not to be poisoned" than "leisure grounds for posterity"). I found the rhetorical style interesting. She breaks the book up into chapters on where toxins come from, how they accumulate and spread, and what effects they have on wildlife, food, and human health. In each, she offloads tale after tale of dead birds, poisoned farm workers, and nearly inhuman acts of government negligence and the corporations that facilitate them. I found this droning repetition of evidence boring, a dull and depressing tirade, but I suppose that kind of argumentative overload has power, if not appeal.

I felt some of her language and opinions were surprisingly dated. She often referred to insects using words like "horde" and militaristic symbols of weaponry and defense. Here’s an example from p. 246: "the broader problem [...:] is the fact that our chemical attack is weakening the defenses inherent in the environment itself, defenses designed to keep the various species in check. Each time we breach these defenses a horde of insects pours through." There are a couple odd implications here, like nature being a "designed" clockwork system of checks and balances, and insects as a kind of evil constantly trying to overthrow it. Of course, further down the page she writes, "The balance of nature is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment." The two statements seem at odds, and the bulk of the book effuses the latter sentiment, but I found it strange that she would occasionally be so careless with her language. I pick nits, of course, but perhaps it demonstrates that this book lies at a transition between American attitudes toward nature.

I was also intrigued by her almost unconditional support of biological control techniques over pesticides (generally, the use of cultivated predators to control a pest population), readily advocating the importation of effective predators with (I think) no examples of the kinds of ecological disaster that can ensue when such tactics are pursued without very careful consideration (cane toads, anyone?). Again, perhaps a sign of the times.

All in all, certainly worth my time. I'd like to read some more analysis on the book and on Carson herself (the preface to this editions is great), and I'm very keen to read her natural history writing, esp. on marine life.
Profile Image for Paul Haspel.
534 reviews62 followers
April 22, 2022
The “silent spring” that Rachel Carson foresaw in her 1962 classic of environmentalist literature came upon us in the spring of 2020, when people around the world sheltered in their homes and a busy world turned eerily quiet. It may not have been exactly the kind of “silent spring” that Carson predicted, but it is one that should get all people everywhere thinking very carefully about the way we treat our world. As prescient now as it was half a century ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is one of the most important works of environmental literature ever written.

Carson’s life provides an inspiring example of a woman forging success in a male-dominated field – in this case, science writing – through talent and hard work. Originally from the Western Pennsylvania farm community of Springdale, Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) and continued her studies of zoology at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree. Writing for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Carson quickly demonstrated literary talent that attracted the attention of prestigious publishers like the Atlantic Monthly magazine and the Simon & Schuster publishing house.

Early Carson works like The Sea Around Us (1951) and The Edge of the Sea (1955) did a brilliant job of making scientific subject matter accessible to, and interesting for, a lay audience, and by the early 1960’s Carson had in mind a work that would combine exposition with advocacy. She saw the harm that powerful pesticides were inflicting on the natural environment, while the big chemical manufacturers provided bland assurances that their products were safe. Consequently, Carson made the courageous decision to take on the chemical industry and denounce its deadly products.

Carson begins Silent Spring with an unforgettable, profoundly disturbing first chapter that is titled “A Fable for Tomorrow.” In that chapter, she asks the reader to imagine “a town in the heart of America” – a town, perhaps, much like Carson’s hometown of Springdale, Pennsylvania – where “a strange blight crept over the area”, sickening livestock, rendering fruit trees infertile, driving away songbirds, killing the fish of local waterways, and finally bringing sickness and death to the people of the town themselves. “No witchcraft, no enemy action, had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world,” Carson writes grimly. “The people had done it themselves” (pp. 1-2).

Having asked the rhetorical question “What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America?”, Carson answers by writing that “The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and lethal materials” (pp. 4-5) – chiefly, as she clarifies, the chemicals manufactured to destroy animals and plants that are deemed to be “pests.”

Carson, for all of the often poetic quality of her prose, is a tough-minded scientist, and she is merciless in demolishing the arguments that the big chemical companies had developed to defend the sale and use of powerful pesticides like dichlorophenyltrichloroethane – a chemical that you may know better by its standard abbreviation of DDT – in passages like this one:

The old legend that “a pound of DDT to the acre is harmless” means nothing if spraying is repeated. Potato soils have been found to contain up to 15 pounds of DDT per acre, corn soils up to 19. A cranberry bog under study contained 34.5 pounds to the acre. Soils from apple orchards seem to reach the peak of contamination, with DDT accumulating at a rate that almost keeps pace with its rate of annual application. Even in a single season, with orchards sprayed four or more times, DDT residues may build up to peaks of 30 to 50 pounds. With repeated spraying over the years, the range between trees is from 26 to 60 pounds to the acre; under trees, up to 113 pounds. (p. 57)

In connection with phenomena like anti-insect sprayings that kill birds, or anti-weed sprayings that kill farm produce and wildflowers, Carson sets forth a core theme of the book: “The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized” (p. 98).

Carson also gets the reader thinking about the way in which the American public’s thinking about poisons has itself changed:

Our attitude toward poisons has undergone a subtle change. Once they were kept in containers marked with skull and crossbones; the infrequent occasions of their use were marked with utmost care that they should come in contact with the target and with nothing else. With the development of the new organic insecticides and the abundance of surplus planes after the Second World War, all this was forgotten. Although today’s poisons are more dangerous than any known before, they have amazingly become something to be showered down indiscriminately from the skies. Not only the target insect or plant, but anything – human or non-human – within range of the chemical fallout may know the sinister touch of the poison. Not only forests and cultivated fields are sprayed, but towns and cities as well. (pp. 155-56)

Part of what gives Silent Spring its power is the sheer joy with which Carson writes about science. She makes the magic and the symmetry and the beauty of science come alive, even for the non-science-savvy reader. I liked, for instance, the appealing, audience-friendly manner in which Carson explained oxidation as “The transformation of matter into energy in the cell…an ever-flowing process, one of nature’s cycles of renewal, like a wheel endlessly turning” (p. 200).

Having thus advanced the reader’s understanding of how “This process by which the cell functions as a chemical factory is one of the wonders of the living world” (p. 200), Carson then makes the reader care about how modern pesticides can wreck the machinery of that cellular-level “chemical factory”:

DDT, methoxychlor, malathion, phenothiazine, and various dinitro compounds are among the numerous pesticides that have been found to inhibit one or more of the enzymes concerned in the cycle of oxidation. They thus appear as agents potentially capable of blocking the whole process of energy production and depriving the cells of usable oxygen. This is an injury with most disastrous consequences… (p. 204)

When she wrote Silent Spring, Carson had to know that the chemical industry would attack her without mercy. Linda Lear’s foreword to this edition of Carson’s classic text makes clear just how bitter and personal the industry’s attacks upon the book and its author were:

In 1962…the multimillion-dollar industrial chemical industry was not about to allow…a female scientist without a Ph.D. or an institutional affiliation…to undermine public confidence in its products or to question its integrity. It was clear to the industry that Rachel Carson was a hysterical woman whose alarming view of the future could be ignored or, if necessary, suppressed. She was a “bird and bunny lover,” a woman who kept cats and was therefore clearly suspect. She was a romantic “spinster” who was simply overwrought about genetics. In short, Carson was a woman out of control. She had overstepped the bounds of her gender and her science.

And the chemical industry’s futile efforts to discredit Carson – efforts on which they spent the then-princely sum of $250,000 – did not represent the last time that wealthy and powerful people felt threatened by this elegant little book. A 2007 U.S. Senate resolution to honor Carson – the sort of thing that usually sails through the Senate without difficulty – was blocked by an Oklahoma senator who accused Carson of using “junk science” and unfairly maligning DDT.

Really, Senator? Really? I would assume that your American patriotism includes an appreciation for the bald eagle – a bird that was officially listed as an endangered species from 1973 to 1995, and stayed on the “Threatened” list until 2007. Pesticides like DDT, indiscriminately applied, weakened the shells of raptors like the bald eagle, to the point that the national symbol of the United States of America almost became extinct throughout the U.S.A. And DDT was banned across the country in 1972, and the recovery of the bald eagle population commenced almost immediately. But perhaps, for the Senator from Oklahoma, these facts would be inconvenient truths.

In a chapter titled “Nature Strikes Back,” Carson evokes a concern that might have been new to her readers in her time but is only too familiar to us now – the idea that the indiscriminate use of pesticides can actually, in the long run, make pests stronger. In this model, those members of a species that survive the application of pesticide give birth to offspring that can even more successfully resist the pesticide, in a manner reminiscent of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

“With the passage of time,” Carson writes, “we may expect progressively more serious outbreaks of insects, both disease-carrying and crop-destroying species, in excess of anything we have ever known.” And to anticipate and refute the ideas of those readers who might claim that this is a problem of the future, not of the present, Carson mercilessly notes that “it is happening, here and now. Scientific journals had already recorded some 50 species involved in violent dislocations of nature���s balance by 1958. More examples are being found every year” (p.251).

Nature Strikes Back, indeed. Did a virus jump from a bat to a pangolin to humankind – or did it jump straight from bat to humankind – or did it generate in some other way? However the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak came about, that spring of 2020 was indeed a silent spring – though not the kind that Rachel Carson warned of. It was not a silence caused by the absence of birdsong, but rather a silence brought about by the absence of human noise.

As people around the world sheltered in place, in response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak, there were fewer cars on the roads, and fewer airplanes in the now-cleaner skies. Water pollution receded to the point that fish swam in the suddenly-clear canals of Venice. Wildlife could be seen in the downtown streets of communities around the world: elk in England, civet cats in India, coyotes and black bears in California, monkeys in Thailand, wild goats in Wales, kangaroos in Australia, penguins in South Africa.

In short, nature was sending us a signal, in much the manner that Carson suggested might happen. This beautiful planet that we have taken so much for granted could one day shrug us off, like a dog shaking off fleas, and could carry on quite well without us. Like any truly great book, like any classic of its genre, Silent Spring transcends the concerns of the time in which it was written, and speaks to each new generation of readers in fresh and new ways.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,398 reviews802 followers
May 27, 2018
5★+! Reposted in honour of her 111th birthday!

David Attenborough said that after Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, Silent Spring was probably the book that changed the scientific world the most.

Why? Because marine biologist Rachel Carson explains in no uncertain terms exactly how mankind was changing the natural world for the worse in unimagined ways through pesticide use. Agriculture wasn’t concerned with wildlife or waterways, just livestock and crops.

I remember as a child hearing that DDT was so safe you could sprinkle it on your cornflakes. A couple of decades later we were told pretty much the same thing about Roundup, a herbicide, not a pesticide, which has also fallen into serious disrepute recently.

I understand it was the editors who recommended that Carson add an opening chapter. She wrote “A Fable for Tomorrow”, and what a chapter it is!

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. . . Even in winter, the roadsides were places of beauty, where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow.”

Then, it all changed. Mysteriously, things began sickening: streams, plants, animals, people. The songbirds are gone, the fish are gone.

“A grim spectre has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.”

She does say that this is just a representation of any of a number of towns in the world, and she knows of no single town that’s lost everything. (Well, back in 1962, anyway.)

“What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.”

With that simple chapter, we get it. The enormity of what’s at stake.

Thus began today’s environmental movement. There have always been conservationists and environmentalists, but this book gave them a voice and opened the eyes of the rest of us.

And explain she does, clearly, factually, fascinatingly, and she includes the anecdotal stories we still seem to need to grab our attention. Much of what she describes is now part of the regular school curriculum, and there are lots of mainstream articles about soil health, microbes, worms and the interrelationship between even the smallest parts of nature.

Some of her examples have a horrible fascination where they describe the unintended consequences of wiping out one pest intentionally which either kills other things or facilitates the spread of another, worse pest.

In Clear Lake, California, they were spraying annoying gnats with DDD, a close relative of DDT but supposedly less harmful to fish. By the third season they sprayed, they were losing birds and discovered the build-up in fatty tissues. How? Why?

Well, grebes eat fish, which eat other fish which eat plankton . . . and this stuff keeps building up.

"One, a brown bullhead, had the astounding concentration of 2500 parts per million. It was a house-that-jack-built sequence, in which the large carnivores had eaten the smaller carnivores, that had eaten the herbivores, that had eaten the plankton, that had absorbed the poison from the water."

The last chapter, “The Other Road” refers to the famous Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”. Carson explains that our two roads are not equal. The way we’re going is fast and easy but leads to disaster.

“The other fork of the road—the one ‘less travelled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth. The choice, after all, is ours to make.”

She holds out hope for more biological solutions and says (in 1962) many specialists are working on this in their respective fields: biology, entomology, biochemistry, genetics, too many to enumerate.

She quotes professor Carl P. Swanson, a Johns Hopkins biologist:

"'Any science may be likened to a river. It has its obscure and unpretentious beginning; its quiet stretches as well as its rapids; its periods of drought as well as of fullness. It gathers momentum with the work of many investigators and as it is fed by other streams of thought; it is deepened and broadened by the concepts and generalizations that are gradually evolved.'"

Why haven’t we learned yet? It’s hard to believe that we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of this book without demanding our governments respect independent scientific reports and give corporate lobbyists the short shrift they deserve.

What will be left of the world on its 100th anniversary, I wonder?

This is an everybody-should-read-this book!
Profile Image for Valliya Rennell.
347 reviews229 followers
April 13, 2022
2 stars
DNF @ 35%

Welcome to Quickie Review with Valliya, a new series of reviews that I am starting if I don't feel like writing a review, but still have some thoughts so I talk about them in a quick and concise manner :D

I can see why Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was so influential: it is easy to read and to understand. The opening 'story' about a town where suddenly everything dies and peoples' lives become miserable paints a wonderful and devastating picture while sucking the reader in. What follows is not as great. Every chapter reads exactly the same. Yes, there variations in the topic (pesticide affecting fish vs birds vs soil vs plants), but when you keep going over and over in circles, I am going to get bored. I decided to DNF because after reading the first 100 pages, I came to understand I would get the same point reiterated over and over and over. This can be done in an engaging way (ex. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond), but it wasn't so in this book. For the relatively uneducated public, this method did wonders to bring awareness and outcry and start the environmental movement, on the other hand, I see why critics thought Carson was obsessed with this topic and over exaggerating (for the record, I disagree, but I see where they're coming from). Most importantly though, this book did scare the hell out of me, so please guys care for the planet. So great job, Ms. Carson, you have made me an environmentalist even though I didn't get through your book.

Thank you all for joining in for episode 1 of Quickie Review with Valliya!

Next episode: Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn ★★★
Profile Image for Kevin.
478 reviews71 followers
February 18, 2023
“It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we’ve put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We’ve subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons without their consent and often without their knowledge.”

It has been pointed out that Rachel Carson’s evidence for the harmful effects of certain chemical pesticides and herbicides (substances she rightly refers to as “biocides”) was largely circumstantial and anecdotal. At the time of her writing, there were few scientific analyses positively linking the increased incidences of disease (read: cancer) and the localized extinction of bees, birds and various other wildlife species to the systematic spraying of so-called “safe chemicals.” Her alarm calls were deemed unsubstantiated and premature. One detractor went so far as to label Silent Spring as the “imaginings of a pessimist.”

I will say this, as a writer Carson had a flair for the dramatic…

“The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man… It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.”

In hindsight, the last sixty years have arguably upheld Rachel Carson’s concerns. Studies have shown that, in many cases, her “unscientific assumptions” were in fact correct. Indeed, she may have underestimated the long term detrimental consequences of pesticides (read: DDT) rather than overestimated them as some of her critics presumed.

“…all this is not to say there is no insect problem and no need of control. I am saying rather that control must be geared to realities, not to mythical situations, and that the methods employed must be such that they do not destroy us along with the insects.”

“Those of us who are now in our 40s and 50s are carrying the legacy of DDT’s reckless use…” ~Ellen Silbergeld, Toxicologist, Johns Hopkins University

“We have the highest levels of DDT and PCB in our blood ever recorded. Our kids are not growing to normal height. We have more cancer than normal, rare cancers, like cancer of the liver and spleen… Having people [ingest] DDT for a generation is the same thing as taking a gun to their heads and pulling the trigger.” ~Clyde Foster, Chemist, speaking about Triana, Alabama
My Further Reading List:

Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story, Theo Colborn, 1996

How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT, Elena Conis, 2022
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,129 followers
September 7, 2017
Advocacy is tricky. When you’re trying to motivate people to take action, you need to decide whether to appeal to the head, to the heart, to some combination of the two, or perhaps to some more delicate faculty. Upton Sinclair miscalculated when he wrote The Jungle, aiming for the heart but instead hitting the stomach; and as a result, the book was interpreted as an exposé of the meat industry rather than a plea for the working poor. Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac, eschews appeals to expediency, and instead focuses on the spiritual joys of wild nature; but his book didn’t result in any legislation. Rachel Carson seems to have found the right formula: an urgent and multifaceted appeal to self-interest.

Silent Spring is often grouped along with Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which came out just the year before, in 1961. The comparison is apt, for both books were written by academic outsiders, by women working independently in male-dominated fields, and both books created a sensation. In subject matter, too, the books are surprisingly close. Jacobs describes how top-down city planning, which doesn’t take into account the needs of city-dwellers or the complex economies of cities, only causes ruination. Carson describes how indiscriminate use of pesticides destroys ecosystems and fails even to permanently kill the pests. Both books, in other words, criticize a practice taken for granted, a practice that attempted to mold the world using brute force while remaining ignorant of the systems it attempted to shape.

Even today, Carson’s book retains its moral urgency and its morbid fascination. Not only is Carson a knowledgeable scientist, but she is quite a gifted author. She knows how to drive home her point using vivid—and often frightening—examples, detailing case after case of poisonings, in animals and humans. And she supplements her examples with scientific explanations, showing us how poisons spread through the environment, are absorbed into the body, and disrupt natural processes. She knew that the chemical industry was going to fight her tooth and nail, so she did not leave any stones unturned in her research. She systematically goes through the effects of pesticides on soil, water, birds, and plants, offering case after case in support of her thesis. Now that we take it for granted that pesticides shouldn’t be applied with such wholesale zeal, this can actually be a little tedious. When advocacy is effective, it renders itself obsolete.

But Carson does not make the mistake of focusing only on the environment. She emphasizes again and again how pesticides can enter foods, can combine in the body, can kill livestock and desolate fish, can enter the skin through commercial lawn products—in other words, she emphasizes that this problem is not abstract and distant, but is one that closely affects the reader. It is this focus that makes the book so effective: she appeals to the stomach, the heart, the head, and also to Aldo Leopold’s spiritual values—but most of all, she appeals to self-interest, the strongest motivator of all.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,880 reviews7 followers
September 25, 2017
This is nonfiction concerning the harmful effects that chemicals, which were created to make life easier for man (pesticides, weed killers, etc.) have on the environment. This was first published in 1962 and the author is credited for opening the door on his topic. However, even now, 55 years later, it is still considered a hot topic. Great strides have been made in this arena, but vigilance must me constant.

While reading this, I kept thinking that ignorance is bliss ONLY for those who don't have to pay the price. This book made me rethink my own gardening and lawn habits....what I should or should not use to curb weeds and crabgrass. Definitely food for thought.
Profile Image for Ushashi.
150 reviews77 followers
November 29, 2021
Possibly the most famous book on the environment and deservedly so. The reading experience was like listening to an amazingly researched academic lecture. Reading about the bureaucratic negligence and opportunistic research happening in a first-world country is alarming. It's not difficult to imagine a world where DDT and such chemicals were still being rampantly used. Rachel Carson changed the world with her passion and a pen.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,023 followers
July 18, 2021
Update May2018 A couple of articles about the book were recently brought to my attention. The WSJ one is here:
You need a subscription to read this, but basically it does a good job of putting her book in context.
...Carson’s assault on pesticides and herbicides shocked 1962 Americans, who generally viewed these chemicals as the latest marvels from the awesome scientists whose previous inventions had won World War II. Consumer advertisements extolled the benefits of installing DDT-impregnated wallpaper for the nursery, spraying babies with insecticide before letting them out in the sun and soaking farmers’ fields in pesticides...
...“Silent Spring” is remembered as an attack on DDT specifically, but Carson actually wrote about many products, presenting evidence that industrial bug- and weed-killers could upset entire ecosystems....
...One chemical firm threatened to sue...Carson was a “hysterical female,” a “bird and bunny lover,” even a communist....

They also point out some issues, though. ...Carson’s claims about the direct risks pesticides and herbicides pose to human health do not stand up as well. Here again, she describes the science of the era accurately—problem is, the science in this area wasn’t especially good...

I found it a good, balanced article & highly recommend it.

The Daily Beast did one titled "How Rachel Carson Cost Millions of People Their Lives" about the unintended consequences. It's here:
It's also wrong on several points. It makes no mention of the enormous toll DDT took on birds.
It almost caused the extinction of Bald Eagles.
(Update May2021) The Mansfield News Journal's article says DDT is still being used today in some areas despite it causing cancer in humans because that rate of death is much less than that of malaria. "Pick your poison." It also traces the unintended consequences as it moves up the food chain. Pretty chilling.

Also, as the WSJ article above points out, ...Carson’s detractors accuse her of misrepresenting the science. Wrong: Carson wrote that pesticides and herbicides disorder ecosystems because they kill broad swathes of their inhabitants, and predicted this would lead to entirely new problems as previously rare survivor species suddenly exploded in number. This has been borne out repeatedly. Carson also said that repeatedly applying pesticides and herbicides would cause their targets to evolve immunity to them. Alas, this, too, has been borne out repeatedly.

The latter process is one reason why the DDT ban did not, in fact, lead to many malaria deaths. To begin with, DDT was banned only for agricultural use; its use for preventing disease was not affected. And most countries gave up on DDT not because of any ban but because it no longer worked—mosquitoes evolved to resist it. India kept on spraying after “Silent Spring”: Today the malaria mosquitoes across more than three-quarters of that nation are immune to DDT. ...

All in all, I found the Daily Beast article pretty much garbage. It cherry-picked to make a point & completely ignores the times.

Another article found 18Jul2021 is about the issues that DDT is causing humans several generations later. https://www.scientificamerican.com/ar...

Nov 2008: I've re-read this after maybe 30 years & it is still scary. It is a classic environmental book, detailing how we're changing our ecology & poisoning it. How long the effects linger is just scary & the links to cancer is horrifying.

She occasionally goes over the top, but most often makes good points on how our current practices of bludgeoning nature into our ideal form - which is often mistaken - is not working well & will eventually spell our doom. It was written over 45 years ago &, while a little dated, is still one of the best books I've read on the subject.

It's amazing that we are still using some of the chemicals she shows so much evidence against using. Her well documented atrocities that our government has perpetrated against us are chilling. I never trusted the government all that much but trust them even less now.
Profile Image for TXGAL1.
253 reviews25 followers
March 29, 2017
Astonishing and terrifying. Although this book was written in 1962, we still use chemicals in our daily lives without enough thought.

Asthma has been shown in some studies to be caused by the occurrence of cockroaches; but, what if it was in fact caused by the inhalation of chemicals used to eradicate the pests?

Could chemicals sprayed in our neighborhoods, in our homes, etc. be the true cause of autism?

Very thought provoking book.
15 reviews3 followers
January 24, 2008
I have a personal rule when reading books. If I am not completely absorbed into it within fifty pages I put it down. This rule doesn’t work well for assigned reading, and fifty pages into Silent Spring I was so bored I was spending more time thinking of ways to avoid reading the book than actually reading it. Finally it occurred to me the reasons why I felt this boredom. After all, the book is not boring, Carson writes with a feverish passion towards defending nature that simply following her choice of verbs is intriguing. Anything relative to wildlife and plants are written with a frilly dreamlike flow of words, as if she is trying to conjure up a still image from a Disney animation. The moment man and pesticides are brought into context all flow ends and she writes in stark single word descriptions. It very effectively shows what side she is defending. This is when I realized what I was missing, which was causing my boredom. This is a very old book. Approaching this book to learn the obvious intentions was not a wise path for me. I needed to look at this book as a piece of history, a landmark to understand why we are where we are in our agricultural systems. Silent Spring was a success, and because all the various evidence that she uses in her book are examples I was strongly familiar with, solidly shows what type of impact her argument made.
I found the book to be very narrow minded. It was truly a cry, every page being a diatribe of complaints, never offering solid solutions. Yet, she consistently used that approach throughout the book making the reader create a deep sorrow for her, maybe even pity towards what she felt was being lost. If she were to offer two sides, or a bigger picture, she would not have come across so in need and injured. Less people would wanted to help in her quest for change. So, she kept this consistency by forming her arguments with great vagueness and working on the fears already established by people. She vaguely shares that the DDT founder won a Nobel Prize, but never that DDT was awarded that prize for saving lives in the World War I, in the area of medicine. She takes arsenic, a toxic element, and describes how it is found in increased amounts in our soil, leading to increased content in tobacco. She knows the association that people have with arsenic being a poison, but is it not also an essential element to man and plants? And where were the epidemic proportions of deaths associated with this increase? She has no need to answer these questions. Throughout the first third of the book she successfully chooses examples that the reader is already afraid of and lures them in from this to increase her credibility. I don’t condemn it I cheer her for it. This is the type of extremism that when a person is subjected to it they can simply put the book down if they don’t like it. Today, we are all very fortunate that people did not put down the book.
Throughout the rest of the book I shook my head, thinking of all her over the top accusations toward increased pesticide use, but no mention of modes of action. The academic standpoint she has as a biologist, yet she has never attempted to empathize with the American farmer. The way that she never references what was happening historically in our nation at that time that was putting the demand upon farmers for feeding more people. That was the era of baby boomer, no?
I thank her for her voice and how it has brought about a stronger focus on responsible agricultural practices. However, I hope that others that read this book recognize it’s age, and use the examples she documents as milestones to measure how far away from that type of system we have come. Her crying and negativity don’t solve problems. She has attacked the practices, and people responded. Today the majority of the insecticides she references are already removed or nearly removed from use today. We no longer need her narrow approach and acknowledging the date of print of her message is vital for people that are moved by it to see it as the birth of a crusade, but not the bible.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,076 reviews104 followers
January 16, 2020
Indeed and both content and writing style wise, Rachel Carson’s seminal and oh so important for the environmental movement Silent Spring generally reads both flowingly and with graceful, understated (but also emotionally textually dense) eloquence (but yes and sadly, after more than fifty years since the 1964 publication of Silent Sprung, there not only still remains very much to be done with regard to stopping or at least severely limiting overusing pesticides but it also does seem that in recent years, it certainly is beginning to feel as though we are in fact moving not really forwards but actually rather backwards, that we are often drowning out Rachel Carson’s important messages and admonishments and catering to special interest groups like farming and industrial lobbies and indeed not in any manner further reducing but sadly increasing pesticide and herbicide production and usage once again).

However, as much as I do wholeheartedly applaud Rachel Carson for having penned Silent Spring and that yes indeed, this book really was a major wake-up call with regard to especially how DDT was thinning and making fragile bird eggs and thus severely and lastingly reducing the ability for birds to successfully procreate and reproduce, as an academic, I do have to (even if contritely and with a bit of guilt) point out that Rachel Carson NOT using any foot or endnotes in her text, in the narrative of Silent Spring and just listing her diverse sources by chapter and as far as I can tell a bit haphazardly at that, this certainly does not make for easy supplemental research. And yes, even figuring out from which of the listed sources Rachel Carson has gleaned her information and where in her text, where in Silent Spring this is all located is in my opinion and very much frustratingly rendered considerably more difficult without foot or endnotes (not to mention that Silent Spring also does not contain an all encompassing and separate bibliography either, just these rather difficult to weed through source lists at the end of each chapter, a to and for me academic shortcoming that while it does not in any manner diminish Silent Spring’s and Rachel Carson’s message, it has definitely frustrated me on an academic and university/college research level).
Profile Image for Rahul.
285 reviews18 followers
June 1, 2019
A book written more than 50 years but still stands true.
Written mainly about chemicals, fertilisers and their affects in United States, many of these chemicals mentioned are now banned but also new , powerful and more dangerous chemicals have been introduced in our environment.
Surely this book is hard to review as it covers a lot of scientific information on chemicals and their hazardous affects on man, animals, food and on the earth as a whole. So many animals, insects, crops have been mentioned in this book and how chemicals almost made them vanish or useless.
But in all this book tell us how in the race of economic growth and development with the help of science had lead to much more bigger concerns where our future is at stake. Science is nice but mixed with Human greed has lead to many disasters.
In developing countries like India these issues are very far from public discussion while everyday these chemicals are killing us in many different ways.
Progress is important but the cost at which it is achieved must be reassessed else our future is bleak.
Profile Image for Deanna.
924 reviews53 followers
February 25, 2019
Five stars for the revolutionary importance of the book, in its day, and the almost poetically literate style.
Profile Image for Hákon Gunnarsson.
Author 29 books132 followers
November 4, 2019
I came across a reference to this book a while back. It was in a booklet about climate change, and it said there that Rachel Carson was responsible for millions of lives lost to malaria. The writer of the booklet claimed these deaths occurred because Silent Spring killed off the use of DDT to fight mosquitos that spread malaria. This caught my attention because even though I had heard about Carson, and Silent Spring before, I had never heard about this. So I finally got around to reading Silent Spring to try to see why he would make these claims.

Silent Spring is in parts truly beautifully written, it has poetic descriptions, and I now really get why Carson was such a popular science writer in her time. She presents the science in a understandable terms, and there is a pretty consistent flow through out the work. The whole thing is backed up with reference to scientific studies of the period. Basically, she was a good science writer that could write for the general public. What she is advocating in this work, is the responsible use of pesticides, unlike the massive over use that was unfortunately the case in some places at that time.

She never asked for a total ban of DDT, but a more responsible use of it, and she pointed out different pest control methods that might be used in agriculture. Eventually the use of DDT was banned in agriculture in the US, and other places around the world. But the use of DDT in anti-malaria spraying has never been banned. Let me repeat that, the use of DDT is a legal way to fight against malaria, and has been ever since this book was first published. So even though Rachel Carson talked about the negative sides to DDT, and other such pesticides control in Silent Spring, that didn’t cause those millions of deaths from malaria.

It’s a classic work in environmental literature, and I’m glad I finally read it. I think I should even thank the writer that attacked Rachel Carson in his booklet for getting me to finally read it. Some of the science may be dated by now, but you have to remember it was published in 1962, so it’s not going to be up to date with the latest scientific studies. But the main point of this book, that we should not abuse nature, still stands up to scrutiny. Silent Spring may now mostly be of historical importance, but I would still recommend it to people that are interested in environmental writing.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews669 followers
February 11, 2016
Author's Note
Introduction, by Lord Shackleton
Preface, by Julian Huxley, F.R.S.

--Silent Spring

Afterword, by Linda Lear
List of Principal Sources
Profile Image for Stefania Dzhanamova.
515 reviews296 followers
February 8, 2021
Imagine a spring without the cheerful chirping of birds, a spring with cherry blossoms but without bees visiting them, with roadsides but without any vegetation embellishing them. By the time Rachel Carson wrote her ground-breaking work, many a community in America had witnessed such springs. Carelessly, the government had allowed gargantuan quantities of toxic chemicals to be put into the environment to battle pest insects without considering the chemicals' long term effects. The "elixirs of death" – arsenic, chlorinated hydrocarbons and organic phosphorus insecticides – decimated fish and bird populations and altered the cellular processes of plants, animals, and humans. Where, as Carson reveals, an ounce of a certain chemical would have been enough to harm the animals and plants, pounds and pounds were sprayed. On top of that, instead of helping, the insecticides only increased the insect population by killing off the insects' natural predators or causing the insects, highly adaptable creatures, to mutate. Americans weren't aware of anything of the aforementioned. To maximize the crop production, the government had trusted the Department of Agriculture, chemists "largely or wholly ignorant of their [the insecticides'] potentials for harm", with "poisonous and biologically potent chemicals”, in short, with dangerous poisons, despite the fact that the country was overproducing and farmers were paid to produce less.
In her easily graspable, engaging prose, Carson emphasizes the right of every citizen not to be poisoned without his knowledge and underscores the vulnerability of the human body, linking some human cancers to pesticide exposure. Most importantly, she reminds us of a fact we tend to forget: that man is not the master of nature, but a part of it. Our harming the environment ultimately backfires, our health begins to reflect the environment's ills sooner or later.

Nowadays, it is hard to imagine not being aware of any of these facts and warnings. Just google "environmental issues", and a myriad of articles, books, and documentaries will pop up. No one doubts the biologists' and environmentalists' evidence that chemicals, discarded plastic etc. are noxious for our planet. However, Carson published SILENT SPRING in 1962, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak, and one of the main beneficiaries of postwar technology, the chemical industry, was also one of the main contributors to the nation's prosperity. Chemists, at work in their remote laboratories, were revered by the public, which endowed them with almost divine wisdom, while biologists were deemed unimportant. Rachel Carson, a female biologist without a Ph.D, was labeled "a hysterical woman" by the multimillion-dollar chemical industry, not so eager to lose such a great source of income as insecticides. But they could not undo the effect her work had produced. The silent spring had turned into a noisy summer.
The book caught President John F. Kennedy's attention, and federal and state investigations were launched into the validity of Carson's arguments. Communities that had been subjected to aerial spraying against their wishes began to organize on a grass-roots level against the continuation of toxic pollution. Scientists began to admit their ignorance. SILENT SPRING had created an environmental movement. Six years after Carson succumbed to breast cancer in 1964, Americans celebrated the first Earth Day and Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. The domestic production of DDT (the "elixirs of death") was banned.

The history of the environmental movement gave me plenty of food for thought. Although global contamination is a fact of modern life, Rachel Carson's daring to speak out for the first time had made a difference. Now we are more aware of the harm mankind is causing to our environment than people were in the sixties. Yet, problems remain and there is one issue, which is currently almost a taboo in health and environmental organizations – the breeding and killing of animals for food. Although more than one documentary has shown the inhumane conditions in which domestic animals are bred and killed for food, although each cow daily releases 250-500 liters of methane in the air, although 22.5 billion animals destined for the food industry are living on our planet right now, although all these animals need more food than the whole human population and the enormous and enormously dirty global apparatus for their maintaining heavily harms the environment, scientists who expose any of these disturbing facts are received with the same incomprehension in the scientific community SILENT SPRING had been received in 1962.
Nevertheless, with her book, Rachel Carson gave me hope that what now seems impossible, what some scientists refuse even to discuss, may once happen, that there may come a day when man will understand that animals are not born to satisfy his appetite and eating carcasses undermines his own health.

SILENT SPRING is remarkable, both beautiful and poignant, a warning and a promise. It compels us to evaluate our relationship with nature and inspires us to act for the common good of our planet.
Profile Image for Uroš Đurković.
565 reviews128 followers
May 19, 2020
Dejvid Atenboro, koji je pre koju nedelju napunio 94. rođendan, rekao je da je ovo, nakon Darvinovog „Postanka vrsta” najuticajnija naučna knjiga ikada napisana. Stari znalac nije ovo rekao slučajno. „Tiho proleće” je bez preterivanja preobrazilo način na koji šira javnost doživljava ekologiju i dovelo do značajnih političkih promena koje su doslovno spasile milione života. Rejčel Karson bila je po struci morski biolog i pre „Tihog proleća” napisala je niz naučnopopularnih knjiga iz svoje oblasti, među kojima je kod nas prevedeno „More oko nas”. Knjige su imale odličan prijem kod čitalaca jer su bile pisane negovanim stilom; Karson je imala pravu meru između pristupačnosti i naučne utemeljenosti. Stekavši reputaciju uglednog stručnjaka, decenijama prikupljajući materijal, Rejčel Karson svoje poslednje delo posvećuje ekologiji, pre svega štetnom dejstvu različitih hemikalija na životnu sredinu, među kojima prednjače pesticidi, insekticidi i biocidi. Industrija pesticida koju danas znamo čedo je Drugog svetskog rata – pre njega korišćeni su mateijali koji već mogu da se nađu u prirodi, među kojima su čak i isušeni cvetovi hrizantema. I zapanjajuće zvuči podatak iz knjige da se u SAD godišnje upotrebi 500 novih hemikalija na koje telo treba da se navikne, a do četrdesetih godina u bilo je ukupno nešto više od 200 hemikalija koje su služike za suzbijanje korova, insekata i štetočina. Razlog zašto se dogodio ovakav nagli skok proističe, na primer, iz prirode insekata – oni brzo postaju imuni na supstance koje su im namenjene. Tako svaka nova generacija zahteva novo sredstvo za suzbijanje, a otrovi ostaju ne samo u životnoj sredini, već u telu. Američko masovno prskanje šuma, polja, kao i upotreba različitih nedovoljno ispitanih sredstava u domaćinstvima, dovelo je do toga da se temeljno ugrozi već ionako krhka i stalno promenljiva ravnoteža u prirodi. Podmuklost pesticida i ostalih hemikalija ogleda se u njihovom odloženom dejstvu. Efekti se najpre ne vide, ali vreme pokazuje kako kruženje materije funkcioniše. Možda je dobar primer vezan za brestove, koji su jedno vreme sađeni kao drvoredi u mnogim američkim gradovima. Kako su sađeni izuzetno zbijeno, to nije odgovaralo njihovom održavanju, te su bili podložni različitim bolestima koje su se lako širile. A ljudi, ne želeći gole ulice, prskali su to rveće – paraziti bi bili ubijani, a listovi, puni štetnih materija, padali na tlo, gde bi trulili, zatim bi zemlja upijala otrov, otrov bi pojeo crv, crva crvendać koji bi se otrovao i tako dobijamo tiho proleće. Da, tiho proleće nije samo metafora, ono je posvedočeno u nekim američkim gradovima, štetne supstance su bile izazvale pomor ptica koji su ljudi tek naknadno primetili. Lanac se nastavlja – i ne samo što supstance dospevaju u oblake, one, što je još više zabrinjavajuće, dospevaju i u duboke, podzemne vode. A kad tu dođu, kako Karson tvrdi, spasa nema. Podzemne vode su nam spas, jemac života i poslednje pribežište.
Od štetnih supstanci, osim kancerogenog arsenika, koji se, nažalost, i dalje koristi, među posebno štetnim materijama prednjačio je DDT (dihlor-difenil-trihloretan) koji je upravo zaslugom Rejčel Karson zabranjen 70-ih godina. Ali iako zabranjen, i dalje je tu – kada jednom materija uđe u telo, ona se smešta u organe bogate mastima i veoma mala količina je dovoljna da utiče na enzime vezane za rad srca, jetre. Kontaminacija ide do toga da je supstanca pronađena i u majčinom mleku. Jedan od izuzetno štetnih materija je i aldrin, koji izaziva promene u bubrezima i jetri, a koji je zabranjen tek 90-ih godina. A čak i da su spomenute materije benigne, javlja se drugi problem o kome malo ko razmišlja, i koji namerno prećutkuju mnoga istraživanja sponzorisana od strane krupnog kapitala – hemikalije nikada nisu izolovane. Ukoliko stavimo neku inače bezazlenu supstancu u takođe bezazlenu sredinu, rezultat uopšte ne mora da bude bezazlen. Prvi zakon ekologije jeste da je sve sa svime povezano i da ništa nije izolovano. S tim u vezi SAD nisu imale samo dežurne društvene neprijatelje – komuniste (sama Rejčel Karson bila je, između ostalog, tako nazvana), već i dežurne neprijatelje iz prirode, koji kvare ekonomsku dobit. Među njima mnoge vrste uvezene iz drugih krajeva sveta, gde su, za razliku od SAD, bile usklađene sa sredinom u kojom su živele, jer su njihovi ekosistemi drukčiji. Dovođenje organizama iz drugih krajeva sveta samo po sebi dovodi neravnotežu (kantarion, japanska buba), a zanimljivo je da je sama američka vlada stala (The Agricultural Department) sponzorisala propagandni film o tobožnjoj neverovatnoj šteti koju izazivaju crveni mravi (fire ant), ne bi li se stvorilo javno mnjenje u kome je korišćenje DDT-a opravdano. Rejčel Karson je na početku bila žestoko kritikovana, vređana je kao neko ko preuveličava, ko je histeričan (baš me zanima da li bi za muškarca rekli da je histeričan) i ko obmanjuje javnost. Međutim, knjiga je, sasvim suprotno, odmerena, proračunata, uravnotežena, čak i stišana, u skladu sa samim naslovom. Polemike su postepeno jačale, Rejčel Karson nije, nažalost mogla da učestvuje u njima zbog zdravstvenih problema, a o uticaju ove knjige govori i da je sam predsednik Kenedi sazvao odbor o pitanjima vezanim za knjigu.
Rejčel Karson je dve godine nakon objavljivanja „Tihog proleća” otišla tiho. Umrla je od raka dojke, bolesti o čijim je uzrocima dosta pisala baš u svom poslednjem delu. I to treba da nas prene. Nažalost, i kod nas je njena tiha revolucija doživljena još tiše, jer ova knjiga i dalje nije prevedena na srpski. (Koliko mi je poznato, ne postoji ni hrvatski prevod, ali slovenački postoji.)
I samo da napomenem da, suprotno onome što mnogi kažu o ovoj knjizi, „Tiho proleće” nije nikakvo umetničko delo. Ono je napisano dobrim stilom, ali bez ikakvih upliva lirskog i meditativnog. Međutim, to što „Tiho proleće”, i povrh divnog naslova, nije književno delo, ne znači da je ono zbog toga manje vredno. Naprotiv, Karson je učinila nešto izuzetno – dala je šah-mat pesticidima i promenila svet.

Na kraju – pesma Massive Attack – Silent Spring: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n8Xg...

I pošto je Rejčel Karson bila biolog mora, šaljem vam nešto za šta sam siguran da bi se i njoj dopalo. Ako imate volje i vremena obavezno pogledajte, iskustvo je izuzetno:

P. S. Da i naše proleće ne bi bilo tiho, skinite na mobilni besplatnu aplikaciju „Ptice na dlanu” Društva za zaštitu i proučavanje ptica Srbije. Tu je zbirka svih ptica Srbije, sa osnovnim informacijama, zvukovima cvrkuta i slikama.
Profile Image for Francesca Calarco.
360 reviews31 followers
April 22, 2019
In 1962, a scientist named Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring detailing the hazardous environmental effects of pesticides and herbicides being used in the United States. She wrote with factual accuracy that urgently detailed the horrific implications of prolonged chemical use, and with beautiful prose that framed this work in her undeniable love of nature. And the kicker is that people actually listened to her. Reading this book in 2019, it seems sadly nostalgic to look back at a time when the general public actually gave credence to the work of researchers and scientific fact. Wacky.

Rachel Carson undeniably succeeds in reporting objectively unromantic evidence (scary stuff really), with an execution conveying a soft aesthetic style rarely seen with popular science authors. She expresses beautiful sentiments such as, “in nature nothing exists alone,” (51) that will appeal to anyone’s inner hippie. Then in the same paragraph, she will also account how arsenic leached in the soil and water will have detrimental effects the public’s health for generations to come (aka: cancer). All things are connected, which is both beautiful and horrifying when you think about it, and Rachel Carson will really make you think about it.

Overall, this book is pretty great, I definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Ajeje Brazov.
684 reviews
March 30, 2023
Quand'ero ragazzino, negli anni 90 del secolo scorso, giocavo spesso ad un videogioco, che poi è diventato tra i miei preferiti di sempre e mi ha dato sprone a ricercare sempre la verità in tutto e soprattutto per la quella voglia ancestrale di conoscenza. Ecco, il gioco è Civilization: partivi con la scelta di uno scenario: un'isola, un continente, ecc... poi ci entravi e in un posto strategico ci piazzavi e fondavi la tua prima città, la capitale della tua personale civiltà. Il gioco proseguiva e più avanzavi più dovevi decidere quale strada prendere: la via militare, espansionistica ed imperialista, oppure quella di puro esploratore, ecc... Io sceglievo quella della ricerca scientifica. Così si arrivava alla fine con due mete ben definite: la prima era quella dell'esplorazione dell'universo e l'altra si chiamava "Cura per il cancro".
Leggendo "Primavera silenziosa", mi sono venute subito in mente le infinite giornate passate su quel videogioco, dove l'interesse era più meramente ludico. Ovviamente molte volte mi distruggevano, senza farmi arrivare nemmeno alla fine, perchè come dicevo prima, mi dedicavo quasi interamente alla ricerca scientifica, lasciando quella militare quasi a zero. Chissà poi che cosa ci trova l'essere umano a farsi la guerra? Questa domanda mi riporta al film "I guerrieri della notte", dove alla fine il tizio allucinato con due bottiglie di birra di vetro infilate una nell'indice e l'altra nel medio, le fa cozzare e canta la cantilena: "Guerrieri, giochiamo alla guerra?!"
Negli anni 90 in Italia il pericolo cancro non era così sentito, almeno l'io ragazzino non ci pensava neanche, avevo più paura delle siringhe disseminate nei parchi o di altre robe, ma del cancro no, così anche nel videogioco la percepivo come una minaccia talmente lontana, come se sentissi la sua eco ad anni luce di distanza.
Ora nel 2023 il cancro è un demone che ci portiamo tutti sul groppone ogni giorno e la causa principale siamo noi, come abbiamo impostato la società, fatta di guerra infinita. Il cancro è una piaga che esiste da quando esiste la vita, è quello stravolgimento che avviene nella cellula per vari ed imprevedibili casi e noi con l'avvelenamento quotidiano: i rifiuti tossici industriali, gl'insetticidi/erbicidi, l'inquinamento atmosferico e quant'altro, abbiamo fomentato questo disallineamento del processo naturale della cellula. Ci facciamo guerre ogni attimo della nostra vita. Le civiltà, nel corso dei millenni, sono state forgiate su un letto di sangue, carne e sofferenza. Ma la guerra che ci siamo "buttati" in questo ultimo secolo, penso che non abbia eguali. Chi, sano di mente, spargerebbe ettari ed ettari di terreno con veleni di tutti i tipi? Direi nessuno! Invece noi lo abbiamo e continuiamo a farlo!
Rachel Carson, una biologa, ci racconta con dovizia di particolari ed esempi di casi accaduti, l'inizio di questa guerra "silenziosa" contro la vita. Negli anni subito dopo la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, s'incomincia a sperimentare il controllo chimico, principalmente negli USA, per debellare gl'infestanti, perlopiù gli insetti che decimano le coltivazioni. Negli anni precedenti si attuavano procedure più contenute e con agenti chimici molto meno tossici. Così esplode il caso DDT, un insetticida che ha rivoluzionato l'agricoltura mondiale, ma sarà davvero così? O anzi ha innescato una bomba biologica impossibile da disinnescare?
Son passati più di 60 anni dalla pubblicazione di questo prezioso saggio scientifico, ma la situazione non mi pare molto cambiata, il DDT è stato messo al bando, ma è stato sostituito con altri veleni, forse più tossici, forse meno? Non saprei, ma un esempio lampante lo abbiamo con il caso glifosato, per dirne una.
Intentare una guerra contro gl'insetti, vuol dire intentare una guerra contro tutti, perchè gl'insetti sono almeno il 70% di tutti gli esseri viventi presenti sulla faccia della Terra, ma soprattutto perchè l'ecosistema è un sistema circolare, se danneggi anche uno solo dei suoi anelli, il sistema crolla.
Nell'ultimo capitolo l'autrice c'illustra alcuni dei sistemi meno invasivi che gravitano non nel controllo chimico, ma nel controllo biologico.
Profile Image for Ioana.
274 reviews341 followers
January 26, 2016
Rachel Carson is a feminist hero. In a world of science beholden to capitalist interests and run by men, she defied all conventions in publishing this non-academic yet copiously researched expose on Big-Ag and the effects of pesticide use. She was decried from all angles, not least of all by the scientific establishment, which derided her "pop science" approach and her "hysterical feminine" tone. But it was too late - Carson had appealed to the public, and the public-and their representatives- listened. Congressional investigations were initiated, entire government agencies and departments were formed to address Carson's points, private groups mobilized to protect the environment, and on and on. They aren't kidding when they say Carson provided the spark for the modern environmental movement.

As for the book itself: it is full of now outdated information, and is a bit dry, despite critics who sing Carson's praise as a lyrical writer. It's basically a catalogue of the effects of different kinds of pesticides at various levels (species, community, ecosystem) and on various organisms (from plants to ants to cattle to people). I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading it, but I can't rate this as lower than 5 stars due to its historical significance. Silent Spring's "Fun to Read" rating is probably between a 2 and a 5, depending on how interested you are in the environmental movement and food sourcing.
Profile Image for Janet.
11 reviews46 followers
October 21, 2007
What is there to add to the universal praise for Rachel Carson? This book isn't a walk in the park, and it's crammed with (accesible) Scientific data, but it changed the world.

I was more fascinated by Carson's rhetoric than in her findings, which are now more than 45 years old. I read this book to learn how she built a case that challenged every major scientific, political and corporate institution in the country. And she did it by connecting with the shared values of average Americans. Bravo, Rachel!
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