Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson

Hardcover, 2002




Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2002), Edition: Anniversary, 400 pages


Nature. Politics. Science. Nonfiction. Conservationist Rachel Carson spent over six years documenting the effects on DDT�??a synthetic organic compound used as an insecticide�??on numerous communities. Her analysis revealed that such powerful, persistent chemical pesticides have been used without a full understanding of the extent of their potential harm to the whole biota, including the damage they've caused to wildlife, birds, bees, agricultural animals, domestic pets, and even humans. In this book, Carson discusses her findings and expresses passionate concern for the future of the planet and all the life inhabiting it, calling on us all to act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living earth. Additionally, she suggests that all democracies and liberal societies must operate in a way that allows individuals and groups to question what their governments have permitted to be put into the environment. An instant bestseller that was read by President Kennedy during the summer of 1962, this classic remains one of the best introductions to the complicated and controversial su… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member spiphany
It's always interesting to read a book like this that has been so influental after its message has already had its impact. I read this in high school and was deeply impressed not so much by its content -- for the reader today it should come as no surprise that indiscriminate use of pesticides
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carries undesired effects with it -- but by Carson's beautiful, poetic writing even when talking about such dry topics. For a book that is doing nothing less than an alarm cry and an impassioned plea for change I was surprised by its gentleness. Silent Spring is not so much a polemic (although it is that too) as a hymn in praise of the harmony of nature and a plea not to be all too hasty in disturbing that balance. While the use of chemicals has been reconsidered in the decades since the book was written, this message still remains as relevant as ever.
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LibraryThing member liberality
The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published in 1962. Rachel Carson was already a well known author of nature books and her book The Sea around Us, which came out in 1951, had spent 86 weeks on best seller’s lists. She won numerous awards for The Sea around Us including the National Book
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Award for nonfiction. Ms. Carson worked for many years as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in addition to embarking upon a very successful literary career in the natural sciences. Her work in the field and her easy reading style made her a trusted source for information about our natural world so it was a bombshell for many when her book Silent Spring came out.
In Silent Spring Rachel Carson imagines a world in which spring is unnaturally silent because of the pesticides and herbicides then in use killing off the wild life, including birds with their beautiful songs, hence the silence of spring. She informs the reader that such a scenario is not so far off and begins to document incident after incident where the use of dangerous chemicals has harmed the wildlife in our environment. The meticulous research involved in documenting the harm done by pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, especially DDT, is overwhelming and one can appreciate why the chemical industry tried to go after and discredit Rachel Carson. Moreover, she then documents that if these killing chemicals are harming the wildlife then they are certainly harming us as well.
She documents the increase in cancer and traces it back to the overuse of pesticides, herbicides and other dangerous chemicals. Any pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide is a biocide she argues, if it kills life than it is killing us slowly but surely. At that time she states that cancer will become an epidemic and strike one out of every four people living if the wholesale use of pesticides and herbicides are not used more wisely if not banned outright. She documents how cancer can take decades to develop and that repeated small exposures to these dangerous chemicals disrupts cellular processes. Appreciatively, she writes in such a way that the layman can understand these complex biological functions. Ms. Carson argues forcefully that we ought to be working to prevent cancer from occurring as well as fighting for a cure. Instead, she points out, the medical establishment works upon fighting cancer once it has appeared rather than prevention. Unfortunately, not much has changed concerning cancer prevention verses cancer treatment. She herself died of breast cancer two years later after Silent Spring was released. For now it is a sad fact that one out of two men will have cancer in his lifetime and one out of every three women will so it is much worse than she predicted back in 1962.
One of the original reviews by The New York Times gave it a glowing recommendation but the reviews by the chemical industry were not so favorable which is not surprising given that her book strikes at the hand that feeds them. Many of the reviews by the chemical industry were sexist and patronizing in the extreme. However, the public overwhelmingly endorsed Ms. Carson’s recommendations.
Silent Spring has been credited with beginning the environmental movement in the United States. So powerfully did the book argue against the use of chemicals to control the natural world that DDT was eventually banned for use in the United States. Although there are portions of the book where the science is outdated, because of the impact this book has had upon our nation’s use of pesticides such as DDT and because it was an impetus for the environmental movement in this country, the title deserves to remain upon the shelf at public libraries.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
A good edition of this excellent book, with an introduction by Linda Lear and an afterword by E.O. Wilson. I finally decided it was time to sit and take time to read Carson's work, and used an unexpectedly pleasant spring day to do it, mostly in one sitting. It's brilliant and powerful and there
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should be more like it.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson is a passionate book. It is a superb book. It is a book that arrived at a good point in history.

Rachel Carson blended science with a deep concern for the environment to produce a book of breathtaking beauty.

There is a strangely lyrical quality to her writing.
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I read the book almost through in one sitting.

When I read about the reactions that followed the publication of this book, I can only stand back and admire her courage. I wish we had such people in India.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
The scary thing about reading this book at a fifty year remove, is not that one learns of new threats to our ecosphere, or even that many of the dangers highlighted are still in existence, it is that the corporate powers had to be dragged, screaming and kicking, into an admission of each threat. We
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have no reason to presume that this reluctance has passed into history and so, all that the last fifty years has accomplished is that the apologists have learned more subtle ways to gain-say the danger.

In 1962, the poison producers simply brushed aside the concerns of the people, nowadays, they cry their best crocodile tears and promise that they are moving mountains to reverse the situation whilst, in reality, they blithely ignore the issues, as before.

Back to the book, history has proved Carson correct on almost every fear that she expressed. Admittedly, the planet still exists but, it would be interesting to know how many deaths might have been avoided had the "progressives" accepted the flaws in their approach: indeed, had they so done, maybe the knee jerk reaction to genetic engineering and fracking would not be so universally negative. If the general public could have any belief that safeguards were in place, I am sure that a far greater number would be willing to allow this research, without attempts to disrupt.

You may feel that this review is at a tangent to the book but, these are the areas which Ms. Carson would, I am sure, be tackling, were she to be writing now. The issues have changed, the response has not. The evidence of current misdemeanour's is kept from us, it is only by reminding ourselves of the historical position that we can see how to proceed now.
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LibraryThing member 4bonasa
Despite of what Rush Limbaugh says, this book is a classic in so far as bringing environmental pollution to the public discourse. I never forgot about the dieing robins in Minneapolis.
LibraryThing member DoingDewey
Because all of the quotes I’ve read from Silent Spring have been emotional appeals, I was worried the book would be all poetic descriptions, poorly grounded in science. Instead I found that, as the introduction claimed, Rachel Carson not only had a “lyrical, poetic voice” but also offered
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sound “scientific expertise” and an impressive “synthesis of wide-ranging material”.

The introduction really helped place the book for me, in a period before environmentalism; after the cold war, when unpatriotic suggestions that we couldn’t control nature were frowned upon; and during a time when radiation was a recently recognized danger. Reading through the book without the introduction, Carson’s repetitive comparisons of chemical sprays to radiation might have become annoying. However, as the introduction pointed out, this was a rather clever move on her part given public consciousness of radiation as a real danger. The afterward also did a really good job of placing the book in relation to the following environmental movement and current ecological concerns. If you’re going to read Silent Spring, I would strongly recommend the 40th anniversary edition for these nice contextual additions.

As anticipated, the writing was often very beautiful. Despite my half-dozen or so biology classes, I’ve never found the inner workings of the cell half as beautiful as I did reading Rachel Carson’s descriptions. At other times, her writing did become over the top with references to “the chemical death rain”, but her descriptions of the results of these chemicals made the hyperbole seem warranted. In fact, finishing this book I actually felt a profound sense of relief that we don’t live in a world without birds, because of the damages these chemicals caused.

My only complaint with this read was that it quickly became repetitive. Although Rachel Carson’s point was novel at the time and people may have required more convincing, I was a convert pretty early on. In part because of the repetitiveness, I found the book informative but never really engaging. With a really great book, there’s always that point where you’ve really gotten into it and don’t want to put it down, except maybe to sleep…if you absolutely have to. With this read, I just never got to that point. Instead I felt like I had to force myself back into it whenever I took a break. Despite not getting really sucked in, this was an interesting and informative read which I think provides a great introduction for anyone interested in the history of the environmentalist movement.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
Given my interests and the timing of this book being published, one would think I would have read this book decades ago. It was certainly well known already when I was deep into my higher education pursuits so many years ago. I had always assumed it would be rather dated and much overshadowed by
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more modern research, if I were to read it now. Plus, I don't recall the last time the title of this book and DDT were not directly connected in comments I read about one or the other of the two. As it turns out, the book is startling in its applicability to today's world, especially one in which environmental protections are exuberantly being stripped off like so many layers of skin on a human being by a stunningly misguided government administration. (Can someone please pass a law requiring all candidates be able to read?) True, DDT is not much in the news now, but this book speaks directly and fluently about the very same issues that face the world now as to those it faced back in 1962. I have read other books that were more adept at stating their case about the intricacies of trying to manage our environment, but this book does a fine job of it and is well worth the read even now.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
As expected, the science is a bit dated since this book is now ~50 years old. However, Carson's main points are still valid and powerfully put. She helped create the environmental movement which many now take for granted. While I am pleased to know that some of the threats she described have been
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reversed or avoided (such as the recovery of many bird & fish species from the effects of DDT), I was still appalled by the hazards that pesticides & herbicides posed then & probably still do. I was also left with a strong feeling that the USDA and other governmental agencies of the 1940-60 period were rife with corruption -- I don't know if this was ever investigated but I sure hope that there is more oversight on these agencies now!

Carson does an amazing job of giving explanations of some basic biology as well as the plentiful descriptions of case studies. Well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member dysmonia
I can't say I read this book, because I didn't finish it. I discovered my inner environmentalist in elementary school, and when I learned about Rachel Carson, I was enamored. Perhaps I was simply too young for this book, and maybe my complaint about it only serves to illustrate the fact: it was
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boring. To give it a fair review, I should at least finish it, but I wanted to mark it down because I remember it so vividly. It was a disappointment.
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LibraryThing member jimmaclachlan
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Borg-mx5
One the books that started the environmental movement. While the data is old now, many of the conclusions remain valid today.
LibraryThing member Ms.Zaremba
Written from a scientists perspective with ample support for its claims.
-Connections to human health
-Timeline for pesticide use and development
-Effects of pesticides on water, soil, plant and animal life
LibraryThing member Muscogulus
The classic wake-up call about the damage we do to the environment. My copy appears to have come out during the first Nixon administration; it has a blurb from that Republican president on the back cover, about how America must reclaim "the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment.
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It is literally now or never."
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LibraryThing member jayde1599
This book has taken me some time to read, but I am glad that I finished it. Carson made some exceptional and valid points regarding the chemicals that were being sprayed across the US, especially for the time period that she published this book. Because of her the use of DDT was scrutinized and
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banned - at least in most countries. I think we still have work to do on the amount of pollutants that we put into the environment, but with people like Rachel Carson and others exposing the harmful effects, hopefully things will improve even more.
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
Extremely powerful 'pop-sci' biology text (or rant) about the dangers of pesticides. As relevant now as it was when it was first published 50 years ago - although one hopes there have been several significant lesson learnt in the meantime.

LibraryThing member Devil_llama
One of the best known environmental classics, a work that eventually led to the banning of DDT in the United States. Ms. Carson painstakingly details all of the evidence of the dangers of DDT, which had until that time been trumpeted as totally safe to humans. Written in easy prose, the book
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shouldn't be too technical for the lay reader.
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LibraryThing member cbloky
the first real book about protecting the environment, Rachel goes into what she and others did to remove poison from the earth and our food. she is one of the big reasons why DDT was banned. Anybody who cares about the earth and what you eat should read this
LibraryThing member sharonandjohn
I had been meaning to read Silent Spring for years, but I never got around to it. I really don’t know why. When I saw it on the shelf in a closing Border’s store, I grabbed it. Rachel Carson wrote this book back in 1962, but her message is sadly still relevant and important today. I knew that
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pesticides and herbicides were bad. I am a novice gardener who does her best to avoid the stuff. I guess it never really struck home to me as to HOW bad they really were and still are. The overuse and abuse of pesticides and herbicides did not stop with the publication of this book, but it allowed people to become more aware of what was happening. The sad thing is that many people of my generation and even my parent’s don’t really understand the disastrous affects of these chemicals and still use them in their gardens. Gardens in which they grow food that they feed their children.

If you haven’t read this book yet and you are concerned about the environment and the food that you eat, please read this book. It will be an eye opening experience. It will probably make you very uncomfortable. It will probably make you think twice before you eat things like potatoes and apples. It will probably make you think twice before you apply chemicals to your gardens or your lawn especially if you have children or pets.
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LibraryThing member jscape2000
The original environmental classic, Silent Spring is meticulously researched and written in plain language. It is a little dry and a little uninteresting if you know the ending (no spoilers here, but it's been old news for a few decades now). In fact, Silent Spring's template has been so often
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copied that its formula will be painfully familiar to modern readers.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
As important and relevant now as it was when it was written 50 years ago. Being a composting, recycling, organic gardener who has volunteered with wildlife organizations for years, I thought I was reasonably environmentally savvy, but Carson's work still managed to educate and dismay me. Both
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eloquent and remarkably succinct given the complicated chemical nature of the subject. It is amazing how much of her hotly contested "theories" have proven correct over the past five years. My walks through the local home and garden aisles are forever changed. A highly recommended book for all--it should be mandatory reading at high school level.
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LibraryThing member bell7
In 1962, Carson argues that the wide use of spraying chemicals over crops and regions has far-reaching consequences beyond controlling the insects they are meant to kill. The spraying causes the deaths of birds, fish, and other wildlife, and does not have the intended result of eradicating the
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harmful insects, but instead seems to be only a temporary fix.

This book is on some of the lists of most influential books of the 20th century, and essentially backed up the eventual banning of DDT, though Carson herself does not argue that insecticides should not be used, merely that their use needs to be done carefully, specifically (ie., killing the intended insect without upsetting the ecosystem more than necessary), and with full understanding of the dangers of the chemicals. While I am not sorry to have read it and I understand that it was an important work for its time, much of the specifics that Carson focuses on are dry and not as relevant today as they were forty years ago. Her chapters on cancer and genetics in particular have not aged well as our understanding of both have developed significantly. Since the book began as a series of articles written the New Yorker, the chapters are extremely topical and somewhat repetitive. In the end, I was rather bored and wishing for a Cliffs Notes version.
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LibraryThing member seavac
Paperback edition with an introduction by former Vice President Al Gore. An incredibly powerful, landmark book..
LibraryThing member rmckeown
As we pass another vernal equinox in March of 2013, my mind wandered back to 1965 when I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This classic work, which became, in the words of Peter Matthiessen, “The cornerstone of the new environmentalism” has writing as beautiful as a perfect Spring
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Carson was born in 1907 and served many years as a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Three previous works on the environment of the oceans firmly fixed her as an eminent writer on nature. She died less than two years after the publication of Silent Spring. Her work set in motion profound changes in environmental laws to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land on which we live and grow our food.

Carson’s study focuses on the indiscriminate use of the pesticide DDT, which was banned shortly after the book caused a world-wide sensation. Predictably, much opposition arose from opponents of the idea we need to protect our environment. Detractors in government and the then multimillion dollar chemical industry attacked Carson, because – as Linda Lear who wrote a biography of Carson wrote in the Introduction to my anniversary edition – they “were not about to allow a former government editor, a female scientist without a Ph.D. or an institutional affiliation, known only for her lyrical books on the sea, to undermine public confidence in its products or to question its integrity” (xvii). Those chemical companies now have profits in the billions. Lear continues, when this book “caught the attention of President Kennedy, federal and state investigations were launched into the validity of Carson’s claims” (xvii).

The chapters then focus on various parts of the environment, the chemicals which were sprayed or dumped into each one, and the effects these chemicals had. The title “Silent Spring” reflects numerous reports of the death of thousands of song birds and other creatures following widespread use of DDT and other pesticides. I remember as a child watching trucks drive down our street spraying a white fog to kill mosquitoes. Sometimes the city issued warnings and other times not. My mother always made my sisters and me stay inside “until the smell went away.” However, I remember seeing children running and playing in the fog.

Carson writes about the hundreds of new chemicals which find their way into use every year. In the mid-40s alone “over 200 chemicals were invented to kill insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms described in the modern vernacular as ‘pests’” (7). Carson asks, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides,’ but ‘biocides’” (8). Yet today, attacks continue on the EPA. A most worthy read for anyone concerned about the environment. 5 stars

--Jim, 2/15/13
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LibraryThing member JillKB
I'm glad I read this book -- as Al Gore said in his intro to this edition, it really kicked off the environmental movement. I was impressed by Rachel Carson's writing ability and the way she created effective analogies to help a non-scientist like me understand how toxic insecticides threaten our
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world and our health. "Silent Spring" was also a scary book to read -- although chemicals like DDT have been banned, I couldn't help thinking about all the chemical and substances in modern life that could still be contaminating our water, earth, and sky and hurting us. And although the more biological solutions that Carson suggested made sense, it also made me wonder about the possible dangers of "playing God" and changing our natural environment. But a powerful, pursuasive read -- I can understand why it was so effective when it came out in 1962.
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