Silent Spring, 60 Years Later

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How’s to rescue the Earth from us people? Rachel Carson’s way – 60 years ago – was to write a book, and call it Silent Spring. She’d been a shy but defiant biologist in government service. Her book had science behind it, and the rhythm of poetry all through it: one woman’s outcry—as she herself was dying of cancer—against pesticides, most notoriously DDT, what she called “the chemical barrage” being “hurled against the fabric of life.” She was hurling her prose at not just DDT but Dupont, Monsanto, the big business of agriculture, and the slick ad slogan: “better living through chemistry.” Silent Spring became a historic bestseller and a rallying cry for the twentieth century. It’s an unmet challenge for the twenty-first.

Sandra Steingraber.
Maria Popova.

A troubled world is tuning in on Rachel Carson again, for lots of good reasons, and so are we. She was a hard scientist of the environment who could speak bluntly—about her masterpiece Silent Spring, for example: she called it the “poison book,” or sometimes “Man Against the Earth.” She was a common-sense crusader who won sweeping victories. She wrote high-flying prose about oceans before she’d seen one, and about the love of her life, as time was running out. Her opening chapters of Silent Spring can sound today, it is said, like “God calling the world into being” back in Creation time.

This is the latest installment of In Search of Monsters, our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

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