On a Farther Shore The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

Review From User :

An eloquently written book on a most eloquent individual - Rachel Carson.

She was a strongly motivated person who strove constantly to educate herself. She came from a modest background and attended college by loans and taking a lien on the property her parents owned. She was raised inland in the state of Pennsylvania - but when she first saw the Atlantic coast she immediately fell in love with the seashore and spent most of her life within proximity of the coast. She was enamored of nature and most particularly of the constant daily changes that take place along the seashore. She took a holistic view of nature and realized the importance and connectivity of the multitude of interactions - birds, plants, animals, cellular life... She was not one to specialize - it was the whole picture that kept her in awe.

For a time she worked with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Services. Her great strength was in gathering information and writing - she wrote a considerable number of pamphlets over the years. Her writings were science based, but always readable and accessible to the general public.

She wanted to pursue her career as a writer of nature and left government service. She had built up an enormous network of contacts over the years that she was able to cull for data. She integrated these findings and wrote a few books on what today we would call "ecology". As always, they were meant for the non-scientific reader. One book - "The Sea Around Us" was very successful; it was number one for several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. These books, written in the 1950's, strike one now as being "replaced" by documentary films. Her use of language was always affecting and persuasive. There was no overtly political message in them - the main emphasis was the flow of the natural world.

All that changed with her last book "Silent Spring" which was an attack on how mankind was endangering the earth by the use of pesticides. She thoroughly documented how all pesticides remained and were dispersed throughout the environment continuing to infect and contaminate all living things from earthworms to humans. There was a backlash, of course, from the chemical manufacturers - and in some ways this merely gave more publicity to her book. "Silent Spring" was the first major work exposing how pesticides are changing the dynamics of the earth's environment. The author also points out that Rachel Carson was not for the total banishment of pesticides, but that their use had to be regulated and controlled. DDT (or the equivalent) may still be necessary to eradicate malaria. The environmental repercussions of pesticides had to be researched by an independent body, not the pesticide industry.

Further notes:
There are often digressions in this book where Rachel Carson all but disappears, but these emphasize the people and groups that influenced her. Rachel Carson was very good at integrating divergent research into her books. We are also given a good view of her writing process which was a lengthy one - and fortunately for her, she had an editor, Paul Brooks, who had tremendous patience! Several reviewers remarked on how beautifully written her books were.

This is a sad book to read. Not only are we provided with the evidence of unregulated pesticides, like in spray and spray again. The 1950's and 1960's saw constant thermo-nuclear testing with radiation spreading into the atmosphere; this was another backdrop to "Silent Spring". And very sadly Rachel Carson died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1964.

The title "Silent Spring" refers to an eventuality, where due to humankinds continual chemical interference, birds will no longer sing in the springtime because there will be no more birds.

Page 330 (my book, Rachel Carson quote)
The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible...Similarly, chemicals sprayed on croplands or forests or gardens lie long on the soil, entering into living organisms, passing from one to another in a chain of poisoning and death.

Media Size : 7.1 MB