First published in 1962, Silent Spring can single-handedly be credited with sounding the alarm and raising awareness of humankind's collective impact on its own future through chemical pollution. No other book has so strongly influenced the environmental conscience of Americans and the world at large.
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With chapters like "Elixirs of Death," "Needless Havoc," "And No Birds Sing," "Rivers of Death," "Indiscriminately from the Skies," "The Human Price," and "Nature Fights Back," Rachel Carson's classic and influential book Silent Spring (1962) is not for the faint of heart. In great detail, with many statistics, scientific research results, quotations from scientists, and accounts of real incidents, mostly in the United States but also abroad, she explains the devastating and long-lasting effects on the environment and every living thing within it of the potent and toxic synthetic chemical poisons ("biocides") that from the 1940s to the early 60s human beings were spraying, dusting, and dumping on "bad" flora and fauna in misguided attempts to control or eliminate them. Nervous systems attacked, oxidation in cells blocked, reproductive systems disrupted, genetic codes warped, leukemia and other cancers increased, squirrels and robins dying on the ground with their feet clenched and bodies convulsed, entire populations of innocent bystanders destroyed, and the "pests" and "weeds" etc. coming back resistant and or in higher numbers than before.
The reader of the audiobook, Kaiulani Lee, speaks clearly and reads the text at an easy and natural pace. Although I wish that she would not say "insects," "effects," and "facts" as if they ended in "x" (because Carson uses them a lot), I like her gentle and grandmotherly voice and manner, for the chemical devastation done to the environment becomes all the more horrible by contrast.
Much of Silent Spring is grim. But at the same time, Carson's analogies are so witty and apt, her descriptions so vivid and lyrical, and her tone so rational and caring, that her book is often a pleasure to read. Like this: "Or there, almost invisible against a leaf, is the lacewing, with green gauze wings and golden eyes, shy and secretive, descendant of an ancient race that lived in Permian times." In addition to cogently explaining the history, composition, misuse, and effects of synthetic chemical poisons, Carson also clearly explains how life works, how cells divide and make energy, how nerves transmit signals, how insects reproduce, how mutations occur, how natural selection works, and how all living things live in eco-systems perfectly adapted to their environments. Like this:
"Before the spraying there had been a rich assortment of the water life that forms the food of salmon and trout--caddis fly larvae, living in loosely fitting protective cases of leaves, stems or gravel cemented together with saliva, stonefly nymphs clinging to rocks in the swirling currents, and the wormlike larvae of blackflies edging the stones under riffles or where the stream spills over steeply slanting rocks. But now the stream insects were dead, killed by the DDT, and there was nothing for a young salmon to eat."
Thus I left her book not only appalled by the human ability to treat the world and everything in it so selfishly and recklessly but also enriched by a greater awareness of the miracle of the interconnected web of life in our world. Even though her book is 50 years old this year, and kids nowadays grow up learning ecology, Silent Spring should still be read because it is so well-written and was so instrumental in inspiring the modern ecological movement.
An amazing read, Carson is an exceptional writer and the subject is as prescient today as it was when she penned it in the early 60's.
This book has been ranked one of the top most influential books in the twentieth century and Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on this subject. I highly recommend it.