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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.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
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.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
The prospect of reading a 300+ page book (or listening to a 10+ hours audiobook) about the perils of spraying DDT might not sound all that appealing. However, this book was declared one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by Discover magazine in 2006, alongside works by Einstein, Darwin, Galileo, Dawkins, Feynman, Watson (of DNA fame) and other major scientific figures.
I have known people who call themselves environmentalists because they hug trees, care about fluffy bunnies and harangue neighbours for trimming their hedges. So it's pleasing to find a book which came in right at the start of the movement (indeed, was a key work that got the movement going) and which deals with the science in an accessible, easy to follow way without dumbing down at all.
The book consists mainly of scientific explanations and case studies. We learn the chemistry of insecticides and herbicides and what effect they have on living creatures; how various species of insects, wildlife, plants and humans interact with each other, and what alternatives were available even at the time.
Some of the case studies are horrifying. As Howard Devoto of the post-punk band Magazine sang, I was shocked to find what was allowed. Highly toxic chemicals sprayed in large quantities over vast areas from planes, landing on cattle, children and so on. Lethal chemicals sold over the counter; instead of warning stickers, pictures of smiling father and son out spreading the lethal cocktail. A housewife with a morbid fear of spiders spraying her cellar with domestic pesticide on three occasions - the last of which killed her.
Then there's the chemist who wanted to work out the lethal dose of a chemical, so he tried ingesting a tiny amount. Oh, don't worry - he had the antidote right next to him. Unfortunately paralysis came in so quickly he couldn't move his hand to take any, He couldn't move his lungs either.
The book can almost be treated as a nonfiction horror novel. Indeed, it directly inspired an early Doctor Who serial, Planet of Giants, and its vibe can be felt in the likes of Doomwatch. More than anything, though, is its insight into ecology. We all know about the interconnectedness of living things, but Silent Spring makes it clear that this isn't hippy nonsense, it's solid science.
It's 54 years old now. I want to know more about the subject, what we learned since then, and how the governments changed their attitudes.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
such an informative book on Chemical used in Agriculture during the 1950's in the US. It's a very factual book with alot of interesting anecdotes too.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This version is missing whole chapters from the original book. It loses a lot of the authors message.
Not an easy subject matter but beautifully writen. A vivid and detailed description of the web of life on our planet and how our unconstrained use of chemicals threatens to distrust and damage those systems, often to our own detriment.