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On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

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Rachel Carson loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and other pesticides that until then had been hailed as safe and wondrously effective. It was Carson who sifted through all the evidence, documenting with alarming clarity the collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife; revealing the effects of these new chemicals to be lasting, widespread, and lethal. Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action, despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. It awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of Carson’s death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

512 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

William Souder

4 books44 followers
William Souder’s books include biographies of John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year) and John James Audubon (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). He lives in Grant, Minnesota.

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Profile Image for Elaine Burnes.
Author 9 books23 followers
April 19, 2013
I give five stars for Rachel Carson and three stars for this biographer.

First, know that I’m no Rachel Carson scholar. I’ve read Silent Spring and this biography, and that’s about it. I don’t usually even read biographies, I’m more likely to read a person’s own words about themselves. Sure they’ll tell you only what they want you to know, but at least you get that much.

Everyone views the world through their specific lens. We can’t help but put our own spin on things. Often in reading this, I felt the author intruding. I’d rather know what Rachel thought of the world, not what some straight man many years later interprets. I disagree with Souder on many points.

Souder makes several digressions that would be easier to follow if he tied them back to Rachel. Some, like the lengthy biography of Henry Williamson, a writer Rachel admired, went way beyond what we needed to know. Others, like the history of nuclear testing in the Pacific and Nevada, would have been more interesting if he’d included some of her reactions as a contemporary, rather than waiting till the end of what’s basically an info dump to tie it to her. His history of conservation in America felt like he wasn’t confident there was enough known about Rachel to focus on her alone, so we get a mini-biography of Aldo Leopold, seemingly, because he was also a government worker.

Souder criticizes Rachel for odd things. In college, she uses the phrase “vision splendid.” It’s actually a beautiful line: “Sometimes I lose sight of my goal, then again it flashes into view, filling me with a new determination to keep the ‘vision splendid’ before my eyes.”

He first makes assumptions about the possible source of the phrase, then doesn’t understand why she’d use it. Because he knows the entire history the source poem, he deems her use of it “startling.” “[H]ow a dead soldier’s gaze from heaven could have had any bearing on her hopes of becoming a writer is a mystery.” Phooey. The whole point of poetry, of art, is to make your own way through, to find your own meaning. She did that. Don’t dismiss it because she wasn’t a scholar of the piece.

The great love of Rachel’s life was Dorothy Freeman, a married woman (whose husband may well have known what was going on, but we never get his take on any of it). My biggest beef is that Souder dismisses Rachel and Dorothy’s relationship as “platonic” and a “romantic friendship.” Gag me.

Emma Donoghue, in Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801, points out how throughout history, lesbianism has been ignored, avoided, rephrased (romantic friendship, anyone?), anything but acknowledged. Same with Rachel Carson. I do think that they were lovers, or at the very least loved each other romantically, not platonically, as he asserts. Give the women some credit.

Maybe I’m biased because, full disclosure, I’m a lesbian, but Souder seems blind to the obvious. I don’t buy for a moment that Rachel and Dorothy weren’t lovers in a physical sense. Souder quotes from a key letter written by Rachel to Dorothy: “Why did I come to the Head that last night? Why? Because I love you!”

Rather than explore the possible meaning behind this amazing declaration and what sort of rendezvous it involved, he simply moves on to a speech she gave in Boston. Really. But even after that speech, when Dorothy surprises her by showing up, Rachel “impulsively kissed her.” Oh, then they went to Rachel’s hotel room and sat on the bed “smiling at each other” for an hour. Seriously.

Rachel and Dorothy burned hundreds of their letters to each other, so we’ll never know how explicit they might have been. But they spent five days, and nights, alone together in Maine, then two nights in New York City, sharing a hotel room. And nothing more? Whenever have you seen a declaration of love that intense that does not involve touching? Please. They even came up with an elaborate way to hide more personal letters (“apples”) within more general letters that could be shared with family and friends.

Whatever the truth of the relationship, I’m glad Rachel had Dorothy in her life.

For Souder’s part, things pick up once he gets to Silent Spring. It’s chilling is how much was known about the dangers of DDT in the 1940s—Rachel wrote warning pamphlets as part of her job. She was primarily a writer, not a researcher, though she did get a master’s degree and studied some at Woods Hole.

Rachel Carson left an incredible legacy, made more poignant by the fact that we seem to have learned nothing from her. Now it is not DDT we abuse, but endocrine-disruptors. She was vilified for years after Silent Spring, after her death, even into the 1990s when I took a science writing class at Harvard Extension. My classmates, scientists wanting to learn how to write for a lay audience, dismissed her as a hack. The chemical industry and its propaganda machine is more powerful today than in Rachel’s day. She shined a bright light on the abuses by those for whom money is the primary focus. Whether chemicals, tobacco, weapons of mass destruction, or guns, human life is less important than the bottom line on a spreadsheet. Simple. Sad.

There are many good things to take away from this book. How a woman in the 1950s made her mark writing about things only men had written about before. As a writer myself, I need to slap myself whenever I get whiney and complain about how hard writing is. Try doing it while dying from cancer. There’s an irony that she paired twin evils, pesticides and radiation from nuclear bomb testing, then had to undergo radiation treatments herself. She was also treated like an infant by at least one doctor. I think if the biographer had been a woman, this, among other things, might have gotten more emphasis. It wasn’t just in the 1950s that doctors patted women and told them not to worry their pretty little heads. That happened to my best friend in the late 1980s. She’s dead possibly because of it. Maybe not. But we’ll never know.

Rachel Carson died shortly after Silent Spring was published. She was only 56. When people die too young, we often find that they burned bright, hot, and fast. You could say that about Rachel. She was hardly a flashy person, was obviously happy to be alone, writing. But she felt she had something important to say, and boy did she. She suffered greatly from the spreading cancer and numerous other ailments. Her finals months must have been hell, but she carried on. She changed the world for the better. Not that someone else wouldn’t have come along, because someone else would have had to, and many have. That we have not yet annihilated ourselves either through pesticide poisoning or a nuclear holocaust is because of people like her, Anne LaBastille, Sandra Steingraber, Wangari Maathai, and others. The list will continue to grow.

Finally there’s this. Lesbians make important contributions to society, just like straight folks, just like men. I wonder how my life might have been different if I’d grown up in a world where it had been OK for someone like Rachel Carson to be out and proud. What kind of a role model she might have been beyond affirming my love of science and nature. There’s a Peanuts cartoon reproduced in the biography. It’s from 1963. Schroeder is playing his piano, Lucy is going on about Rachel Carson. Schroeder raises his arms in frustration. “Rachel Carson! Rachel Carson! Rachel Carson! You’re always talking about Rachel Carson!” Lucy responds, “We girls need our heroines!”

So do we lesbians. We need to tell our stories. We can’t let others speak for us.
Profile Image for Sherry.
88 reviews4 followers
March 10, 2013
I was excited to find this book. I read Silent Spring when I was a youth and I decided I wanted to go to Woods' Hole and to become a marine biologist (btw - that didn't happen). Carson was a great heroine when there were not many of them for young women. That being said, I didn't like the book. I don't think the author liked Carson. The book was dull and many of the stories about and descriptions of Carson where somewhere between mean and unflattering. He pointed out that her hair style wasn't stylish and in fact "fit her head like the shape of a helmet." There were many barbed comments pertaining to her lack of interest in male companionship and marraige. I got about a third of the way through it and decided the author wasn't good enough for her (or me).
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
April 23, 2015
Description: Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal book, Silent Spring, here is an indelible new portrait of Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movementShe loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson's romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

Read by David Drummond

Turned down 'Silent Spring' and chose this instead given a lot of stuff can happen in fifty-two years. Turns out it is a wise choice as we get the gist of the initial New Yorker entries and informed about the fallout in the community concerning the issues. You get a lot of information for your money here - fascinating and recommended.

Carson's education included creationism and eugenics eek.

22:04:2015: Earth Day was a good day to crack this one open.
Profile Image for Sharon Stoneman.
37 reviews4 followers
June 17, 2013
Fascinating woman, uneven biography. While I knew Carson's name and the importance of 'Silent Spring', I knew nothing about the woman or her context. I'm glad to know more about her and the times in which she was writing. The 50th anniversary of the publication of 'Silent Spring' seems like a good time to revisit Carson, her book and her life. Her concerns about the environment and what we are doing to it - and it to us - are as relevant now as when Carson was writing.

However.... I found much to quibble with Mr. Souder. I felt that he had all this good research that he just had to get into the book - too good to waste, whether it actually was necessary for the story of Rachel Carson. Some of his detailed digressions into the lives of other writers seemed pointlessly detailed.

I also was surprised by Souder's squeamishness regarding Rachel and Dorothy's relationship. He seems to take the position that they couldn't have been lovers because Dorothy was married, after all. And yet the electricity and passion of their relationship leaps off of the page. Whatever the actual nature of their relationship I'm glad that they had each other.

A good book about an important woman. I hope that someday there will be a great book about her, which she deserves.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
April 13, 2014
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.

Profile Image for Kathy.
254 reviews7 followers
February 11, 2013
On a Farther Shore is a very well researched and insightful analysis of Rachel Carson's writing career. I was not aware that she had a huge following prior to the publication of Silent Spring, which is one of the reasons she was able to gather such wide readership for her landmark work on the ecological effects of biocides. As a wannabe natural history writer myself, I found it comforting to read that this heroine in the field of science writing also described the process as laborious and stressful. I also did not know that she died of cancer, and moreover, kept this very private throughout the process of writing Silent Spring. Souder does not comment on the irony of this in his meticulous biography, which left me wondering if she talked about this with anyone close to her. It must have been, to some extent, the fire that kept her going to complete the book.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books214 followers
December 22, 2020
This account focuses on the person who unleashed a vast movement. Souder recounts Carson's girlhood, her literary and scientific heroes, and the best friendships of her life. Only a few pages outline the chain of events following her death, as her insights drove changes in the law. The aim is to convey how Carson's unique combination of poetic wonder, moral purpose, and scientific acumen emerged amid the circumstances of her life. Slowly the portrait forms of a quiet, unpretentious watcher of our world, who so appreciated the creatures around her that she became their heroic defender.
Profile Image for Lori L (She Treads Softly) .
2,212 reviews83 followers
August 25, 2012
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder is a biography of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. On a Farther Shore is being published on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. It seems to me that everyone should know who Rachel Carson is and what Silent Spring was about, but, much to my surprise, that is not the case. With its publication in 1962 Silent Spring exposed the dangers of DDT to the general public and really set into motion the beginning of the modern environmental movement. At the time DDT was the miracle pesticide and it was going to eradicate many of the pests that plague human populations.

Souder's thorough biography portrays Carson as an unassuming, likeable woman with great underlying strength. While she was trained as a biologist at a time when women in the sciences was uncommon, she also had always enjoyed writing. Carson found a way to combine her two interests. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a writer but also wrote articles in her free time. Carson never married and supported her family all her life.

Souder also covers many of the writers who influenced Carson (Richard Jeffries, Henry Williamson, and Aldo Leopold) and plenty of information about the times in which she lived (nuclear testing, cold war tensions) as well as the emerging discovery that pesticides perhaps were not the answer. About half the book covers the writing of Silent Spring and the repercussions that followed. Carson exhausted from her battle with cancer while under enormous stress, died shortly after the publication of Silent Spring in 1962.

In On a Farther Shore, Souder, an esteemed environmental writer, has given us a very well written, well rounded, well researched tribute to Rachel Carson. The biography includes Notes, a Bibliography, and an Index (which makes me say, "Yes!")

Very Highly Recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Crown Publishing and Netgalley for review purposes.
Profile Image for Karen.
465 reviews
December 21, 2012
I had gotten this book from the library...but decided to buy a copy. This is definitely a good read! William Souder makes the history of her life come alive! I had no idea she did some of her writings in the Woods Hole library! I spent 8 weeks at Woods Hole one summer. In retrospect, I am in awe that I lived in the same spaces that she did! Wow!

History--nuclear fallout from tests in the 50's together with tests from Fish and Wildlife on pesticides--brought together a word of caution about misuse of pesticides in the "green" revolution.
It takes someone with the gift of not being "such a scientist" to reach the hearts of people, and yet maintain the integrity of the science like Rachel did.
Profile Image for Don Gagnon.
36 reviews30 followers
April 23, 2019
I recommend this outstanding biography, in which Souder, providing insightful contexts, cites paragraphs from Carson’s works, both her beautiful sea trilogy—poetically written guides on natural history and life in the sea—and her highly influential Silent Spring and related environmental writings that shared serious concerns about the indiscriminate use of pesticides and industry disinformation with the American public and the world.
Profile Image for Barb.
273 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2016
An in depth look at the life of environmentalist, Rachael Carson – well researched and well written. She worked hard to educate the world about the balance of nature and the disaster mankind can thoughtlessly cause by the overuse of pesticides. It's all connected. Don't pull at the loose threads without expecting the whole sweater of life on earth to unravel.
Profile Image for Ryan.
575 reviews21 followers
January 30, 2013
I don't know how everyone else does it, but I don't seem to have any consistent method of choosing which review requests to accept, and which I decline. I have, on a few different occasions, attempted to come up with a "scientific" apparatus to make those decisions for me, but I tend to throw those misguided attempts right out the window. Instead I tend to pick my review books based on if the subject/premise interests me or if I have an emotional reaction to the idea of reading the book. I'm hoping that's how most of you do it, but if not, I'm going to feel out of the loop. For the most part, with some serious exceptions, this process has worked for me. With On a Father Shore, the idea of choosing a review request based on an emotional impulse, has me thinking I have the perfect system in place.

To tell you the truth, this wasn't a book I picked up as soon as I got it. I seemed to be going through a reading slump at the time and I just couldn't get all that interested in anything I had agreed to review. A few days later I finally picked it up and read about the first chapter and a half and then put the book back down and forgot about it. It's not that I didn't like what I was reading, it was more of that feeling we all get when we have read too many review books in a row. Then on a Tuesday morning, September 4th to be exact, I happened to be listening to The Diane Rehm Show on NPR, go figure, and she was interviewing William Souder, the author of On a Farther Shore. I couldn't quit listening to the interview, which I found to be informative and emotionally (there is that word again) compelling. It was just the catalyst I needed to pick the book back up and delve into the life of Rachel Carson.

I have not had the opportunity to read the author's previous two books, but I would have to assume that they are as engaging as this one. There is a gentleness to the narrative that if found to be the perfect way to Rachel Carson's story. I'm not sure if that is his normal tone in writing a book, or if it was in response to his subject. I'm not sure gentle is the right word to use here, but whatever the sentiment I'm trying to convey, it seems like an apt description to explain the the subject of this book.

On a Farther Shore is one of those books that I would find hard to shelf in a bookstore. It's a combination of biography, history, science, and public policy. It would feel at home in any of those sections, and I'm almost sure Rachel Carson would make sure it was shelved in all those sections. Mr Souder does a masterful job of not only detailing the life of Rachel Carson, but the influences behind her work and the process she took in writing her books. He explores the subjects behind her books in such a way, that I feel smarter for reading it. I can honestly say I now know more about our country's history with nuclear testing and pesticide use than I ever even fathomed before.

One of the side benefits or reading a book like this, is how it tends to add to your reading list. I have so fallen in love with and admire the Rachel Carson that the author presents to us, that I have now added her four books to my wishlist. I have also added a few other books that inspired her to be, from what I've read, a lyrical writer who was able to draw her readers into dense subjects and complicated issues. She is the type of writer that is a joy to read, and I'm sure she was the type of reader it would be beneficial to emulate.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,701 reviews736 followers
February 15, 2014
I must acknowledge right up front, that I have a bias, in favor of Rachel Carson (1907-1964). I remember reading her “Under the Sea-Wind” published in 1941 and I was in high school when “The Sea Around Us” published in 1951 and “The Edge of the Sea” in 1955, came out and I avidly read. I will admit that it was these books and her various magazine and newspaper article that triggered my interest in science and set me off on a career in science. I was in college when “Silent Spring” came out in September 1962 and was the talk of the campus. When I came across “On a Farther Shore” (published September 2012) by William Souder I bought it right away to read: I wonder how I missed it in 2012. The book is eloquently written and meticulously researched. I did note the book was published on the 50th anniversary of “Silent Spring” publication. Souder’s work is a compelling and compulsively readable portrait of one of the most influential writers of the twenty century. Souder states that Carson graduated from the Pennsylvania Collage for Women and got a job as a biologist and technical writer for the U.S. Department of fisheries. She worked at the government job for many years, even after the governmental reorganization and the department was merged and changed into the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service. I must admit that even though I have read almost all Carson’s writing I knew little of her personal life. I wish Souder had gone more into her private life but he mostly concentrated on her writings. Souder’s narrative sometimes loss focus, such as a chapter he devotes to a short biography of Henry Williamson, an English nature writer Carson admired. Souder goes into great depth about “Silent Spring” but briefly Carson linked radioactive fallout with the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the harmful effects they were having on the environment. Souder states they were the “twin fears of the modern age.” The author goes on in detail about how overdue Carson was in meeting the publisher (Houghton Miffin) deadline dates. He mentions Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer in passing but what he did not emphasize was the she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the time she signed the contract with the publisher to write “Silent Spring”. She had surgery, radiation treatment and then was dying of cancer WHILE writing the book. It is hard enough to write a book but to do so when dying it is no wonder she miss deadline dates. I also noted that Souder points out that in her sea books Carson pointed out the effects of climate change from the greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. At the time she wrote her books it was just at the beginning of scientific awareness of the problem. “Silent Spring” started the environmental movement also paved the way toward the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency signed into law by President Richard Nixon. There was a lot of criticism of the book at the time but she has been proven correct. David Drummond did an excellent job in narrating this 15 plus hours book.
Profile Image for Sue.
927 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2012
I am ashamed to admit that I am a biologist/ecologist who has never read Silent Spring. Thanks to every professor ever, I know that Rachel Carson was the impetus for the movement that passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. I was fascinated to learn that she did not finish her PhD and had a boring government job, just like me! But she had 3 bestselling books. She also had cancer and angina, and died when she was only 56. Souder treats Carson with kindness, and he weaves in interesting stories that are tangential but complementary. Her relationship with Dorothy Freeman is treated with respect. I was interested to learn that Carson was involved with early work on global warming and greenhouse gases. She was a smart lady with a passion for the ocean and nature and, luckily, the ability to reach out and share that with the world in her books. What a fabulous woman, the "nun of nature".

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. My opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Ann.
510 reviews24 followers
January 10, 2013
Excellent biography of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Souder includes a lot of contextual information about people and events during Carson's lifetime, so the reader can better understand the development of her beliefs and her writing. Do not skip the Epilogue. It details the government response to the widespread environmental concerns sparked by the publication of Silent Spring, including the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. It also discusses the fact that since the 1990s we have lost ground on the environmental front. The pesticide makers have learned to game the system and keep suspect chemicals on the market for years while they drag out the approval process. There has been little, if any, action taken to slow or reverse global warming and the fact that this problem is still being debated as if it were an unproven theory underscores the human arrogance and disregard for the collateral damage we inflict on the environment that Rachel Carson understood so well.
Profile Image for Vylūnė.
112 reviews41 followers
October 6, 2018
I started reading this just because I couldn’t get my hands on “Silent Spring” and I was not disappointed.
Book covers most of Rachel Carson’s life and more closely progress and impact of her work. The author provides vast context for every turn which is very helpful but can be at times annoying and on rare occasions speculative (as in and i’m paraphrasing ‘miss Carson has never seen that movie but she would have supported the message behind it’). At most other times the very detailed retelling of political situation, science discoveries and book publishing of those days is a convenient history lesson to go along with the main story.
I was glad to find many excerpts from apparently enormous amount of correspondence Carson kept. The amusing part was the speculation that a woman continually professing her love to another woman is well ok maybe romantically inclined toward something but not really - god forbid - a lesbian.
This was an education book on both environmental issues and how views of people change. It was also inspiring to read about Carson’s writing process and methods.
Profile Image for Sher.
535 reviews3 followers
July 28, 2014
An interesting biography about Rachel Carson. I was surprised by some things about her personality and her passions. One of her greatest passions was writing and being an author. I always envisioned her as a scientist type first.She was a bit more a difficult personality than I imagined based on the documentary I watched last year about her. This book provided fascinating information about DDT and about our government's hope to rid the U.S. of pesky insects. No surprises here regarding the chemical corporations involvements in trying to hide the dangers of DDT. Great quote by E.O. Wilson about how if all the world's insects were gone, then humankind would follow and quickly. We are interconnected with our fellow species, and we forget this at our peril.
51 reviews3 followers
August 30, 2012
I received a copy of this book through Goodreads Firstreads. I had heard a bit about the book on a radio show and was intrigued by it. Souder does a good job of combining biography with cultural context which helps the reader truly understand the impact of Silent Spring. Some of the connections are not clear at first so at times you find yourself reading about a scientist who studied another scientist who liked Hitler and you've completely lost track of Carson. Still, a solid overview of the life and times of a key figure.
Profile Image for Misti.
306 reviews4 followers
December 14, 2016
In the 50+ years since Silent Spring was written a lot hasn't changed in regards to the same tactics used by various gropus invested with chemicals and the like . This biography of Rachel Carson's life was fascinating as I did not know much about her prior to reading this book. It was a tragedy that her life was cut short and her doctors should have been sued for incompetency. I felt that the author tried to gloss over her 'friendship' with Dorothy Freeman. Overall a nice introduction to Rachel and I now need to read her books!
Profile Image for Feisty Harriet.
1,202 reviews35 followers
June 19, 2017
Only about one third of this book is an actual biography of Rachel Carson, and it's not super well written. The rest is mini biographies of people in her life, mostly men, some who support her research and writing, some who she admires, and some who oppose her. So, why four stars? Well, because Rachel Carson deserves 10 stars, that's why. I can't help it that this William Souder fellow is a poor biographer. I hope I can find another biography of her, and I'm interested in reading the books she wrote prior to Silent Spring!
Profile Image for MK Gavin.
5 reviews3 followers
September 24, 2012
It was as much a wonderful thought-provoking biography as it was an introduction to the history of environmentalism, and it was equally compelling on both counts for me to continue reading. I would absolutely recommend it.
Profile Image for Leigh.
590 reviews5 followers
July 15, 2013
Really rewarding to find out more abt one of the most important women of the 20th century. The book can be dry at times but hang in there, as it is worthwhile to explore the non-traditional life of a brilliant and influential woman who was a major player in founding the environmental movement.
October 7, 2012
I must admit I never read Silent Spring nor knew much about Rachel Carson. What an amazing person! And whatawell written biography. Now I need to read her books.
Profile Image for Kaytee.
11 reviews
October 16, 2012
It's really interesting to learn about the woman behind the public persona. One of the most interesting biographies I've read.
Profile Image for Dee.
135 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2021
One of the best books I've this year so far. I loved it so much -- that I listened to it on Audible, and just ordered the hard copy from BetterWorldBooks so I can keep it in hard copy and refer back to various chapters. The irony? I've never read Silent Spring (on the TBR list) but I just wanted to learn as much as I can about people who spoke truth to power.
7 reviews
July 22, 2013
I grew up well after Carson's time, and I was hoping for some background on her character and historical background. However, After reading this work, I still lack a deep appreciation of either. I understand that her fighting chemical companies while fighting cancer was courageous, but I do not (yet) understand why others have said that Carson is their hero.

I read this book because Lear's work (of which I only read the first chapter) embarked on too many tangents; However, this book falls into the same pitfalls. For example, Sounder tells the story behind A Sand Country Alamanac at length; then, he writes that Rachel received the book and 'intended' to read it. The book is never mentioned again. Was Aldo Leopold's work important in the environmental movement? Why should I care which books Carson intended but did not quite read? Unanswered questions, all.

Perhaps I would have understood this better having studied environmental history; as it stands, the book could have done much more to describe her impact. What did the EPA accomplish, after Silent Spring brought environmental issues to the public's consideration? In the 50 years since Silent Spring's Publication, how have attitudes to it changed? This is barely discussed, and only in the afterword.

In all, this is an adequate biography. I would recommend this book to those with a good grasp of the environmental movement and Carson's work already. To those who don't or haven't, I would suggest reading Silent Spring and other environmental history books first.
Profile Image for John Behle.
213 reviews28 followers
February 10, 2014
A true two star--it was OK. I was glad when I closed that back cover, as it drags in parts. It is long. Souder also more than fleshes out his background chapters, he borders on the Micheneresque in painting the oh-so-wide canvas for this bio/social anthropology.

This work does tell the story of Carson's famed "Silent Spring." Many people think they know about this now legendary work, it has become a book often mentioned, often cited, name-dropped in conversation, but seldom really read.

The developed thread that Carson knew she was dying as she wrapped the final chapters of "Silent Spring" adds impact to Souder's cruiserweight of a chronicle.
Profile Image for Sooz.
715 reviews31 followers
March 22, 2013
every review of this book calls it well-researched. it is that. it is exhaustive in it's detail ... or is that exhausting?

i can't remember when i first heard of Rachel Carson. i really can't remember a time when i didn't know her name -and although i've never read Silent Spring- i knew of it and the profound role it played in getting D.D.T. banned. so i thought it high time i learn about this woman. unfortunately, i feel like i am still waiting to know her. this book did little to bring her to life for me.
Profile Image for Karen.
237 reviews
November 16, 2013
I am rating this book only with 3 stars because the editing was so bad. The author included lots of information that could have been left out of the book. I once did not read any of this book for several days & when I started reading it again I was reading something so irrelevant I had to look at the title page to make sure I was reading the Rachel Carson book! I still found the book very informative & recommend it.
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