User:Ragesoss/Silent Spring

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Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin in September 1962. The book is widely credited with launching the environmental movement in the West.

When Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson was already a well-known writer on natural history, but had not previously been a social critic. The book was widely read (especially after its selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club and an endorsement by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas), spending several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and inspired widespread public concerns with pesticides and pollution of the environment. Silent Spring facilitated the ban of the pesticide DDT[1] in 1972 in the United States.

The book claimed detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically. She proposed a biotic approach to pest control as an alternative to DDT, claiming that DDT had been found to cause thinner egg shells and result in reproductive problems and death.

Silent Spring has made many lists of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. In the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Nonfiction it was at #5, and it was at #78 in the conservative National Review's. [2] Most recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 Greatest Science Books of All-Time by the editors of Discover Magazine[3]

A follow-up book, Beyond Silent Spring[4], co-authored by H.F. van Emden and David Peakall, was published in 1986.

Genesis and purpose[edit]

Research and writing[edit]

Publication arrangements[edit]

-Initial collaboration plans, growth of scope

-editing of prose primarily handled by New Yorker, H-M relied on Carson's voice and New Yorker's fact checking, to avoid ambiguities between versions


The book stated that uncontrolled pesticide use led to the deaths of not only animals, especially birds, but also humans. Its title was meant to evoke a spring season in which no bird songs could be heard, because they had all died from pesticides. Its title was inspired by a poem by John Keats, "La Belle Dame sans Merci", which contained the lines "The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing." [5]

Themes and style[edit]

Vetting and pre-publicity[edit]

- limiting media exposure - no publication across Iron Curtain, to avoid accusations of Communist leanings - brochure responding to attacks, answering "Is the Author Qualified?", address gender - avoiding anything that would get Carson labeled a crank or associated with fringe groups - gathering supporters - final chapter to blunt criticism of not offering any solutions - becomes clear by the time the New Yorker version is published that there will be intense attention and controversy - debate over how many proof copies to send: rallying supporters vs. tipping off "enemies"

Promotion and publication[edit]

- winning over of H-M personnel to "the mission" - expanded pre-publicity compared to normal H-M books, extensive print advertisements - SS as a "comp" for academic (textbook) sales - limited secondary publications rights, because of tight control of text by H-M and Carson -- Consumer Reports version for members only -- BotM Club, announced after first NY installment


Industry response[edit]

-review copies to DuPont, debate over whether to send -pre-publication legal threats from Velsicol, bluff called


-overstatement by critics (all or none), claims that critics didn't read the book -Rodell's increasing management of -The Story of "Silent Spring" booklet

Press coverage[edit]

PSAC and CBS Reports[edit]

- after PSAC report, H-M ads increasingly political, pushing "the mission" as a much as sales

Sales and readership[edit]

- financial success ensured pretty much since BotM Club selection

Reader mail and honors[edit]

Effect on environmental movement[edit]


DDT policies[edit]

Target for anti-environmentalism[edit]

Later assessments[edit]


History professor Gary Kroll commented, "Rachel Carson's Silent Spring played a large role in articulating ecology as a 'subversive subject'— as a perspective that cut against the grain of materialism, scientism, and the technologically engineered control of nature."[6]

According to Time magazine in 1999, within a year or so of its publication, "all but the most self-serving of Carson's attackers were backing rapidly toward safer ground. In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protest to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness."

Carson had made it clear she was not advocating the banning or complete withdrawal of helpful pesticides, but was instead encouraging responsible and carefully managed use, with an awareness of the chemicals' impact on the entire ecosystem.[citation needed] However, some critics asserted that she was calling for the elimination of all pesticides.[citation needed]


Even before Silent Spring was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962, there was strong opposition to it. According to Time in 1999:

Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a "hysterical woman" unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid—indeed, the whole chemical industry—duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.

In the 1960s, biochemist and former chemical industry spokesman Robert White-Stevens stated, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."[7]

Industry and agribusiness advocates continue to criticize Silent Spring. In a 2005 essay, "The Harm That Pressure Groups Can Do", British politician Dick Taverne was damning in his criticism of Carson:

Carson didn't seem to take into account the vital role (DDT) played in controlling the transmission of malaria by killing the mosquitoes that carry the parasite (...) It is the single most effective agent ever developed for saving human life (...) Rachel Carson is a warning to us all of the dangers of neglecting the evidence-based approach and the need to weight potential risk against benefit: it can be argued that the anti-DDT campaign she inspired was responsible for almost as many deaths as some of the worst dictators of the last century. [8]

However, DDT has never been banned for anti-malaria use, and Carson argued in "Silent Spring" that:

No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story—the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting. ...

What is the measure of this setback? The list of resistant species now includes practically all of the insect groups of medical importance. ... Malaria programmes are threatened by resistance among mosquitoes. ...

Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity' ..., Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.

In 2002, Reason Magazine (part of the Reason Foundation) published an essay by economist Ronald Bailey, a former fellow with the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute,[9] marking the book's 40th anniversary. Both the Reason Foundation and the CEI have received substantial funding from corporations in regulated industries.[10][11] Bailey argued that the book had a mixed legacy;

The book did point to problems that had not been adequately addressed, such as the effects of DDT on some wildlife. And given the state of the science at the time she wrote, one might even make the case that Carson's concerns about the effects of synthetic chemicals on human health were not completely unwarranted. Along with other researchers, she was simply ignorant of the facts. But after four decades in which tens of billions of dollars have been wasted chasing imaginary risks without measurably improving American health, her intellectual descendants don't have the same excuse.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ EPA reference retrieved April 26, 2006
  2. ^ list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Gary Kroll, "Rachel Carson's Silent Spring:A Brief History of Ecology as a Subversive Subject", retrieved April 26, 2006
  7. ^ PBS Frontline program, Fooling with Nature, retrieved April 26, 2006
  8. ^ Taverne, Dick "The Harm That Pressure Groups Can Do", collected in Panic Nation, 2005, edited by Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks, ISBN 1-84454-122-3.
  9. ^ "Ron Bailey bio"
  10. ^ W. Bush's Anti-Environmental Advisors
  11. ^ Tempest
  12. ^ "Silent Spring at 40", Ronald Bailey, Reason, June 12, 2002


External links[edit]

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