Silent Spring in the 632’s

April 5, 2012 Nature, non-fiction, Science 3

There were two reasons I knew I had to read Silent Spring.  First, all of the environmentalist books I’ve been reading in the 630’s quote Silent Spring and a lot of them clearly aspire to be the next Silent Spring.  Second and more pragmatically, it was the only book my library had in the 632’s 🙂  Because all of the quotes I’ve read from Silent Spring have been emotional appeals, I was worried the book would be all poetic descriptions, poorly grounded in science.  Instead I found that, as the introduction claimed, Rachel Carson not only had a “lyrical, poetic voice” but also offered sound “scientific expertise” and an impressive “synthesis of wide-ranging material”.

The introduction really helped place the book for me, in a period before environmentalism; after the cold war, when unpatriotic suggestions that we couldn’t control nature were frowned upon; and during a time when radiation was a recently recognized danger.  Reading through the book without the introduction, Carson’s repetitive comparisons of chemical sprays to radiation might have become annoying.   However, as the introduction pointed out, this was a rather clever move on her part given public consciousness of radiation as a real danger.  The afterward also did a really good job of placing the book in relation to the following environmental movement and current ecological concerns.   If you’re going to read Silent Spring, I would strongly recommend the 40th anniversary edition for these nice contextual additions.

As anticipated, the writing was often very beautiful.  Despite my half-dozen or so biology classes, I’ve never found the inner workings of the cell half as beautiful as I did reading Rachel Carson’s descriptions.  At other times, her writing did become over the top with references to “the chemical death rain”, but her descriptions of the results of these chemicals made the hyperbole seem warranted.  In fact, finishing this book I actually felt a profound sense of relief that we don’t live in a world without birds, because of the damages these chemicals caused.

My only complaint with this read was that it quickly became repetitive.  Although Rachel Carson’s point was novel at the time and people may have required more convincing, I was a convert pretty early on.  In part because of the repetitiveness, I found the book informative but never really engaging.  With a really great book, there’s always that point where you’ve really gotten into it and don’t want to put it down, except maybe to sleep…if you absolutely have to.  With this read, I just never got to that point.  Instead I felt like I had to force myself back into it whenever I took a break.  Despite not getting really sucked in, this was an interesting and informative read which I think provides a great introduction for anyone interested in the history of the environmentalist movement.

 Summary

Silent Spring – ★★★☆☆ – Well written, scientifically sound, and an interesting glimpse into the past, but not especially engaging.

Other Reviews

  • Olduvai Reads – “Carson does not argue for a total ban on chemical insecticides, instead, she contends that “we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm…”

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

3 Responses to “Silent Spring in the 632’s”

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! I really did get a lot more out of it because of the introduction, especially because I’m not a huge history buff and needed the context 🙂