What We’re Reading in April
Books Editor Kristofer Collins reviews “Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening.”
“Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening”
by Douglas Brinkley
“It was Rachel Carson, full stop, who, in an urgent, visceral way, sparked an eco-revolution with ‘Silent Spring’ by connecting Rooseveltian preservation with public health concerns about the pesticide DDT. Carson, the galloping Paul Revere of Earth stewardship, warned Americans that, depending on the communities in which they lived, their children weren’t safe playing on grassy lawns or netting crawfish in creeks or even wandering in a field of yellow wildflowers.”
That’s historian Douglas Brinkley in “Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening,” enshrining Carson in the pantheon of American mythology for sounding the alarm about the dangers of the unfettered, government-endorsed use of pesticides in America.
Carson, who was born and grew up roughly 16 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Springdale Borough, was a marine biologist by training. She came to national attention when her second book “The Sea Around Us” (1951) became a surprise bestseller. But it was “Silent Spring” (1962) that is considered ground zero for the modern environmental movement.
While Carson is the guiding spirit of Brinkley’s sprawling tome, Brinkley is an enthusiastic and engaging guide, pulling together a fascinating narrative explicating the profound effect the environmental movement had on three very different presidents and their administrations. The importance of Carson’s work and the clarity of her message “lay in tying ecology and public health together and pushing them into the stream of postwar life.”
“Silent Spring” and Carson’s earlier work, “The Sea Trilogy,” were recently issued in a gorgeous two-volume set from the Library of America. Edited by biologist and author Sandra Steingraber, the set makes the case for Carson as a major literary writer. Steingraber reflects on the longevity of Carson’s work, writing “Among the secrets to its long and ongoing success are these: the science was brilliant, the writing beautiful, the messenger right, the timing perfect, and the public advocacy bold.”