The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement

Oxford University Press
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Rachel Carson's Silent Spring antagonized some of the most powerful interests in the nation--including the farm block and the agricultural chemical industry--and helped launch the modern environmental movement. In The Gentle Subversive, Mark Hamilton Lytle offers a compact biography of Carson, illuminating the road that led to this vastly influential book. Lytle explores the evolution of Carson's ideas about nature, her love for the sea, her career as a biologist, and above all her emergence as a writer of extraordinary moral and ecological vision. We follow Carson from her childhood on a farm outside Pittsburgh, where she first developed her love of nature (and where, at age eleven, she published her first piece in a children's magazine), to her graduate work at Johns Hopkins and her career with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Lytle describes the genesis of her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, the incredible success of The Sea Around Us (a New York Times bestseller for over a year), and her determination to risk her fame in order to write her "poison book": Silent Spring. The author contends that despite Carson's demure, lady-like demeanor, she was subversive in her thinking and aggressive in her campaign against pesticides. Carson became the spokeswoman for a network of conservationists, scientists, women, and other concerned citizens who had come to fear the mounting dangers of the human assault on nature. What makes this story particularly compelling is that Carson took up this cause at the very moment when she herself faced a losing battle with cancer. Succinct and engaging, The Gentle Subversive is a story of success, celebrity, controversy, and vindication. It will inspire anyone interested in protecting the natural world or in women's struggle to find a voice in society.
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About the author

Mark Hamilton Lytle is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Bard College. He is the author of America's Uncivil Wars: The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon (OUP, 2006) and coauthor of After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, Fifth Edition (2005), and Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic, Fifth Edition (2004).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Jul 31, 2007
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780198038535
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Science & Technology
Nature / Environmental Conservation & Protection
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal book, Silent Spring, here is an indelible new portrait of Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movement

She 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.

A New York Times Notable Book of 2012

“A suspenseful tale of the literary life…utterly inspiring.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Captivating…Souder writes vividly and with great empathy for his subject and her cause.” —New York Times Book Review

“A delightful, fascinating, engrossing read about some of the most important insights of modern science. You’ll find yourself thinking about Carson whenever you take a walk in the woods.” —Slate.com

The Real Thing is the first official biography of Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910–2010), the “father of Canadian ecology.” Authorized by his family and with the research support and participation of the University of Victoria Libraries, Briony Penn provides an unprecedented and accessible window into the story of this remarkable naturalist. From his formative years roaming the mountains around Vancouver looking for venison to his last years finishing the voluminous and authoritative Birds of British Columbia, Cowan’s life provides a unique perspective on a century of environmental change—with a critical message for the future.

As the head and founder of the first university-based wildlife department in Canada, Ian McTaggart Cowan revolutionized the way North Americans understood the natural world, and students flocked into his classrooms to hear his brilliant, entertaining lectures regarding the new science of ecology.

During his academic career, Ian McTaggart Cowan stepped outside the narrow confines of academia to pioneer nature television. His television programs in the 1950s and ’60s, Fur and Feathers, The Web of Life and The Living Sea, made him a household name around the world by capturing the first microscopic organisms on TV and bringing a live moose into the studio. He was also responsible for hiring a young David Suzuki, who followed in his nature-show-host footsteps.

Cowan’s early work in the national parks became the foundation for wildlife conservation and environmental education in Canada. And like his US counterpart and colleague Aldo Leopold, he was part of a secret fraternity that practised a reverence for wildness and influenced three generations of scientists and politicians on everything from conservation of endangered species to the dangers of pesticides and climate change, long before these topics were generally acknowledged.

In his 80s he was still pioneering new ways to communicate nature through ecotourism, and well into his 90s he was still mentoring young ecologists. Cowan’s last publication at age 91 was the final volume of Birds of British Columbia, which the Royal BC Museum called “one of the biggest publishing events in Canadian history.”

Illustrated throughout with colour and black-and-white photos from all aspects of Cowan’s life, The Real Thing takes the reader on an adventurous and inspirational journey through the heart of North American ecology, wilderness, landscape and wonder.

His fingers move across the surface of a shell, feeling the ridges and contours, searching for clues, gathering information unnoticed by the untrained eye. For Dr. Geerat Vermeij's fingers are his eyes. One of the most accomplished evolutionary biologists of our time and the world's leading authority on an ancient "arms race" among mollusks, Dr. Vermeij is blind.

No ordinary autobiography, Privileged Hands is the story of Dr. Vermeij's challenge and triumph. What makes his story so compelling is how he sees and what his insights reveal about the wonder of life on planet Earth. His exhaustive research of ancient and living mollusks, particularly shells, is extraordinary in its scope and perspective about how species arm themselves, compete, and survive. This is an intriguing irony for someone whose incomparable story is characterized by an unfailing determination to thrive in a sighted world and in the world of science. For Dr. Vermeij's self-portrait is also a portrait of the practice of science--his views on evolution and biodiversity, and the importance of observation are as much the story as are his family relationships, education, and position on arritmative action.

Privileged Hands is provocative and intelligent storytelling: it reveals as much about our own lives as it does about this one, remarkable, scientist's life.

" 'Uplifting' may smack of sentimentality, but Vermeij's life story surely is uplifting—and it contributes importantly to evolutionary science." - Kirkus Reviews

Here is a panoramic history of America from 1954 to 1973, ranging from the buoyant teen-age rebellion first captured by rock and roll, to the drawn-out and dispiriting endgame of Watergate. In America's Uncivil Wars, Mark Hamilton Lytle illuminates the great social, cultural, and political upheavals of the era. He begins his chronicle surprisingly early, in the late '50s and early '60s, when A-bomb protests and books ranging from Catcher in the Rye to Silent Spring and The Feminine Mystique challenged attitudes towards sexuality and the military-industrial complex. As baby boomers went off to college, drug use increased, women won more social freedom, and the widespread availability of birth control pills eased inhibitions against premarital sex. Lytle describes how in 1967 these isolated trends began to merge into the mainstream of American life. The counterculture spread across the nation, Black Power dominated the struggle for racial equality, and political activists mobilized vast numbers of dissidents against the war. It all came to a head in 1968, with the deepening morass of the war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., race riots, widespread campus unrest, the violence at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon. By then, not only did Americans divide over race, class, and gender, but also over matters as simple as the length of a boy's hair or of a girl's skirt. Only in the aftermath of Watergate did the uncivil wars finally crawl to an end, leaving in their wake a new elite that better reflected the nation's social and cultural diversity. Blending a fast-paced narration with broad cultural analysis, America's Uncivil Wars offers an invigorating portrait of the most tumultuous and exciting time in modern American history.
The authoritative biography of the marine biologist and nature writer whose book Silent Spring inspired the global environmentalist movement.

In a career that spanned from civil service to unlikely literary celebrity, Rachel Carson became one of the world’s seminal leaders in conservation. The 1962 publication of her book Silent Spring was a watershed event that led to the banning of DDT and launched the modern environmental movement.
 
Growing up in poverty on a tiny Allegheny River farm, Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women on a scholarship. There, she studied science and writing before taking a job with the newly emerging Fish and Wildlife Service. In this definitive biography, Linda Lear traces the evolution of Carson’s private, professional, and public lives, from the origins of her dedication to natural science to her invaluable service as a brilliant, if reluctant, reformer.
 
Drawing on unprecedented access to sources and interviews, Lear masterfully explores the roots of Carson’s powerful connection to the natural world, crafting a “fine portrait of the environmentalist as a human being” (Smithsonian).
 
“Impressively researched and eminently readable . . . Compelling, not just for Carson devotees but for anyone concerned about the environment.” —People
 
“[A] combination of meticulous scholarship and thoughtful, often poignant, writing.” —Science
 
“A sweeping, analytic, first-class biography of Rachel Carson.” —Kirkus Reviews
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