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Silent Spring  
Silent Spring Book-of-the-Month-Club edition.JPG
The Book-of-the-Month Club edition, with included endorsement by William O. Douglas
Author Rachel Carson
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) Environmentalism
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date September 1962

Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin in September 1962. The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement.[1]

The New Yorker started serializing Silent Spring in June 1962, and it was published in book form later that year. When the book 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 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[2] in 1972 in the United States.

The book documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson said that DDT had been found to cause thinner egg shells and result in reproductive problems and death. She also accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically.

Silent Spring has been featured in 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.[3] Most recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover Magazine.[4]

A follow-up book, Beyond Silent Spring,[5] co-authored by H.F. van Emden and David Peakall, was published in 1996.



By tradition and by Carson's own public assertions, the impetus for Silent Spring was ostensibly a letter written in January 1958[6] by Carson's friend, Olga Owens Huckins,[7] to The Boston Herald describing the death of numerous birds around her property resulting from the aerial spraying of DDT to kill mosquitoes, a copy of which Huckins sent to Carson.[8] Carson's response to the letter, so her publicity stated, was to then turn her attention to environmental problems caused by chemical pesticides.[9][10]

In fact, Carson had become concerned about the effect of pesticides, DDT particularly, as early as the 1940s, when anti-pest campaigns had been part of the Pacific war effort. She had already begun collecting research on the matter and calling others' attention to it when a 1957 lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture regarding aerial spraying over Long Island caught her attention and mobilized her to embark on the project that would eventually become Silent Spring.[11]


The book argued that uncontrolled and unexamined pesticide use was harming and even killing not only animals and 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 vanished as a result of pesticide abuse. 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."[12]


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."[13]

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. However, some critics asserted that she was calling for the elimination of all pesticides.[14]

In response to the publication of Silent Spring and the uproar that ensued, U.S. President John F. Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson's claims. Their investigation "vindicated" Carson's work, and led to an immediate strengthening of the regulation of chemical pesticides.[15][16]


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 Company, Velsicol, American Cyanamid — indeed, the whole chemical industry — duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.[17]

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."[18]

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.[19]

However, DDT has never been banned for anti-malaria use,[20] 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.

The widespread use of DDT in agriculture and other fields contributed to the selection of DDT resistant mosquito populations. This threatened to reduce or eliminate its effectiveness as a weapon against mosquitos and other disease vectors.[21]

In the 2000s, Carson and Silent Spring have come under increasing attack from authors who argue that restrictions placed on DDT have caused needless death, and more generally that environmental regulation unnecessarily restricts economic freedom.[22][23] For example, the conservative magazine Human Events gave Silent Spring an "honorable mention" in its list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries,"[24] and in 2002, to mark its 40 anniversary, Reason Magazine published an essay by economist Ronald Bailey, a former fellow with the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.[25] 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.[26]

Some environmentalists consider this latter day criticism of Silent Spring and Rachel Carson and concomitant push for DDT to be an industry sponsored strategy to discredit the environmental movement.[27][28][29][30] For example, Monica Moore of Pesticide Action Network has argued that "Renewed promotion of DDT and attacks on those who would limit its use isn’t about malaria, or even DDT. It is a cynical 'better living through chemistry' campaign intended to discredit the environmental health movement, with support from the Bush administration and others who seek nothing less than the dismantling of health and environmental protections."[31].

See also


  1. ^ Josie Glausiusz. (2007), Better Planet: Can A Maligned Pesticide Save Lives? Discover Magazine. Page 34.
  2. ^ EPA reference: DDT. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  3. ^ The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Century. National Review. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  4. ^ "25 Greatest Science Books of All Time". Discover Magazine, Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  5. ^ "Beyond Silent Spring: Integrated Pest Management and Chemical Safety. Edited by H.F. van Emden and D.B. Peakall". SpringerLink. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  6. ^ Matthiessen, Peter (2007), Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson, Boston, MA; New York, NY: Mariner Books, p. 135  ISBN 0618872760.
  7. ^ Himaras, Eleni (May 26, 2007), RACHEL'S LEGACY - Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 'Silent Spring’ to, Quincy, MA: The Patriot Ledger. 
  8. ^ Himaras, Eleni (May 26, 2007), RACHEL'S LEGACY - Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 'Silent Spring’ was inspired by Duxbury woman, Quincy, MA: The Patriot Ledger. 
  9. ^ Wishart, Adam (2007), One in Three: A Son's Journey Into the History and Science of Cancer, New York, NY: Grove Press, p. 82  ISBN 0802118402.
  10. ^ Hynes, H. Patricia (September 10, 1992), PERSPECTIVE ON THE ENVIRONMENT Unfinished Business: `Silent Spring' On the 30th anniversary of Rachel Carson's indictment of DDT, pesticides still threaten human life., Los Angeles, Calif: The Los Angeles Times, p. 7 (Metro Section). 
  11. ^ See Lear, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, ch. 14, and Murphy, What A Book Can Do, ch. 1.
  12. ^ Peter A. Coates. (October 2005), "The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise". Environmental History, Volume 10, Issue 4. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  13. ^ Gary Kroll, "Rachel Carson-Silent Spring: A Brief History of Ecology as a Subversive Subject". National Academy of Engineering. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  14. ^ Murphy, Priscilla Coit. What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-55849-582-1
  15. ^ Audubon Magazine
  16. ^ NRDC: The Story of Silent Spring
  17. ^ Matthiessen, Peter (March 29, 1999). "Environmentalist RACHEL CARSON". Time Magazine 153 (12): 3 of 4.,9171,990622-3,00.html. 
  18. ^ Dorothy McLaughlin. "Fooling with Nature: Silent Spring Revisited". PBS Frontline. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "DDT - Overview". Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants(POPs). "The Conference of the Parties (COP) continues to allow the use of DDT for use in public health for disease vector control as recommended by and under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO recommends the use of DDT for indoor residue spraying only to control, in particular, the anopheles mosquito that carries the malaria parasite." 
  21. ^ May Berenbaum, "If Malaria's the Problem, DDT's Not the Only Answer", Washington Post, June 5, 2005. Accessed April 23, 2009
  22. ^ Lytle, Mark Hamilton. The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 ISBN 0-19-517246-9
  23. ^ Examples of recent criticism include:
    (a) Rich Karlgaard, "But Her Heart Was Good",, May 18, 2007. Accessed September 23, 2007.
    (b) Keith Lockitch, "Rachel Carson's Genocide", Capitalism Magazine, May 23, 2007. Accessed May 24, 2007
    (c) Paul Driessen, "Forty Years of Perverse 'Responsibility,'", The Washington Times, April 29, 2007. Accessed May 30, 2007.
    (d) Iain Murray, "Silent Alarmism: A Centennial We Could Do Without", National Review, May 31, 2007. Accessed May 31, 2007.
  24. ^ Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries, accessed August 24, 2007
  25. ^ "Ron Bailey bio"
  26. ^ "Silent Spring at 40", Ronald Bailey, Reason, June 12, 2002
  27. ^ Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?: The creation of an anti-environmental myth. Aaron Swartz, Extra!, September/October, 2007
  28. ^ Rachel Carson's Birthday Bashing, Kirsten Weir,, June 29, 2007.
  29. ^ David Roberts, "My one and only post on the Rachel Carson nonsense", May 24, 2007. Accessed September 23, 2007.
  30. ^ In this context, some draw attention to the fact that both the Reason Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, both criticial of Silent Spring, have received substantial funding from corporations in regulated industries. (W. Bush's Anti-Environmental Advisors, Tempest).
  31. ^ Monica Moore, "First Words", PAN Magazine, Fall 2006. Accessed September 23, 2007


  • Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), Mariner Books, 2002, ISBN 0-618-24906-0
    • Silent Spring initially appeared serialized in three parts in the June 16, June 23, and June 30, 1962 issues of The New Yorker magazine
  • Graham, Frank. Since Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), Fawcett 1976 reprint: ISBN 0-449-23141-0
  • Silent Spring Revisited, American Chemical Society, 1986: ISBN 0-317-59798-1, 1987: ISBN 0-8412-0981-2
  • Litmans, Brian and Jeff Miller, Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use And Endangered Species, Diane Publishing Co., 2004, ISBN 0-7567-4439-3 (67 p.)
  • Lear, Linda. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997, Owl Books paperback 1998: ISBN 0-8050-3428-5
  • Murphy, Priscilla Coit, What A Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, ISBN 1-55849-476-6
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency "What is DDT?" retrieved April 26, 2006
  • 'DDT Chemical Backgrounder', National Safety Council Retrieved May 30, 2005
  • Report on Carcinogens, Fifth Edition; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program (1999).

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Rachel Carson article)

From Wikiquote

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.

Rachel Louise Carson (27 May 190714 April 1964) was an American biologist and writer.


  • The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.
    • Acceptance speech of the National Book Award for Nonfiction (1952) for The Sea Around Us; also in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 91.
  • The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.
    • Acceptance speech of the National Book Award for Nonfiction (1952); also in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 91.
  • We have looked first at man with his vanities and greed and his problems of a day or a year; and then only, and from this biased point of view, we have looked outward at the earth he has inhabited so briefly and at the universe in which our earth is so minute a part. Yet these are the great realities, and against them we see our human problems in a different perspective. Perhaps if we reversed the telescope and looked at man down these long vistas, we should find less time and inclination to plan for our own destruction.
    • Acceptance speech of the National Book Award for Nonfiction (1952); also in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 91.
  • Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.
    There is certainly no single remedy for this condition and I am offering no panacea. But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.
    • Speech accepting the John Burroughs Medal (April 1952); also in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 94.
  • We have been troubled about the world, and had almost lost faith in man; it helps to think about the long history of the earth, and of how life came to be. And when we think in terms of millions of years, we are not so impatient that our own problems be solved tomorrow.
    • Speech accepting the John Burroughs Medal (April 1952); also in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 96.
  • The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth — soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics.
    • Letter to the editor, Washington Post (1953); quoted in Lost Woods : The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 99
  • Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.
    • "Essay on the Biological Sciences" in Good Reading (1958)
  • If we have been slow to develop the general concepts of ecology and conservation, we have been even more tardy in recognizing the facts of the ecology and conservation of man himself. We may hope that this will be the next major phase in the development of biology. Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man's future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.
    • "Essay on the Biological Sciences" in Good Reading (1958)
  • I like to define biology as the history of the earth and all its life — past, present, and future. To understand biology is to understand that all life is linked to the earth from which it came; it is to understand that the stream of life, flowing out of the dim past into the uncertain future, is in reality a unified force, though composed of an infinite number and variety of separate lives.
    • Preface to Humane Biology Projects (1961) by the Animal Welfare Institute
  • Any concept of biology is not only sterile and profitless, it is distorted and untrue, if it puts its primary focus on unnatural conditions rather than on those vast forces not of man's making that shape and channel the nature and direction of life.
    • Preface to Humane Biology Projects (1961) by the Animal Welfare Institute
  • A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
    • The Sense of Wonder (1965)
  • I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
    • The Sense of Wonder (1965)
  • A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. I always thought so myself; the Maine woods never seem so fresh and alive as in wet weather. Then all the needles on the evergreens wear a sheath of silver; ferns seem to have grown to almost tropical lushness and every leaf has its edging of crystal drops. Strangely colored fungi — mustard-yellow and apricot and scarlet — are pushing out of the leaf mold and all the lichens and the mosses have come alive with green and silver freshness.
    • The Sense of Wonder (1965)

Silent Spring (1962)

  • Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.
  • These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes — nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the "good" and the "bad," to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil — all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called "insecticides," but "biocides."
  • For each of us, as for the robin in Michigan or the Salmon in the Miramichi, this is a problem of ecology, of interrelationships, of interdependence. We poison the caddis flies in a stream and the salmon runs dwindle and die. We poison the gnats in a lake and the poison travels from link to link of the food chain and soon the birds of the lake margins become its victims. We spray our elms and the following springs are silent of robin song, not because we sprayed the robins directly but because the poison traveled, step by step, through the now familiar elm leaf-earthworm-robin cycle. These are matters of record, observable, part of the visible world around us. They reflect the web of life — or death — that scientists know as ecology.
    • p. 189
  • We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
    • p. 277

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Simple English

Silent Spring is the name of a book by Rachel Carson. It was published in 1962. It tells of the damage done to the environment by the use of chemicals to kill pests.

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