By Bliss Sando
Written by Rachel Carlson and published in 1962, Silent Spring is often credited with exposing the mass Western audience to the importance of environmental issues—and rightly so. The work itself is a must-read for those interested in the birth of the environmental movement. I first read this book in 2007 when I spent a year at the University of Vermont majoring in Natural Resources. Re-reading it five years later, I learned things that I probably missed the first time around.
The courage of the author to criticize such large institutions as the chemical companies producing harmful pesticides such as DDT is inspiring, and the book stands as an encouraging testimony to the power of grassroots environmental campaigns. The purely informative and non-aggressive nature of Carlson’s writing increases the book’s effectiveness, and allows the reader to focus on the facts presented without being distracted by the political/economic aspects of the issues.
Silent Spring is written in such a way that is easy to understand and both interesting and shocking at the same time. The very nature of the subject of the dangers of pesticides that were being so widely used for so long was shocking in 1962. Carlson explained not only the dangers of these chemicals to the environment (plants, animals, and entire ecosystems), but to human beings as well. She concludes the book by offering safer, cheaper, and effective alternative methods of pest control.
On the whole, the book offers a complete picture of the problem and solution, causing audiences to ask the question, “Why has this happened in the first place?” Clearly, the chemical companies and their economic interests must share some blame.
Silent Spring is also a fine example of the power that environmental writing can have. Writing can give a person the means of peacefully expressing and distributing facts and opinions on controversial subjects. This book and the public’s reaction to it proves that no matter how much opposition a piece of environmental writing evokes, there will always be an audience willing to listen—as long as the piece is factual and convincing. Silent Spring and Carlson faced opposition from the media and the chemical companies whose products she was speaking out against. However, despite the widespread opposition to the book, its contents reached a mass audience and sparked change. DDT, one of the chemical pesticides criticized in the book, was eventually banned in the United States.
Overall, I learned more from reading this book (even the second time around) than any other short work of nonfiction. I believe that it is something that everyone should read, regardless of their interests. Not only does the book itself teach the reader, but the history that surrounds its release in the 1960’s is worth researching as an example of the power that environmental writing can hold.