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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.
"Quietly thrilling...Souder treats Carson's personal life sensitively...But the real drama involves how her book shaped a new way of understanding our relationship with the earth."
"A suspenseful tale of the literary life….That, in 1962, a 55-year-old single mother could take on the government and pesticides industry and triumph in the face of illness, sexism, ageism and a deeply funded campaign against her makes for an utterly inspiring tale that also sounds a cautionary note."
--San Francisco Chronicle
“In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating…Souder is at his best when he places Carson’s intellectual development in context with the nascent environmental movement…Souder writes vividly and with great empathy for his subject and her cause…An absorbing narrative.”
--Elizabeth Royte, New York Times Book Review
"This is the book to read about Carson's short life and work.”
--Wall Street Journal
"A poignant, galvanizing, meaningful tribute...[Provides] readers with a clear sense of the political, economic and social ramifications of DDT use and the threat of atomic warfare and how Carson's writing played a vital role in progressive public policy for decades after her death."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“In this expansive, nuanced biography, Souder (Under a Wild Sky) portrays Carson as a woman passionate in friendship, poetic and innovative in her books about the sea, gentle but ambitious, assiduously keeping tabs on her publisher's promotion of her work.... [and explores] cold war anxiety about nuclear annihilation, the chemistry of pesticides like DDT and their flagrant postwar use, and an emerging understanding of ecology. Carson, under severe stress and exhaustion from a cancer that took her life, synthesized these issues in Silent Spring, a meticulously researched, policy-changing picture of an earth poisoned by humanity. Fifty years later, her insights are suprisingly relevant: "We're challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery not of nature, but of ourselves."
"To mark this watershed, Souder, author of a John James Audubon biography (Under a Wild Sky, 2004), brings a fresh and delving perspective to Carson’s trailblazing achievements and heroic sacrifices.... Souder returns Carson to us in all her poetic glory and strength as a singular artist and clarion champion of the living world."
"William Souder’s On a Farther Shore is one of those rare and extraordinary biographies that are at once brilliant portraiture and important environmental history. The great Rachel Carson comes alive again in these vivid pages--honest, committed, brave."
--Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University, author of Wilderness Warrior and Cronkite
"In William Souder, Rachel Carson has a Carsonesque chronicler—morally incisive, poetic but unsentimental. On a Farther Shore is a vital and nuanced portrait of a giant of American letters and an absorbing history of the environmental movement."
--Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie
"Rachel Carson changed the way we live now, and in William Souder she has a biographer who has given us a powerful portrait of a woman and of her work. Anyone interested in the intellectual, political, and cultural life of the past half century should read this fine book."
--Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
"William Souder eloquently and convincingly argues for the relevance of Rachel Carson’s writings to today’s daunting environmental challenges. In this beautifully crafted biography, Souder shines a light as luminescent as some of Rachel Carson’s favorite specimens of marine life on one of the twentieth century’s most important figures."
--Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, author of Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
"Rachel Carson was not a saint but, better, a prophet--that rare soul who turns our attention into the path of the oncoming truth. In these illuminating, perspective-setting pages you feel her love for the living world, and the burden she bore in giving birth to the modern environmental movement, her gift to us all, that she never lived to see."
--Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point
"William Souder tells the story of Rachel Carson's life with grace and sympathy. On a Farther Shore explains why Carson still matters, fifty years after the publication of Silent Spring."
--Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe
"Rachel Carson is the great green heroine, the first person to combine her love of the natural world with a penetrating glance at industrial modernity. William Souder captures her importance in this engaging biography."
--Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth
"For those of us who know Rachel Carson's name but little else, this is the book to set us straight. In crystal clear prose, William Souder captures her remarkable journey from essayist to polemicist, from nature's gentle acolyte to its fierce defender, while he also provides us with the science we need along the way. We are in Souder's debt for vividly reminding us of the lesson Carson taught: we have the power to seriously harm nature and the solemn responsibility to conserve and protect it."
--Louise W. Knight, author of Jane Addams: Spirit in Action