50 years after ‘Silent Spring,’ message still resonates

Tonight, as residents on the east coast continue to assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy, Stillwater author William Souder will read from his book On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson at SubText bookstore in St. Paul.

Carson, the author of the seminal environmentalist treatise Silent Spring, was adamant that pesticides like DDT are as harmful as radiation to people, plants and animals. She was also a champion of the health and biodiversity of the world’s oceans.

One can easily imagine her blaming the recent damage of Hurricane Sandy on what she called the “impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.”

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Author Elizabeth Royte reviewed On a Farther Shore for the New York Times. Royte says she found it to be an “absorbing narrative.”


In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating: her difficult personal circumstances (she grew up in rural poverty, was the sole breadwinner in her family and battled breast cancer while writing and then defending “Silent Spring”); the publishing milieu; and the continuing friction between those who would preserve nature versus those who would bend it to provide utility for man.

Souder warms up slowly, presenting Carson as a mild and mousy girl who fell into her career thanks to a charismatic mentor. As she matured, however, Carson quietly simmered with attitude, indignation and, once she became more successful, a righteous ego. Released from government service and financial peril, she roared at the forces she believed were destroying nature, her greatest source of pleasure and the thing without which, to pervert the classic advertising slogan of the agricultural chemical manufacturer Monsanto, life itself would be impossible.

Souder reads tonight at 7pm.

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