2011 Falmouth Reads Together


About the book: How many times has a book changed the course of history? Silent Spring did exactly that. The book earned marine biologist, Rachel Carson, a place on the Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People of the Twentieth Century. She laid out a painstaking description of the hazardous, deadly effects of pesticide use, and issued a rousing call to greater awareness of our environment. The outcry that followed its publication in 1962 forced the government to ban DDT and triggered revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s book was vital in launching the environmental movement, and is regarded as one of the hallmark books of the twentieth century.

Many of us first read Silent Spring in the mid-1960s. We were appalled at the danger caused by poisons in the environment, the reckless use of pesticides and the seemingly invincible power of the chemical companies to rule agriculture in this country. Back in the 1960s this environmental assault was news to some readers. Why is it important to read this book now? Rachel Carson’s straightforward, yet expressive account of the indiscriminate use of pesticides is as shocking now as it was over fifty years ago. But now, readers are shocked to realize how little has changed. Despite the hope and promise of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970, our nation is again facing ghastly environmental challenges.

About the author: Rachel Carson’s legacy is even more significant to us in Falmouth because of her longstanding connection to the Woods Hole research community. She first arrived in summer 1929 after earning her undergraduate degree, to work as a beginning zoology researcher. She returned in 1932 as a graduate student to participate in zoological research on teleosts (bony fish). After embarking on a career with the National Bureau of Fisheries, she returned again in 1949 for a research cruise aboard the U.S. Fisheries research vessel Albatross. After her first book, The Sea Around Us won the National Book Award in 1951, she spent the summer at MBL on leave from the Fisheries Services to continue research for her next book The Edge of the Sea. In the summer of 1952, she left the Fisheries Service to write full time and returned to MBL. She remained on the MBL faculty for the rest of her life.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

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