Book Review: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

There seems to be a lot of emphasis on writing reviews for books that are newly released, or about to be released. That is not my goal here. My goal is to tell you about books that hold importance in our lives, whether it is health related, or other important information that we should all know, regardless of when the book was written. In this case, the book Silent Spring offers a great deal of important information that is just as prudent to be aware of today (if not more so). Yet it was written in 1962.

Sadly, I had never heard of Rachel Carson until one day, while I was arguing (ahem, having a discussion) with a county employee about my right to know about their public herbicide spraying, and their right to collect a paycheck for spraying my road with herbicides (long story for another time). It was when he made a joke about me and how I’m “going to be the next Rachel Carson” that stopped me in my tracks. Why didn’t I know who this Rachel Carson was that he was referring to, and why was it funny to him to compare me to her? (Keep in mind I took a conservation biology course in college, and still I had never heard of Rachel Carson. Pathetic.)

I went on a rampage, and after reading her book Silent Spring – I was furious. Not for the accusation, but for the idea that such a scenario would be funny! Worse yet, I could not figure out how he knew of this author and her work, and yet still continued to spray. Had not anyone working in that county office actually read her books? Only a deeply psychologically sick or insane person would continue widespread herbicide use after reading her book, and then make a joke about it.

It is not funny to recognize an issue in our society, culture, and attitudes, that will ultimately lead us down the road of potential cancer, infertility, and collective suicide. Not funny at all.

We all have to die of something you say? I say I disagree. I can choose to avoid dying a horrible and physically painful death, while my family suffers emotionally. I can choose to extend my life via the scientific knowledge that is already widely available, yet swept under the proverbial rug. I can choose to prevent falling into bankruptcy through unbelievable doctor bills, and un-affordable hospital bills. I can do my best to not pass on such debts to my family. I can do this all very simply, by choosing products that have scientific evidence that they are safe to use. Not “safe to use” under questionable and tenuous EPA, FDA, or OSHA “exposure limits,” but safe to use period.

Oh, and by the way, Rachel Carson had breast cancer, and the radiation treatment she was undergoing weakened her body to such a state that she developed anemia and ultimately died of a heart attack. This was just two years after this book was published. She was one month shy of 57 years old. The irony is beyond statement here.

But off my soap box and back to the book. This book was published in 1962, and I’m sure it took Rachel Carson years to write it. So we’ve had all this knowledge for all these decades and what have we done with it? NOTHING.

Ignorant people who only care about a paycheck are still spraying toxic chemicals on farms, on ranches, on roadways, and in parks. Naive people who think that just because the label says a product is “safe,” never consider the consequences of their actions when these herbicides and pesticides move into rivers, lakes, and soil. Do these people think that these poisonous chemicals (yes they are poisons) just somehow magically disappear from the environment? Depending on their properties, sometimes they do disappear; they are washed by the rain into lakes, streams, rivers, and fields. But while they may be temporarily diluted, they do not go away, at least not quickly. So continued use leads to accumulation, both in the environment and the animals and plants that live there. Consequently the fisherman brings contaminated fish to the table, and the hunter brings contaminated deer to the table, or the unsuspecting average person who buys food at the grocery store is putting those very same chemicals into their body and those of their family members. Yet no one seems to be questioning where these claims that these chemicals are “safe” are coming from. No one is even looking at the producers of these chemicals who use marketing ploys to make people think we need these chemicals. (Note: there are alternative methods to address these problems.)

Ok, so maybe “nothing” is being melodramatic. DDT was banned, and the EPA was formed.(Though honestly, I’m not really sure that the EPA does much that’s useful, considering that things like PFOSs, PFOAs, and phalates are still being massively produced by  industry, as our world and everyone in it is dying. And let’s not forget that toxic herbicides like glyphosate and atrazine are still in widespread use today.) So nothing didn’t happen, but not enough happened. NOT ENOUGH.

How sickening. We have this knowledge and we do little with it. We’ve had this knowledge for 60 years now and the producers of these toxic chemicals could care less about the long term destruction of human life, and of much life on earth. Yet the same marketing claims and disinformation is going on today, 60 years after clear scientific knowledge of the consequences is publicized. They say knowledge is power, but that is not really true. Applied knowledge is power, and I’m feeling quite powerless about this problem. This knowledge is not useful if I’m the only who has read the book. So pick up a copy, or listen to it on audiobook, and educate yourself on what is really going on. Something has to change.

One thing we can do is focus on buying organic foods that have not been exposed to these poisons (or minimally so). If regulators won’t do their jobs, at least we can exert consumer purchasing power in the marketplace. As always, vote with your wallets!

And shame on my conservation biology instructor for never introducing me to this author when I was in college.


Rachel Carson, 1940
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee photo


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