IN A LETTER written in January 1958, Olga Owens Huckins told me of her own bitter
experience of a small world made lifeless, and so brought my attention sharply back to a
problem with which I had long been concerned. I then realized I must write this book.
During the years since then I have received help and encouragement from so many people that
it is not possible to name them all here. Those who have freely shared with me the fruits of
many years’ experience and study represent a wide variety of government agencies in this and
other countries, many universities and research institutions, and many professions. To all of
them I express my deepest thanks for time and thought so generously given.
In addition my special gratitude goes to those who took time to read portions of the manuscript
and to offer comment and criticism based on their own expert knowledge. Although the final
responsibility for the accuracy and validity of the text is mine, I could not have completed the
book without the generous help of these specialists: L. G. Bartholomew, M.D., of the Mayo
Clinic, John J. Biesele of the University of Texas, A. W. A. Brown of the University of Western
Ontario, Morton S. Biskind, M.D., of Westport, Connecticut, C. J. Briejer of the Plant Protection
Service in Holland, Clarence Cottam of the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation, George
Crile, Jr., M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic, Frank Egler of Norfolk, Connecticut, Malcolm M.
Hargraves, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, W. C. Hueper, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute, C. J.
Kerswill of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Olaus Murie of the Wilderness Society, A. D.
Pickett of the Canada Department of Agriculture, Thomas G. Scott of the Illinois Natural History
Survey, Clarence Tarzwell of the Taft Sanitary Engineering Center, and George J. Wallace of
Michigan State University. Every writer of a book based on many diverse facts owes much to
the skill and helpfulness of librarians. I owe such a debt to many, but especially to Ida K.
Johnston of the Department of the Interior Library and to Thelma Robinson of the Library of the
National Institutes of Health.
As my editor, Paul Brooks has given steadfast encouragement over the years and has
cheerfully accommodated his plans to postponements and delays. For this, and for his skilled
editorial judgment, I am everlastingly grateful. I have had capable and devoted assistance in the
enormous task of library research from Dorothy Algire, Jeanne Davis, and Bette Haney Duff.
And I could not possibly have completed the task, under circumstances sometimes difficult,
except for the faithful help of my housekeeper, Ida Sprow.
Finally, I must acknowledge our vast indebtedness to a host of people, many of them
unknown to me personally, who have nevertheless made the writing of this book seem
worthwhile. These are the people who first spoke out against the reckless and irresponsible
poisoning of the world that man shares with all other creatures, and who are even now fighting
the thousands of small battles that in the end will bring victory for sanity and common sense in
our accommodation to the world that surrounds us.
IN 1958, when Rachel Carson undertook to write the book that became Silent Spring,
she was fifty years old. She had spent most of her professional life as a marine biologist and
writer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But now she was a world-famous author, thanks
to the fabulous success of The Sea Around Us, published seven years before. Royalties from this
book and its successor, The Edge of the Sea, had enabled her to devote full time to her own
writing. To most authors this would seem like an ideal situation: an established reputation,
freedom to choose one’s own subject, publishers more than ready to contract for anything one
wrote. It might have been assumed that her next book would be in a field that offered the same
opportunities, the same joy in research, as did its predecessors. Indeed she had such projects in
mind. But it was not to be. While working for the government, she and her scientific colleagues
had become alarmed by the widespread use of DDT and other long-lasting poisons in so-called
agricultural control programs. Immediately after the war, when these dangers had already been
recognized, she had tried in vain to interest some magazine in an article on the subject. A
decade later, when the spraying of pesticides and herbicides (some of them many times as toxic
as DDT) was causing wholesale destruction of wildlife and its habitat, and clearly endangering
human life, she decided she had to speak out. Again she tried to interest the magazines in an
article. Though by now she was a well-known writer, the magazine publishers, fearing to lose
advertising, turned her down. For example, a manufacturer of canned baby food claimed that
such an article would cause “unwarranted fear” to mothers who used his product. (The one
exception was The New Yorker, which would later serialize parts of Silent Spring in advance of
book publication.) So the only answer was to write a book—book publishers being free of
advertising pressure. Miss Carson tried to find someone else to write it, but at last she decided
that if it were to be done, she would have to do it herself. Many of her strongest admirers
questioned whether she could write a salable book on such a dreary subject. She shared their
doubts, but she went ahead because she had to. “There would be no peace for me,” she wrote
to a friend, “if I kept silent.”
Silent Spring was over four years in the making. It required a very different kind of
research from her previous books. She could no longer recount the delights of the laboratories
at Woods Hole or of the marine rock pools at low tide. Joy in the subject itself had to be
replaced by a sense of almost religious dedication. And extraordinary courage: during the final
years she was plagued with what she termed “a whole catalogue of illnesses.”
Also she knew very well that she would be attacked by the chemical industry. It was not simply
that she was opposing indiscriminate use of poisons but—more fundamentally—that she had
made clear the basic irresponsibility of an industrialized, technological society toward the
natural world. When the attack did come, it was probably as bitter and unscrupulous as
anything of the sort since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a century before.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by the chemical industry in an attempt to
discredit the book and to malign the author—she was described as an ignorant and hysterical
woman who wanted to turn the earth over to the insects. These attacks fortunately backfired
by creating more publicity than the publisher possibly could have afforded. A major chemical
company tried to stop publication on the grounds that Miss Carson had made a misstatement
about one of their products. She hadn’t, and publication proceeded on schedule.
She herself was singularly unmoved by all this furor.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of the message in Silent Spring, President Kennedy set up a
special panel of his Science Advisory Committee to study the problem of pesticides. The panel’s
report, when it appeared some months later, was a complete vindication of her thesis. Rachel
Carson was very modest about her accomplishment. As she wrote to a close friend when the
manuscript was nearing completion: “The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has
always been uppermost in my mind—that, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were
being done.... Now l can believe I have at least helped a little.” In fact, her book helped to make
ecology, which was an unfamiliar word in those days, one of the great popular causes of our
time. It led to environmental legislation at every level of government.
Twenty-five years after its original publication, Silent Spring has more than a historical
interest. Such a book bridges the gulf between what C. P. Snow called “the two cultures.”
Rachel Carson was a realistic, well-trained scientist who possessed the insight and sensitivity of
a poet. She had an emotional response to nature for which she did not apologize. The more she
learned, the greater grew what she termed “the sense of wonder.” So she succeeded in making
a book about death a celebration of life. Rereading her book today, one is aware that its
implications are far broader than the immediate crisis with which it dealt. By awaking us to a
specific danger—the poisoning of the earth with chemicals—she has helped us to recognize
many other ways (some little known in her time) in which mankind is degrading the quality of
life on our planet.
And Silent Spring will continue to remind us that in our over-organized and over-
mechanized age, individual initiative and courage still count: change can be brought about, not
through incitement to war or violent revolution, but rather by altering the direction of our
thinking about the world we live in.
1. A Fable for Tomorrow
THERE WAS ONCE a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in
harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous
farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom
drifted above the green fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that
flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently
crossed the fields, half hidden in the mists of the fall mornings.
Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s
eye through much of the year. Even in winter the roadsides were places of beauty, where
countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising
above the snow. The countryside was, in fact, famous for the abundance and variety of its bird
life, and when the flood of migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveled from
great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold
out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the days many
years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns.
Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had
settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and
sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much
illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by
new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and
unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken
suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.
There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example—where had they gone? Many people
spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The
few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a
spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins,
catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only
silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.
On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were
unable to raise any pigs—the litters were small and the young survived only a few days. The
apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no
pollination and there would be no fruit. The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with
browned and withered vegetation as though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by
all living things. Even the streams were now lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the
fish had died.
In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder
still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the
lawns, the fields and streams. No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new
life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.
. . .This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts in
America or elsewhere in the world. I know of no community that has experienced all the
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