Silent Spring

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) somehow escaped my reading list for decades, until Robin gave me a copy for Xmas 2009. The book depicts the hazards of chemical pesticides and herbicides in meticulous detail. Most of the science is good, though there are statistical fallacies or misunderstandings (e.g., concerning cancer rates). Carson's work was, and remains, important in its promotion of systems thinking: the need to understand interrelationships, not isolated pieces of the puzzle. Sections foreshadow recent scandals involving deadly poisons in imported foods. Silent Spring is moving, however, in spite of—not because of—literary merit. It offers a catalog of issues and ideas, but Carson's language is generally far from poetic.

Most fascinating to me, however, are tidbits about the town I grew up in and around (Austin, Texas, in Chapter 9) and a discussion of the groundbreaking work of USDA entomologist Edward Knipling. Dr. Knipling's son Gary is a local ultramarathoner whom I've had the pleasure of running with many times. Small world! And even smaller: another fellow trail runner, Lyman Jordan, tells me that he grew up near where Rachel Carson lived and wrote—only a few miles from my home. Through the neighborhood flows Sligo Creek, Lyman notes, in which he played as a boy. Then it was rich in wildlife, until overuse of pesticides killed the frogs and fish and other creatures there. It has since come back to life.

^z - 2010-01-14