Saturday Review: Silent Spring

Reading lists seem to be a thing. At my local second-hand bookstore today I explained that I had a list, and it was met as if every other person who walked in had one. So much for being original. Another recurring theme is that people love the classics—though I suppose that’s obvious. I had asked for a copy of Scoop only to be told that they usually have it but, “As soon as it comes in it’s gone again.” This was the second time I had been told this by a second-hand store owner, the first time when I was looking for a copy of Silent Spring. It made me realise that achieving my list would mean doing it out of the given order. I’d prefer cheap or old copies of every book, preferably both, so I’m going to have to be flexible.

Let’s get on with it. The first book down was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I’ve seen horror movies, read the works of Poe and Lovecraft, but nothing as terrified me so much as this book. In it the true extent of humanity’s ignorance and pride is revealed. My only hope is that the follies revealed were acted upon. It sucks being a hypochondriac.

Silent Spring tells the story of the gradual implementation of chemicals in the control of nature. In gruesome and specific detail, the books explains exactly how pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides  have had a drastically disastrous effect on the environment.

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.

We have the knowledge to change our world; but not the intelligence to utilise it effectively. Silent Spring takes the reader through the accidental destruction of the various realms of nature. The invention of pesticides that aimed to destroy annoying or harmful insects instead led to whole ecosystems being wiped out. The extent of which Carson goes into extreme and methodical detail. As an argument it is extremely well put together, leading the reader to the conclusions that Carson imposes. Apparently it persuaded and influenced some powerful people, and it’s not hard to see why.

We begin with the basic structures of chemicals, and the various types employed. The toxicity of some of them boggles the mind. Then the termination of different regions of the earth are detailed, such as plains, rivers, and even our own backyard. Next the chemical toll on humans is explored, but it feels like we deserve it after the mutilation of nature. Major issues and alternatives sum up the book. It’s perfectly structured, gives many, many examples, and Carson’s voice is both eloquent and persuasive.

It’s also timeless, despite the era specific topic. The idea of man destroying his own world is as relevant now as ever, if not more so. Climate change may be harder to stop than putting bans on DDT. Silent Spring closes with this fantastic summation.

The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

I’ll leave you with some choice quotes, and a big thumbs up as a recommendation.

It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.


Who would want to live in a world which [that] is just not quite fatal.


Paralysis followed so instantaneously that he could not reach the antidotes he had prepared at hand, and so he died.


And so, in a very real and frightening sense, pollution of the ground-water is pollution of water everywhere.


For soil is in part a creation of life, born of a marvellous interaction of life and non-life aeons ago.


Who has made the decision that sets in motion these chains of poisonings, this ever-widening wave of death that spreads out, like ripples when a pebble is dropped into a still pond?


Mosquitoes exposed to DDT for several generations turned into strange creatures called gynandromorphs—part male and part female.

Love that last one. Perfect sci-fi material.

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3 thoughts on “Saturday Review: Silent Spring

  1. jessmittens says:

    I think I may have to read this, thanks for the post on it.

  2. […] The same has almost happened with my book collection, my Kindle collection to be precise. Again, the products are cheap and super easy to buy. Physical books are, of course, another hoarding opportunity. But I’ve decided that I need to stop myself. 2013 will be my year of reading, learning, and vocabulary-building. You can see the full list here. And yes, this includes my on schedule classics list. […]

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