The biologist Rachel Louise Carson is primarily known as the author of Silent Spring, an exposé of the effects of chemical pesticides on human health and the environment that became a seminal work in the crusade for ecological awareness. Carson spent much of her childhood outdoors on her family’s land, where she was encouraged by her mother to develop an awareness of the natural world. She also loved books and from her earliest childhood assumed that she would be a writer. At the age of eleven, she published an essay in the children’s magazine Saint Nicholas. Intending to major in English, Carson enrolled in the Pennsylvania College for Women. Halfway through her junior year, however, her fascination with the natural sciences led her to change her major to biology. After graduating magna cum laude in 1928, she went on to gain an M.A. in zoology from The Johns Hopkins University in 1932.
Carson found employment with the United States Bureau of Fisheries, where she wrote and edited books and radio scripts. To supplement her income, she also published freelance articles. The acceptance of an article by The Atlantic prompted her to write a novel, Under the Sea-Wind, a narrative of sea and shore life told from the points of view of a shore bird, a mackerel, and an eel. Although sales were disappointing, the book earned an enthusiastic response from the scientific community.
Carson’s second book, The Sea Around Us, is a scientific examination of the ocean’s development, features, and inhabitants. This best-selling book, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction, launched Carson on the road to fame. In her acceptance speech, Carson stated that there is no such thing as a separate literature of science, since the aim of science is to discover and illuminate the truth, which is the aim of all literature. Throughout her writing career, Carson pursued this aim with a commitment to simplicity of expression and avoidance of technical jargon. She said, “My...
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Brooks, Paul. The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. This biography of Rachel Carson and survey of her work was written by her editor. Based upon her private papers, Brooks’s account is primarily made up of many wonderful samples of her writings, both public and private.
Gartner, Carol B. Rachel Carson. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. This readable discussion of Carson carefully blends her personal and public lives as well as providing a good bibliography for further reading.
Graham, Frank, Jr. Since “Silent Spring.” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970....
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As a small child, Rachel Louise Carson connected to the natural world. Educated in part by her mother, who employed a popular naturalist curriculum, Carson learned to respect and preserve life. She wanted to be a writer but switched from English to zoology in her junior year at Pennsylvania College for Women (later Catham College). Her research on the sea began during a summer at the Woods Hole Massachusetts Marine Biology Laboratory. She received her masters degree in marine biology from Johns Hopkins University. Carson taught briefly but needed more income to support her parents. She eventually became an aquatic biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she wrote and later edited public...
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