Rachel Carson’s watershed work Silent Spring is first published on September 27, 1962. Originally serialized in The New Yorker magazine, the book shed light on the damage that man-made pesticides inflict on the environment. Its publication is often viewed as the beginning of the modern environmentalist movement in America.
Carson received a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932 and spent the next several decades researching the ecosystems of the East Coast. She rose through the ranks of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and published many works on the environment, including The Sea Around Us. In the late ’50s, she became concerned by reports of the unintended effects insecticides were having on other wildlife, and the Audubon Society approached her about writing a book on the topic. Silent Spring was the result of this partnership and several years of research, focusing primarily on the effects of DDT and similar pesticides. Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer during this time, causing the book’s publication to be delayed until 1962.
Silent Spring did not call for an outright ban on DDT, but it did argue that they were dangerous to humans and other animals and that overusing them would dramatically disrupt ecosystems. Carson met with staunch criticism, largely from the chemical industry and associated scientists. She was called “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature” and “probably a communist,” among other things, but the firestorm around her drew attention to a problem Americans were finally ready to acknowledge.
Despite her illness, Carson made a slew of media appearances and testified before President John F. Kennedy‘s Science Advisory Committee, finding more supporters than detractors. Though she died only two years after the book’s publication, the movement she helped popularize blossomed over the next decade. Her successors fought for the creation Environmental Protection Agency, formed in 1970, and her arguments were instrumental in securing a nationwide phase-out of DDT, which began in 1972. Carson’s work on pesticides not only drew attention to their unintended consequences but also familiarized the public with the extent of the harm mankind could inflict upon nature, one of the most important lessons our species has had to learn.