Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson, the poet-warrior of the environmental movement, did a heroic kind of humanist advocacy science that's easy for artists to love. She was fearless, literate, and personally enigmatic, and her radical work came at just the right time in postwar history, standing as a challenge to the cult of industrial science in the years after the Manhattan Project.

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Fifty years ago, liberals and radicals were eager and able to think big. Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, sparked a campaign to defend and develop diverse urban neighborhoods. In 1962, Michael Harrington’s The Other America, with its startling revelations about the depth and extent of poverty, as well as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the first environmental best-seller, appeared.

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When, armed with an infant, you descend into the nether world of urban playgrounds and playdates and long, searching conversations about upper-middle-class parental obsessions (gluten allergies, Mandarin classes), you’re likely to find yourself wondering whether you’ve joined a genial but nutty sect. Rumor runs rampant; information is so copious and conflicting there might as well be none at all; skepticism and standards of scientific evidence shimmer and vanish at the hint of something to worry about.

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Dechronification

Super Sad True Love Story By Gary Shteyngart (Random House, 334 pp., $26) There was once a city in the heart of America where all life seemed to be, if not entirely in harmony with its surroundings, then at least functioning in its own kind of equilibrium. Day after day, workers repaired to skyscrapers stacked with single-person cubicles, where they sat for eight, nine, ten hours gazing into glowing screens that were at once portals to the outside world and magical mirrors reflecting their own desires.

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The Usefulness of Cranks

Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery By Steve Nicholls (University of Chicago Press, 524 pp., $30) American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau Edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America, 1,047 pp., $40) Defending The Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, And The Legacy Of Madison Grant By Jonathan Peter Spiro (University of Vermont Press, 462 pp., $39.95) A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir By Donald Worster (Oxford University Press, 535 pp., $34.99) A Reenchanted World: The Quest for A New Kinship With Nature By James William Gibson (Metropolitan Books,

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Second Life

Rachel Carson opened Silent Spring, her 1962 polemic against chemical pesticides, with a terrible prophecy: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." She proceeded to narrate a "Fable for Tomorrow," describing a bucolic American town "where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings." The nearby farms flourished, the foxes barked, and the birds sang in a kind of pastoral Eden. "Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community." Cattle died. Children died.

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Second Life

Rachel Carson opened Silent Spring, her 1962 polemic against chemical pesticides, with a terrible prophecy: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." She proceeded to narrate a "Fable for Tomorrow," describing a bucolic American town "where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings." The nearby farms flourished, the foxes barked, and the birds sang in a kind of pastoral Eden. "Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community." Cattle died. Children died.

READ MORE >>

Second Life

Rachel Carson opened Silent Spring, her 1962 polemic against chemical pesticides, with a terrible prophecy: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." She proceeded to narrate a "Fable for Tomorrow," describing a bucolic American town "where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings." The nearby farms flourished, the foxes barked, and the birds sang in a kind of pastoral Eden. "Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community." Cattle died. Children died.

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Balance in the Earth

The good, the bad, and the ugly of environmentalism.

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