Rachel Carson's Silent Spring antagonized some of the most powerful interests in the nationincluding the farm block and the agricultural chemical industryand helped launch the modern environmental movement. In The Gentle Subversive, Mark Hamilton Lytle offers a compact life of Carson, illuminating the road that led to this vastly influential book.
Lytle explores the evolution of Carson's ideas about nature, her love for the sea, her career as a biologist, and above all her emergence as a writer of extraordinary moral and ecological vision. We follow Carson from her childhood on a farm outside Pittsburgh, where she first developed her love of nature (and where, at age eleven, she published her first piece in a children's magazine), to her graduate work at Johns Hopkins and her career with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Lytle describes the genesis of her first book, Under a Sea Wind, the incredible success of The Sea Around Us (a New York Times Bestseller for over a year), and her determination to risk her fame in order to write her "poison book": Silent Spring. The author contends that despite Carson's demure, lady-like demeanor, she was subversive in her thinking and aggressive in her campaign against pesticides. Carson became the spokeswoman for a network of conservationists, scientists, and concerned citizens who had come to fear the mounting dangers of the human assault on nature. What makes this story particularly compelling is that Carson took up this cause at the very moment when she herself faced a losing battle against cancer.
Succinct and engaging, The Gentle Subversive is a story of success, celebrity, controversy, and vindication. It will inspire anyone interested in protecting the natural world or in women's struggle to find a voice in society.
Lytle (history & environmental studies, Bard Coll.; American history, University Coll., Dublin; America's Uncivil Wars) examines the life of Rachel Carson, founder of today's environmental movement and antithesis of the stereotypical 1950s woman. Carson was educated in the sciences, worked full time, and was her family's primary provider and caregiver. Genteel in appearance, she was firmly committed to her goal of preserving nature. Using a lyrical, narrative style, Lytle probes Carson's interests and her purposes in writing a series of well-known books that include The Sea Around Usand her most famous, Silent Spring. Able to transform complicated scientific jargon into layperson's words, Carson wrote from her heart and showed her strength in standing up against even the most powerful foes, including the chemical industry. Lytle presents the facts in four chapters, each named after the season he believes correlates with Carson's maturation as a thinker. His beautifully written environmental biography of this imposing subversive who challenged us all with her writing is a significant addition for all libraries.