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Karen’ Letter: On Silent Spring’s 50th Anniversary

"Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. A year or two after the book’s publication, soon after I learned to read, I picked it from a little rack on the sunlit windowsill of my grandparents’ house in southwestern Iowa. From that window I could see the outhouse we used (because there wasn’t enough water to have a whole family using the indoor plumbing) and the woods beyond where we played. I only read the first chapter then – enough to place Carson’s image of a world in which nature was falling silent deeply in my mind. I was, obviously, one among millions influenced by her in those days after the publication of Silent Spring, and I am now one among billions to be influenced in some way by the changes she inspired.
Many of our editors and authors have similar stories, and that’s why we are dedicating the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability – all ten volumes of which will be in print on 1 November – to Rachel Carson, as well as to some 39 babies born to new parents and grandparents during production on the ten volumes; you’ll hear about that in another email from me very soon. In the meantime, please see the bottom of this email for details on ordering this wonderful, momentous, and much-needed publication.

US President Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” Stowe’s book had galvanized opposition to slavery in a way that nothing else had done, and Carson – a scientist and writer – also produced a bestseller that would change the course of history. An article in the New York Times last weekend explained that Carson had in mind popular readers – “housewives,” in those days, and what might be readers of Oprah’s O magazine today. The article says, “But nothing established Carson more effectively than her appearance on CBS Reports, an hourlong television news program. . . . On camera, Carson’s careful way of speaking dispelled any notions that she was a shrew or some kind of zealot.” It goes on to explain how industry opposition to Carson has evolved into the almost implacable divisions we see today. But the way Carson approached her subject – with integrity, determination, and love – reminds me of how we have worked with our nearly 1,000 authors to tackle thousands of topics in a way that will inspire trust, because they are based on clear thinking and solid research; they are not one-sided, partisan, or shrill.

Here are links to several Berkshire articles about Carson and her work, not only from the Encyclopedia of Sustainability but also from the Encyclopedia of World Environmental History (by Carson biographer Linda Lear) and from the Encyclopedia of Leadership.

Silent Spring” by Michael Sims, in volume 3 of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability: The Law and Politics of Sustainability.

Materials Substitution” by Asheen Phansey in volume 4, Natural Resources and Sustainability. One of the many long-term influences of Silent Spring was to spur industrial designers, among others, to work with more environmentally friendly materials.

Carson, Rachel” by Linda Lear, in the Encyclopedia of World Environmental History.

Carson, Rachel” by Maril Hazlett, in the Encyclopedia of Leadership.
At the bottom of this letter I’ve included a letter Carson received in May of 1963 from her friend Dorothy Freeman, who became friends with Carson after discovering that Carson was building a cottage on Southport Island, Maine, where Freeman and her husband spent their summers, and where Carson would write Silent Spring. Freeman wrote to Carson after watching the author appear in what would be one of her last public appearances, testifying before President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee, which backed Carson’s scientific claims.

With warm regards,

Karen Christensen

Karen Christensen ???, CEO & Publisher

This letter from her close friend Dorothy Freeman to Rachel Carson speaks to Carson’s prominence and significance in the world in the 1960s.

Dorothy Freeman to Rachel Carson, May 15, 1963:

“A thought struck me last night, that suddenly the dear old Sea Around Us has been displaced. I never dreamed that it could ever happen – that now I think your game will rest on Silent Spring – when people talk about you they’ll say “Oh yes, the author of Silent Spring,” for I suppose there are people who never heard of The Sea Around Us, strange as that may seem to us, but surely, I doubt if there is a household in this country where your name is unknown. How could it be from “Peanuts” to “CBS Reports” – not to mention all the lawns which have become a major concern now – what to do for crabgrass because Rachel Carson says!”

Source: Freeman, Martha. (Ed.). (1995). Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman 1952 – 1964. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, pp. 462-463.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability

Click here for the complete list of entries, and here for the full list of contributing authors.

The complete 10-volume set will ship 1 November 2012. The preorder price ends 12pm, 31 October 2012.

Orders can be placed online, by phone +1 413 528 0206, by fax +1 413 541 0076, or by email:

1/10: The Spirit of Sustainability

2/10: The Business of Sustainability

3/10: The Law and Politics of Sustainability 

4/10: Natural Resources and Sustainability

5/10: Ecosystem Management and Sustainability

6/10: Measurements, Indicators, and Research Methods for Sustainability

7/10: China, India, and East and Southeast Asia: Assessing Sustainability 

8/10: The Americas and Oceania: Assessing Sustainability

9/10: Afro-Eurasia: Assessing Sustainability

10/10: The Future of Sustainability

The entire publication will also be available through the various digital companies that serve libraries and schools, but their systems are such that digital options tend to be available about two months later than the print edition. But libraries can certainly place their digital orders now through their preferred source. Orders can be placed online, by phone +1 413 528 0206, by fax +1 413 541 0076, or by email:

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