On a Farther Shore is an excellent biography of science writer Rachel Carson, whose work many people consider to be the foundation of modern environmentalism. I picked this book up out of general interest; and although I considered myself loosely familiar with Carson—I confess I’ve never read Silent Spring, although a copy sits on my bookshelf—in short order I came to understand that I knew nothing about her at all, except, of course, her instantly-recognizable byline.
Author William Souder pieced together major portions of Carson’s personal and professional life from collections of her extensive correspondence, journals and other papers, and interviews with family members of her friends. The result is an almost cinematic narrative of her life meshed with major cultural, political and environmental events—such as radiation fallout from nuclear bomb tests, insecticide vaporizers used within homes, and campaigns to eradicate gypsy moths—which defined her time. Souder’s approach yields a rich context for the issues and influences that surely helped to shape Carson’s thinking.
I wrote to Souder and asked him to participate in a Question and Answer about his newest book and the research for it. He graciously agreed, and I hope you enjoy reading his responses:
Q: What inspired you to write about the life of Rachel Carson?
A: My interests include science, the environment, and history. Carson was the embodiment of all three, so I felt a kinship with her, a sense that I saw the world at least somewhat as she did. I was also wanted to explore the question of why we have this bitter, partisan divide over environmental issues. Why should republicans and democrats have different views on the environment when it is of equal importance to both? And it turns out the answer can be found in Silent Spring and maybe more importantly, in the reaction to Silent Spring. There was one more thing: Rachel Carson, despite being one of the most consequential figures of the 20th Century, is unknown to many people nowadays. Baby boomers—people in their fifties and older—tend to remember her. And Millennials know Carson because they study her now in high school and college. But in between those ages a lot of people don’t know who she was. So I thought there was an opportunity to correct that on the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring. Continue reading