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On a Farther Shore

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By exposing the dangers of tampering with nature, Carson precipitated the invention of environmentalism, a movement that acknowledged that protecting the natural world also means protecting humanity from its own excesses. Carson’s book also created a paradigm for the environmental debates we know today. When 'Silent Spring" came out, Carson’s supporters compared the book to "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," her detractors called her a fraud and a communist, and government officials wrung their hands as they tried to decide what to do about pesticides. As Souder points out, these conversations surrounding pesticides in the 1960s were not so different from the conversations about global warming in the 2000s.

Souder describes the uproar surrounding Carson's book at the start and conclusion of "On a Farther Shore," but the middle of the book is devoted to a comprehensive biography of Carson, from the development of her interest in biology as an undergrad at Pennsylvania College for Women, to her government job at the Bureau of Fisheries, to her first forays into science writing, to her blossoming love for the Atlantic coast. Souder eloquently captures Carson's enduring passion for the ocean, from the peninsulas of Southport Island in Maine, where she bought a summer home and fell in love with her neighbor Dorothy, to the Florida coast, where she took a helmet-diving trip to research her book "The Sea Around Us," one of the three bestselling ocean science books she wrote before "Silent Spring."

Souder paints a portrait of a gentle, unassuming woman who was nevertheless ambitious, a woman who revised her writing endlessly and often turned in manuscripts years late – "Silent Spring" was originally slated for publication in early 1960 – and who tirelessly advocated for her own work, chastising her publishers when she felt they failed to adequately promote her books.

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