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DDT, Silent Spring, and the Rise of Environmentalism

DDT, Silent Spring, and the Rise of Environmentalism
Thomas R. Dunlap
University of Washington Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 150 pp., $16.95

Prominent science historian Thomas Dunlap has brought together a series of critical essays on the rise of the environmental movement in the last half-century. Beginning with the seminal publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, he traces the commentary of both critics and proponents of the use of DDT, a chemical used to eliminate disease-spreading insects. DDT was later condemned because of its effects on both animals and people. He first examines the general view of nature prior to the introduction of this toxic chemical and the background for its use prior to and during World War II. Although DDT appeared to be the answer to many environmental and population problems, Carson's book in 1962 put forth a clarion call based on increasing evidence. In turn, it caused public alarm and a storm of protest. The author declares that the decision by William Ruckelshaus, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to ban the use of DDT took "political courage," but did not end the debate over related problems. As this work points out, nature may fight back with serious consequences, such as building up resistant strains to chemicals created by scientists.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden