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Since its publication in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring has often been celebrated as the catalyst that sparked an American environmental movement. Yet environmental consciousness and environmental protest in some regions of the United States date back to the nineteenth century, with the advent of industrial manufacturing and consequent growth of cities. As these changes transformed peoples’ lives, ordinary Americans came to recognize the connections between economic exploitation, social inequality, and environmental problems. In turn, as the modern age dawned, they relied on labor unions, sportsmen’s clubs, racial and ethnic organizations, and community groups to respond accordingly. The Myth of Silent Spring tells this story. By challenging the canonical “songbirds and suburbs” interpretation associated with Carson and her work, the book gives readers a more accurate sense of the past and better prepares them for thinking and acting in the present.
Chad Montrie is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is the author of several books, including A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States.