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Review of "Rachel Carson and Her Sisters" by Robert Musil '64

Book Review: Rachel Carson and Her Sisters

Population Connection Action Fund publication “Connections”

June 16, 2014

In Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment, Robert K. Musil brings recognition to the pioneering women who played a tremendous role in shaping the environmental movement in the United States. He does this by focusing on those who influenced the renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson before her great success in the wake of the publication of her 1962 bestseller Silent Spring.

Born in the rural town of Springdale, Pennsylvania, Carson inherited her love for nature and science from her mother, which ultimately led to her undergraduate studies in marine biology and a masters degree in zoology. It wasn’t until the use of synthetic chemical pesticides became widespread, however, that she began to make the connection between these chemicals — particularly DDT — and their harmful impact on the welfare of animals. This discovery led to her writing Silent Spring, which uncovered the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, and bequeathed Carson her respected status in the environmental and conservation community.

While Carson — often referred to as the Harriet Beecher Stowe of environmentalism — is accredited with launching the American environmental movement, she is not the only woman who helped propel it forward. Musil begins the book by highlighting the early contributions of women who had a huge influence on Carson’s passion for nature, science, and humanity. These women — from Martha Maxwell, who was one of the first to develop realistic natural history displays, to Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to study at MIT — encountered multiple hardships for choosing paths that were not socially acceptable for women at the time. By introducing the reader to these individuals, Musil establishes that the most notable figures in history are not the only ones who deserve recognition.

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters exhibits the determination of women throughout history to protect and preserve our planet and the species that share it with us. Musil serves these women well by honoring their work and introducing them to a modern audience who might otherwise not acknowledge their efforts toward ensuring that our planet and all its species remain healthy well into the future.

Dr. Musil is the treasurer of Population Connection’s Board of Directors. He is also President and CEO of The Rachel Carson Council, Inc., senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University, and author of Hope for a Heated Planet: How Americans Are Fighting Global Warming and Building a Better Future. He is the former CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and an award-winning journalist.