Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carsonby Rachel Carson
When Rachel Carson died of cancer in 1964, her four books, including the environmental classic Silent Spring, had made her one of the most famous people in America. This trove of previously uncollected writings is a priceless addition to our knowledge of Rachel Carson, her affinity with the natural world, and her life.See more details below
When Rachel Carson died of cancer in 1964, her four books, including the environmental classic Silent Spring, had made her one of the most famous people in America. This trove of previously uncollected writings is a priceless addition to our knowledge of Rachel Carson, her affinity with the natural world, and her life.
"[Lost Woods] gives a new generation an opportunity to rediscover the legendary biologist and ecologist. . . . These writings-essays, letters, magazine pieces, speeches-show us the evolution of a decent woman from scholar to warrior for all that's right."Carolyn See, The Washington Post
"This wonderful new book allows us to discover and learn anew from the scientist who taught ecology to the world."
-San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
"Lear unveils in Carson's own words how she developed as a scientist and a writer, uniting science and literature to create works that still resonate today."Elizabeth Abbott, Toronto Globe and Mail
"What comes across most profoundly here is Carson's innate understanding-spiritual as much as scientific-of the connectedness of all living things, and her ability to describe complicated concepts in phrases that sing. . . . Read this book."Bruce Mirken, Pacific Sun
- Beacon Press
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Meet the Author
Linda Lear is author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Read an Excerpt
Rachel Carson’s literary legacy is only four books. But those
four books are enough to have changed how humankind regards
the living world and the future of life on this earth. Her
literary reputation rests primarily on two of them: The Sea Around
Us (1951) and Silent Spring (1962), a book that changed the
course of history.
The magnitude of Carson’s impact on the public’s understanding
of such issues as ecol ogy and environmental change
still astonishes. Two volumes of her trilogy on the life of the sea,
The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea, were serialized in
the New Yorker, and all three, including Under the Sea- Wind
(1941), appeared on the New York Times best- seller list for
months on end. The Sea Around Us maintained its place for a
record eighty- six weeks and was eventually translated into
more than forty languages. Silent Spring was also serialized in
the New Yorker, making Carson the fi rst woman writer to have
three of her works introduced in its pages by 1962. It was translated
into many languages, and still sells over 25,000 copies
every year. Rachel Carson had garnered an international reputation
as a natural scientist and public voice for the care of the
earth by the time of her death in 1964. She was the most acclaimed
science writer of her generation and a literary fi gure of
fi rst rank.
The purpose of Lost Woods, this collection of Carson’s undiscovered
and little known writing, is to give the reader what is
missing from the more famous body of Carson’s work – a sense
of her evolution as a natural scientist and a creative writer. Carson’s
unpublished and heretofore unknown literary output only
heightens her importance as an environmental thinker. In this anthology,
Carson’s public and private voice speaks to our human
condition and to the condition of our earth at the end of the millennium.
Encompassing youthful writing, newspaper essays, fi eld journals,
speeches, articles, and letters, Lost Woods intimately reveals
the intellectual pro cess by which Carson became not just a literary
celebrity, but one of the century’s most important writers and social
commentators, whose call to alarm took us all in a new direction
and was the catalyst for the contemporary environmental
The pace and pressure of Rachel Carson’s life mitigated against
there ever being a large body of writing. By nature she worked
slowly and methodically, unwilling to move from one sentence to
another until the fi rst met her syntactical and lyrical satisfaction.
She revised endlessly, read everything out loud, and then had it
read back to her until she was satisfi ed with its tone, alliteration,
and clarity. A perfectionist in form and structure, Carson was
also a meticulous researcher whose demand for accuracy was
legendary among her government colleagues, assistants, and
It was gratifying for me to learn that Carson never fi nished a
manuscript or an article on time with the exception of the feature
stories she wrote for the Baltimore Sun in the 1930s. But it was
heartrending to piece together the nearly overwhelming burden of
family responsibility and emotional demand that prevented her
from achieving the corpus of work that she dreamed of producing,
and had the talent and vision to create.
Beginning in the late 1930s, Carson supported herself, her
mother, her sister, and later her sister’s two daughters, and her
grand- nephew whom she adopted in 1957. A fi fteen- year career
in the federal government as an aquatic biologist and editor
relegated her writing to eve nings and time snatched between
weekend obligations, yet also deepened her experience of the living
world and her commitment to preserving it.
The literary success of The Sea Around Us brought a mea sure
of fi nancial security and enabled Carson to devote all her time to
her writing after 1952. She enjoyed only a few years of freedom
before her mother’s physical decline, her niece’s death, and the needs
of a young child again stole her creative time and taxed her emotional
stamina. The last fi ve years of Carson’s life were a race
against time and the course of terminal illness. Fighting a misdiagnosed
and aggressive breast cancer, Carson endured the side effects
of treatment and the ravages of what she called a “cata logue of illnesses”
to complete Silent Spring and to defend it. What is remarkable
is not that Carson produced such a small body of work, but
that she was able to produce it at all.
Rachel Carson had plans for at least four other major works.
She had been collecting material for a scientifi c study of evolution,
and had a book contract for another, more philosophical examination
of ecol ogy. She had started to revise and expand an earlier
magazine article on exploring the natural world with children, and
she was intrigued by the new discoveries in atmospheric science
and climate and hoped to write something in this emerging fi eld.
Carson’s literary papers display a full range of topics that she had,
in one way or another, committed herself to writing about, and
many more that she hoped one day to have the time to pursue. But
time ran out in April 1964.
Lost Woods helps us fi ll the gap between Carson’s wishes
and her accomplishments. Selections from her fi eld notebooks
and especially her public speeches give Rachel Carson a voice
for generations who neither heard her speak nor saw her on
the few tele vi sion appearances she made. Although she never
thought of herself as a public fi gure, she became one, and was an
accomplished public speaker as well, whose integrity captured the
attention of the po liti cally powerful and the average citizen alike.
Her articles on the natural history of the Chesapeake region, her
po liti cal acumen displayed in several editorial page letters, and her
support of a wide variety of conservation and preservation efforts
provide new facets to the better known lyrical writer on the sea,
and trenchant critic of toxic chemicals.
The writings selected for Lost Woods are, for the most part,
those I discovered in the course of my research for Rachel Carson:
Witness for Nature, in her papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library at Yale University. They have been chosen for
their literary quality, as examples of important environmental
thinking, and for the creative insight they provide into Carson’s
evolution as a scientist and science writer.
Several provide evidence of subjects about which Carson had
an intense interest but never had opportunity to write about in
any great depth. Other selections, including an article that appeared
in Holiday, the preface to the second edition of The Sea
Around Us, and the “Fable for Tomorrow” from Silent Spring,
were published during Carson’s lifetime and merit special attention.
Some were published posthumously and are included here
because of their scientifi c and literary quality and their biographical
importance. A few others were published in journals, in
newspapers, or as government documents and are no longer in
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