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Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment

by Robert K Musil

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In Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, Robert K. Musil redefines the achievements and legacy of environmental pioneer and scientist Rachel Carson, linking her work to a wide network of American women activists and writers and introducing her to a new, contemporary audience. Rachel Carson was the first American to combine two longstanding, but separate


In Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, Robert K. Musil redefines the achievements and legacy of environmental pioneer and scientist Rachel Carson, linking her work to a wide network of American women activists and writers and introducing her to a new, contemporary audience. Rachel Carson was the first American to combine two longstanding, but separate strands of American environmentalism—the love of nature and a concern for human health. Widely known for her 1962 best-seller, Silent Spring, Carson is today often perceived as a solitary “great woman,” whose work single-handedly launched a modern environmental movement. But as Musil demonstrates, Carson’s life’s work drew upon and was supported by already existing movements, many led by women, in conservation and public health.

On the fiftieth anniversary of her death, this book helps underscore Carson’s enduring environmental legacy and brings to life the achievements of women writers and advocates, such as Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Terry Tempest Williams, Sandra Steingraber, Devra Davis, and Theo Colborn, all of whom overcame obstacles to build and lead the modern American environmental movement.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Musil (Hope for a Heated Planet) offers a valuable history of noteworthy female American environmentalists, though readers will have to first make it through a cringe-worthy explanation of his discovery that many women have played crucial roles in raising awareness of environmental issues. The book’s most important contribution is its emphasis on the accomplishments of figures like nature writer Florence Merriam Bailey, ecology pioneer Ellen Swallow Richards, and naturalist/activist Terry Tempest Williams. They are Carson’s intellectual sisters, and Musil presents them in chronological order, beginning with the 19th-century’s first popular nature writer, Susan Fenimore Cooper. The careers of the women presented in the first two chapters are dutifully linked to Carson’s accomplishments, though readers unfamiliar with the Silent Spring author have to wait until the third chapter for a cohesive discussion of her career. The book’s second half focuses on Carson’s successors. In addition to Williams, there is Sandra Steingraber, who investigated the link between pesticides and cancer, and Devra Davis, who made feminist analyses of industrial pollution. Musil’s work comes alive in this second half, his choices of influential female environmentalists more assured and better connected to Carson and her work. The book is odd and uneven, but with enough quirks to make the reading worthwhile. Illus. (Apr.)
Foreword Reviews
"Musil uses the life and writings of Rachel Carson as an exemplar of women's participation in the American environmental movement. He places Carson's achievements in contexts by illuminating...the lives of trailblazing female scientists who inspired her and for whom she, in turn, paved the way. Extremely well-researched."
"In Rachel Carson and Her Sisters,Musil fills the gap by placing Carson's achievements in a wider context, weaving connections from the past through the present. Readers will find new insight into Carson and contemporary figures she influenced...who have historically received less attention. Musil's respect and enthusiasm for these women is evident throughout the book, making it a deeply engaging and enjoyable read. A valuable addition to scholarship on Rachel Carson, female environmentalists, and the American environmental movement in general.Highly recommended. All academic and general readers."
Environmental History
"Rachel Carson and Her Sisters makes a number of important contributions to both environmental history and women’s history. Musil’s genius is weaving his intriguing, thoroughly researched mini-biographies of individual women into a cohesive larger story of overlapping and mutually reinforcing actions and ideas."
Women's Review of Books
"In celebrating Rachel Carson's work, Musil takes on the important task of contextualizing this environmental luminary within a tradition of women's research, activism, and authorship."
Huffington Post - Lawrence Wittner
“Musil concludes that ‘those who pollute and plunder have huge resources at their command. They challenge serious science, real reform, and . . . block every reasonable effort to build a better, healthier environment for our children and generations yet to come.’ Nevertheless, ‘their sway is slowly, steadily, being reduced over time by the determination of ordinary citizens. . . . We can draw inspiration and leadership from the long line of American women who somehow defied the cinched circumstances and enervated expectations for their gender to become extraordinary leaders of many kinds. They have brought us thus far,’ and ‘we can start now down the path that they have set before us.’ People who want to learn more about this path can turn to Rachel Carson and Her Sisters for a richly detailed, documented, and eloquent history—a ground-breaking account of undaunted American women, determined to prevent environmental catastrophe.”
Sierra Club Greenlife
“Musil...contextualize[s] Silent Spring as the culmination of decades of work by other women in science, who were consistently overlooked, under-appreciated and dismissed by their male peers and institutions. These ladies ranged from Victorian garden observers to die-hard chemists and marine biologists. ‘They are tied together by a fierce sense of activism’ and beautiful writing.... Their writing is what drew Musil in.  He too wants ‘people to connect with science in an approachable way.’”  
The Prairie Naturalist
“A great read for anybody who is interested in learning about Rachel Carson’s role in a delicate web of connections that makes up the environmental movement. Also, if anybody is interested in the human aspect, the personal lives, and the trials of each of these women, this book certainly will deliver. […] Musil has stitched together a wonderful collection of true stories about the amazing women who have changed, and are continuing to change, the way we see the world.” 
former President and CEO of American Rivers - Rebecca Wodder
"A treasure! A welcome discovery of the linkages among profoundly caring, ecologically-aware women across time, and the truths of our ecological crisis. Musil shows clear-eyed science and heartfelt story-telling are not mutually exclusive."
University of Wisconsin-Madison - Cathy Middlecamp
"This book is one-of-a-kind. Musil provides a remarkable new perspective on the role of individual women in the US environmental movement."
Executive Director, the Environmental Working Group - Heather White
"Bob Musil brilliantly documents the rich trajectory of women’s intellectual and political influence, not just on environmentalism but on public policy and activism. Musil offers fascinating details of Rachel Carson’s struggles to be taken seriously as a scientist and unearths the stories of the women—unsung heroes all—who influenced her. A must read for anyone interested in American history, science and environmental politics."
US Senator, New Mexico - Tom Udall
"Bob Musil provides an important contribution to the history of the environmental movement. He paints a compelling portrait of Rachel Carson and the remarkable women who preceded her and who continue her legacy. He reminds us of the struggles and achievements of Ms. Carson and, just as significantly, the pivotal and courageous role that women have played in fighting for a safer and healthier world."
author of Sustainability in Higher Education - Geoffrey Chase
"An absolutely wonderful book! Bob Musil shows Rachel Carson not as a lone voice, but an eloquent one who drew inspiration from female predecessors and those around her. He argues persuasively that we can understand Carson better if we see her in relation to other women, to the broader environmental movement, and to working in community. Should be required reading for anyone interested in where we have been, and where we need to go."
President and CEO of the League of Conservation Voters - Gene Karpinski
"Rachel Carson is only the best-known example amidst an inspiring cast of pioneering and modern women environmental leaders that Musil brings to life. Readable, reliable, and rousing—a book for anyone who cares about America’s past and future."
author of Earthcare: Women and the Environment - Carolyn Merchant
"A vibrant, engaging account of the women who preceded and followed Rachel Carson’s efforts to promote environmental and human health. In exquisite detail, Musil narrates the brilliant careers and efforts of pioneering women from the 1850s onward to preserve nature and maintain a healthy environment. Anyone interested in women naturalists, activists, and feminist environmental history will welcome this compelling, beautifully-written book."
author Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist - Bill McKibben
"This is a long overdue book, giving great credit to the long line of women who have done so much to shape our culture's view of the world around us and of our prospects in it. We desperately need that culture to heed their words!"
Oberlin College - David W. Orr
"An eloquent and moving tribute to the women at the heart and soul of the environmental movement. It is a story of brilliant science, courage, stamina, and a passion for life. We are in debt beyond counting to them and to Robert Musil for telling their stories so well."
Dean, University of Washington School of Public Health - Howard Frumkin
"With deep grounding in women's history, environmentalism, and public health—and, just as importantly, with great reverence—Musil introduces us to a pantheon of remarkable women, true heroines every one. This book offers a new perspective, countless wonderful stories, and inspiration. A great read!"
Friends Journal
"Musil sets Carson's life and contributions within the context of accomplished women who share Carson's dual strengths as scientists and as writers … This is a book to whet the appetite for more."

Product Details

Rutgers University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

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Meet the Author

ROBERT K. MUSIL is 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. He is the former CEO of the Nobel Peace Prize–winning Physicians for Social Responsibility and an award-winning journalist. 

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