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, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters 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.
"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."
– Foreword Reviews
"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."
– David W. Orr, Oberlin College
"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!"
– Bill McKibben, author Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist
"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."
– Carolyn Merchant, author of Earthcare: Women and the Environment
"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."
– Heather White, Executive Director, the Environmental Working Group
"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."
– Rebecca Wodder, former President and CEO of American Rivers
"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."
– Tom Udall, US Senator, New Mexico
"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!"
– Howard Frumkin, Dean, University of Washington School of Public Health
"This book is one-of-a-kind. Musil provides a remarkable new perspective on the role of individual women in the US environmental movement."
– Cathy Middlecamp, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"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."
– Geoffrey Chase, author of Sustainability in Higher Education
"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."
– Gene Karpinski, President and CEO of the League of Conservation Voters
"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."
"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."
– Environmental History
"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."
– Women's Review of Books
List of Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Have You Seen the Robins? Rachel Carson’s Mother and the Tradition of Women Naturalists
2 Don’t Harm the People: Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and Their Heirs Take On Polluting Industries
3 Rachel and Her Sisters: Rachel Carson Did Not Act Alone
4 Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams, and Ecological Empathy
5 The Environment Around Us and Inside Us: Ellen Swallow Richards, Silent Spring, and Sandra Steingraber
6 Rachel Carson, Devra Davis, Pollution, and Public Policy
7 Rachel Carson and Theo Colborn: Endocrine Disruption and Public Policy
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Robert K. Musil is senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University, and author of Hope for a Heated Planet (Rutgers University Press). He is the former CEO of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility and an award-winning journalist.