DDT, Silent Spring, and the Rise of Environmentalism

Classic Texts

Thomas Dunlap
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: September 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 160 pp., 2 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Classics
  • Contents

No single event played a greater role in the birth of modern environmentalism than the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and its assault on insecticides. The documents collected by Thomas Dunlap trace shifting attitudes toward DDT and pesticides in general through a variety of sources: excerpts from scientific studies and government reports, advertisements from industry journals, articles from popular magazines, and the famous "Fable for Tomorrow" from Silent Spring.

Beginning with attitudes toward nature at the turn of the twentieth century, the book moves through the use and early regulation of pesticides; the introduction and early success of DDT; the discovery of its environmental effects; and the uproar over Silent Spring. It ends with recent debates about DDT as a potential solution to malaria in Africa.
Thomas R. Dunlap is professor of history at Texas A and M University. He is the author of four books including Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest and DDT: Scientists, Citizens, and Public Policy.

"A superb collection. Included here are the texts that galvanized Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring and inspired her to insist on a new vision of cooperation between man and nature. Dunlap's book provides the context for one of the defining debates of our time and shows us why a resolution remains so elusive."
-Linda Learbiographer and, author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature

"To understand how DDT could win its developer a Nobel Prize and then be banned just decades later, read this book. Read it, too, if you want to understand the modern environmental movement. In these pages, those who helped make history tell you, in their own words, what happened."
-Edmund P. Russell, University of Virginia

"This thought-provoking and occasionally surprising collection of readings brings needed attention to Rachel Carson and her work. Dunlap's book will prove valuable for classes in environmental studies and American environmental history and for historians studying conflicts over pesticides."
-Nancy Langston, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"A fascinating and thought-provoking collection of texts that will give readers whole new perspectives on this critical controversy in the history of environmental thought."
-William Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Students can use this collection to gain greater understanding of the development of the environmental movement, changing ideas about progress, science, and technology, as well as changing ideas about the role of nature in the modern world."
-David Stradling, University of Cincinnati

Foreword by William Cronon
Preface and Acknowledgments

Views of Nature

1. Stephen A. Forbes, "The Ecological Foundations of Applied Entomology"

2. Leland O. Howard, "The War against Insects"

-Pre-DDT Pesticides and DDT's Use in World War II

3. Paul Neal et al., "A Study of the Effects of Lead Arsenate Exposure on Orchardists and Consumers of Sprayed Fruit"

4. Paul Neal et al., "Toxicity and Potential Dangers of Aerosols, Mists, and Dusting Powders Containing DDT"

DDT as Miracle Chemical

5. Brigadier General James Stevens Simmons, "How Magic is DDT?"

6. "Aerosol Insecticides"

7. Clay Lyle, "Achievements and Possibilities in Pest Eradication"

-Early Warnings

8. Paul B. Dunbar, "The Food and Drug Administration Looks at Insecticides"

9. Clarence Cottam and Elmer Higgins, "DDT and Its Effect on Fish and Wildlife"

DDT, Food Chains, and Wildlife

10. Roy J. Barker, "Notes on Some Ecological Effects of DDT Sprayed on Elms"

11. Editorial from Bird Study

12. Derek A. Ratcliffe, "The Status of the Peregrine in Great Britain"

13. Robert Rudd, Pesticides and the Living Landscape

14. Thomas R. Dunlap, Interview with Joseph J. Hickey

15. Robert S. Strother, "Backfire in the War against Insects"

Public Alarm

16. Morton Mintz, "'Heroine' of FDA Keeps Bad Drug Off Market"

17. Rachel Carson, "A Fable for Tomorrow"


18. President's Science Advisory Committee, Use of Pesticides

19. Robert H. White-Stevens, "Communications Create Understanding"

20. Edwin Diamond, "The Myth of the 'Pesticide Menace'"

21. Robert Gillette, "DDT: Its Days are Numbered, Except Perhaps in Pepper Fields"


22. Thomas Sowell, "Intended Consequences"

23. Thomas R. Hawkins, "Rereading Silent Spring"

24. May Berenbaum, "If Malaria's the Problem, DDT's Not the Only Answer"

Notes on Further Reading

"DDT, Silent Spring, and the Rise of Environmentalism provides an important survey of petrochemical use in the postwar United States. It is both a thought-provoking text for undergraduates and a diverse collection of primary sources for scholars..Dunlap valuably provides a succinct overview of the complicated relationships between industry, environment, and the chemical debate."
-Agricultural History

"Thomas R. Dunlap's purpose as editor is one of historian rather than judge; every essay - no matter which side it argues from - is precise, intelligent, and revealing of the biases and limits of the decade. Dunlap's introductions to each section adds hints of reflection and even redemption. Books like this remind people to treat today's new miracles with delicate care until they know where every path might lead."