We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


The Gentle Subversive

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement

Mark Hamilton Lytle

Publication Date - 31 July 2007

ISBN: 9780195172478

288 pages
4-3/4 x 6-3/4 inches

A compact biography of Rachel Carson--a story of success, celebrity, controversy, and vindication.


Rachel Carson's Silent Spring antagonized some of the most powerful interests in the nation--including the farm block and the agricultural chemical industry--and helped launch the modern environmental movement. In The Gentle Subversive, Mark Hamilton Lytle offers a compact biography of Carson, illuminating the road that led to this vastly influential book.
Lytle explores the evolution of Carson's ideas about nature, her love for the sea, her career as a biologist, and above all her emergence as a writer of extraordinary moral and ecological vision. We follow Carson from her childhood on a farm outside Pittsburgh, where she first developed her love of nature (and where, at age eleven, she published her first piece in a children's magazine), to her graduate work at Johns Hopkins and her career with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Lytle describes the genesis of her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, the incredible success of The Sea Around Us (a New York Times bestseller for over a year), and her determination to risk her fame in order to write her "poison book": Silent Spring. The author contends that despite Carson's demure, lady-like demeanor, she was subversive in her thinking and aggressive in her campaign against pesticides. Carson became the spokeswoman for a network of conservationists, scientists, women, and other concerned citizens who had come to fear the mounting dangers of the human assault on nature. What makes this story particularly compelling is that Carson took up this cause at the very moment when she herself faced a losing battle with cancer.
Succinct and engaging, The Gentle Subversive is a story of success, celebrity, controversy, and vindication. It will inspire anyone interested in protecting the natural world or in women's struggle to find a voice in society.

About the Author(s)

Mark Hamilton Lytle is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Bard College. He is the author of America's Uncivil Wars: The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon (OUP, 2006) and coauthor of After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection, Fifth Edition (2005), and Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic, Fifth Edition (2004).


"Lytle's narrative biography in The Gentle Subversive provides a refreshingly compact, thoughtful, yet readable portrait of Rachel Carson, as well as a most timely and intelligent discussion of her significance into the twenty-first century. Readers planning to read only one book about Rachel Carson would do well to read this one. Readers planning to read several books on her would do well to start here."--Priscilla Coit Murphy, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Lytle's biography is a beneficial introduction to Carson's life, providing insight on her ecological philosophy, her writing, and her role as an alternative voice in the realm of science and technology."--Andy Karvonen, Technology and Culture

"The Gentle Subversive is well worth pursuing."--American Scientist

"The author wonderfully weaves literary interpretation, intimate biographical detail, and sociopolitical observations into a new narrative on the life and influence of Rachel Carson."--Jim Bingen, Michigan State University

"The Gentle Subversive is an easy book to read, providing a logical and interesting account of the development of Rachel Carson as a writer and as the eventual spokeswoman/symbol for the environmental movement of the 1960s and beyond."--Kathryn Flynn, Auburn University

Table of Contents

    1. Spring: Sense of Wonder: Under the Sea-Wind
    2. Summer: Florescence: The Sea Around Us
    3. Fall: The Fullness of Life: From The Edge of the Sea to DDT
    4. Winter: The Poison Book and the Dark Season of Vindication
    Epilogue: Rachel Carson: The Legacy