1970s environmental history students studying under Linda Lear at George Washington University didn’t know Rachel Carson, a woman whose courage, insatiable scientific curiosity, and poetic way with words launched the modern environmental movement. “They found reading Silent Spring hard-going, which it was. So, I said, ‘We’ve got to have something for the students.’ “
Lear meant something that would make Carson’s life and work easier to digest. When the professor couldn’t find material that fit the bill, she detoured. “I started my research not knowing that I grew up (in Pittsburgh) within 50 miles of where Carson grew up in Springdale, PA. I began finding people who knew Rachel and realized I was onto something much bigger than a classroom biography,” said Lear, who is today the definitive biographer of Carson.
Over 15 years, Lear conducted 300 interviews, traveled to four states and landed at ANS where she met Shirley Briggs, Carson’s former assistant and head of the Rachel Carson Council. By winning the confidence of Carson’s editor, Paul Brooks, Lear was able to bring her research to life in 1997 when Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature was published.
“Carson’s expertise is that she’s able to take this massive amount of research and knowledge, and turn it into not just something interesting, but the most beautiful prose imaginable,” said Lear, an ANS member and Montgomery County resident, just as Carson was.
“In the process of writing Silent Spring…Carson didn’t jump at conclusions. She was sicker and sicker (with cancer) and, on some level, she knows this will be her last book. People wanted her to say all insecticides are carcinogenic. She didn’t know that,” Lear said. “(Carson) did know that humans could mess up the world pretty badly with their love of machines and their disregard for nature.”
Carson’s legacy of passion balanced by precision has changed the world, and Lear’s. “More than ever, people are recognizing this woman was quite (remarkable). She had something really important to say, and she said it fearlessly. I’ve grown as a person because of her example,” said Lear.