Mrs. Freeman was not her only distraction: As Carson began work on her book on pesticides in 1958, her mother, with whom she’d been living in Silver Spring, Md., died. This left Carson as the sole caregiver for her young great-nephew, Roger, whose own mother — Carson’s niece — had also died recently. Carson’s work was further slowed by her determination to demonstrate a link between pesticides and cancer, something that was not easy to prove at the time. In 1960, as she was pursuing this question, she discovered two masses in her left breast and began a battle against cancer that lasted until her death, four years later, at the age of 56. The irony of writing about cancer while she was ill from it herself, and of undergoing radiation treatment as she was drawing parallels between the dangers of radioactive fallout and massive DDT spraying, was not lost on her. She kept her illness a secret from all but her closest friends, fearing that disclosure would give her critics ammunition to question her motivation in writing the book.
On a Farther Shore ends as it begins — with President Kennedy working toward an end to nuclear testing and contemplating the dangers of pesticides. Carson didn’t live long enough to see the ban on DDT that resulted from her work (and she actually never advocated a total ban), but in Souder’s telling she was a quintessential woman of her time, juggling the demands of a family, a complicated love affair, an illness and a high-profile career, and somehow managing to sit down in the center of it and get her work done.
Amy Stewart reviewed this book for The Washington Post.