It's been enlightening, reading just which books influenced readers here. I had to take a couple of days to reflect on this, because I couldn't think of one single, solitary book that ever changed my life.
But, my problem was, I was thinking of my adult life, which had already been "cast" by the books that I read in my early youth that, indeed, had influenced my thinking to such a great extent that they DID change my life, for the rest of my life.
I was 10 years old when I read SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson. For those of you that know nothing about her or what impact this one brave woman did for our planet, here's a brief description: "Silent Spring took Carson four years to complete. It meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. A single application on a crop, she wrote, killed insects for weeks and months, and not only the targeted insects but countless more, and remained toxic in the environment even after it was diluted by rainwater. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed birds and animals and had contaminated the entire world food supply. The book's most haunting and famous chapter, "A Fable for Tomorrow," depicted a nameless American town where all life -- from fish to birds to apple blossoms to human children -- had been "silenced" by the insidious effects of DDT.
The most important legacy of Silent Spring, though, was a new public awareness that nature was vulnerable to human intervention. Rachel Carson had made a radical proposal: that, at times, technological progress is so fundamentally at odds with natural processes that it must be curtailed. Conservation had never raised much broad public interest, for few people really worried about the disappearance of wilderness. But the threats Carson had outlined -- the contamination of the food chain, cancer, genetic damage, the deaths of entire species -- were too frightening to ignore. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and environmentalism was born."
Rachel died two years later, of breast cancer.
More can be found about about Rachel here: http://www.nrdc.org/health/pesticides/hcarson.asp
Growing up on a small farm in Northern Minnesota, I was surrounded by wildlife and nature. This book terrified me to my cellular level, to think that my birds, my cow, my trees, my water...and ME...could die from this unseen assailant, DDT. From 10 years old, on, I became a rabid environmentalist and still am to this day. The 70's and the Earth Day movement played right into my hands, since I had been ready for them 15 years earlier.
The second book that made a huge impact on me, and also changed America, as SILENT SPRING did, was UNCLE TOM'S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which roused Northern antipathy to slavery in the decade leading up to the Civil War; in fact, many people "blame" Miss Stowe for being the 'match that lit the fuse' on the Civil War.
I am constantly surprised by the snickering that accompanies people when you try to bring up Uncle Tom's Cabin. What I've learned, is that NONE of the snickerers have read it; they are either responding to the "uncle tom" or what they remember of the play from THE KING AND I. It's a book that made me sick to my stomach and enlightened me about race relations for life. It wasn't required reading for me, I just chanced on it when I was 11 years old and hanging out in the library.
It was an interesting look back on these two books. Their impact and philosophy have been such a part of my core being, that it took a long look back to realize that "my" ideas were actually "there" ideas, wed to my soul.
Thank you, Rachel and Harriet. You made me who I am today and I hope I carry your legacies proudly.