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February 2015 Book Reviews

Can you believe it’s March already? I’m having a hard time believing it myself here as temps in Boston have barely climbed above freezing lately… but nevertheless, “Spring” it is. I have noticed the days are getting longer and the birds are more cheerful on my morning walks to catch the bus, so even though the temps remain pretty frigid, I do feel like maybe spring is starting to lurk somewhere around the corner.

All of which feels like a pretty good segue into this month’s book reviews, since this past month I finally got around to reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the environmental classic that warned of a spring without birds if pesticide use continued unabated. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

This month I finally got around to reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I like reading books that started movements and Carson’s book ranks as likely the seminal text which launched the environmental movement (there are undoubtedly others, but I think hers is the most famous).

A scathing indictment of pesticide use (most famously DDT, but she really covers all the bases), Silent Spring stands as a warning against the indiscriminate contamination of the natural world through the widespread application of toxic chemicals.

My interest in Rachel Carson’s book was partly historical (things were at least somewhat on the mend, pesticide-wise, by the time I was growing up), partly environmental (I have strong feelings about environmental issues, although Silent Spring is at this point sufficiently well-disseminated it’s mostly of historical interest), and partly psychological (a part of me is very interested in how and why the right book at the right time can birth a movement and radically change the operating paradigm of a society).

If any of those things appeal to you, then feel free to give Silent Spring a try. Similarly, if you don’t have a lot of understanding of ecology, environmental issues, or why mass application of pesticides is a bad idea, Silent Spring remains as relevant in the basic facts today as it was in 1962. The science is still sound, even if the reality is no longer so dire.

But if none of those reasons appeal to you, I have to say it’s a book better read in excerpt. Parts of it remain stirring and compelling, just as I’m sure they were when the book was first published. But there’s a lot of ecology and wildlife biology and chemistry explained for the lay person and as a scientist I’m finding those bits difficult to wade through. I’m sure the book explains what was cutting-edge science back in 1962, but 50-odd years later and I found it to be stuff I learned in middle school.


Start with Why  by Simon Sinek

“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money — that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
— Simon Sinek, Start with Why

If you’ve never read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action then I have to tell you: you need to read this book. Once again, I’m rather late to the game with this one (it was published in 2011) although I did watch Simon Sinek’s now-famous TedX talk several years ago. When I saw it several years ago I was buried neck-deep in my undergraduate course work and I really wasn’t interested in Sinek’s message. Now, having finished two advanced degrees and joined the ranks of corporate America, I have to say I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve read in years.

If you want a detailed overview of the book’s material, I highly recommend the Ted talk, but basically Sinek’s thesis is that “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it”, and if they’re not buying WHY you do things then they’re only buying your stuff because it’s basically the same and just a little bit cheaper than everyone else’s.

I think it’s a fabulous argument and a fascinating bit of human psychology. If you’re a business owner or you aspire to be a business owner (or you’re like me and just enjoy hoarding ideas about what makes people tick) then I highly recommend Sinek’s Start with Why.

On a more personal note, I think a lot of the floundering and directionlessness I felt after I finished my college education had to do with losing my WHY. Prior to graduating from college my WHY had always been something along the lines of “because this is what I’m supposed to do” (the prestigious college, the science degree, the Master’s degree, the well-paying job, etc.) but if those things don’t align with your WHY then achieving them is an awful lot of work that results in very little post-college life satisfaction. So don’t be like me! Start with Why instead, and save yourself years of hard work that will inevitably leave you stranded and disappointed in some place that looks nothing like what you expected.


That’s all I’ve got for this month, folks. Now I’d love to know: what are you reading right now? Tell me in the comments below!

Tired of waiting for my monthly wrap-ups? I talk about what I’m reading each week in my email newsletter.


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