A sweeping, analytic, first-class biography of Rachel Carson from Lear (Environmental History/George Washington Univ.). Carson may have had a forceful mother, may have grown up in iron-and-steel Pittsburgh (thus getting an early introduction to foul air), had one storied intellectual mentor after another, toiled in the trenches of the Fish and Wildlife Service for many years; but important as all this may have been in shaping her vision of the natural world--and these moments are given their due, as this book is formidably detailed--Lear concentrates her efforts on Carson the writer, both of books (Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea, and, of course, Silent Spring) and of a wealth of magazine articles, where Carson was convinced she would make enough money to devote herself to full-time writing. Carson understood that she had the enviable ability to combine a scientific background with a liquid prose style to communicate the workings of our mysterious, intricate living world with passion, speaking not just to the converted but to the sprawling, educated, postwar middle class. Though intensely private, she was also shrewdly aware of how best to mix magazine serial rights with book publication dates, how to get in the running for various awards and prizes. Lear fleshes out the portrait with Carson's friends, agent, and publishers; her tumultuous family life; her myriad illnesses (including the cancer that killed her); and how, in characteristic nonconformist fashion, Carson held tight to her femininity in the masculine world of nature writing. Though not infrequently starstruck by her subject, Lear provides enough anecdotes, and intelligently overviews the genesis and guiding currents of Carson's work, to make her reverence appear a natural response. Call this biography definitive.