As Rachel Carson venerated all life, Philip Sterling venerates hers; but hers was indeed an important one and he recounts it with uncommon care. The depth and judiciousness of the research as evinced by the bibliography (Suggested Reading, interviews and Correspondence, Institutional Sources, Books, Periodicals, Newspapers) may be more impressive than expressive to the extent that lettersnatches, family recollections of walks in the woods, a government-office memorandum neither advance the story nor reveal the private Rachel. In fact, personalized as this is, it wholly eschews invading her privacy. . . sometimes to the point of piquing curiosity about her confidence ""that she would have liked to marry,"" for instance, or about what became of the motherless grandnephew she adopted who was eleven at her death. What counts most, however, is explained flawlessly and sensitively: Rachel's shift from English to science concentration at Chatham College and her later fusion of both talents as a writer; her unmilitant but no less resolute entrance into the man's world of marine biology; her production--down to the most minute details of publication and reception--of five exceptional nature books. One of the two slightly indulgent smiles here allows of how ""An explosive kind of literary excitement was beginning to build up around this quiet little government employee who lived with her mother and kept a cat."" (The locus of the other smile is the last page of the photoinsert where two Peanuts tributes to Rachel Carson are reprinted.) Before the closing chapter, ""Ebb Tide,"" the battle between humanists and industrialists aroused by Silent Spring is described with considerable gusto; for the most part, however, the tone is one of alert but tranquil wonder. Appropriately.