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American Pests: The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDTby James E. McWilliams
Synopses & Reviews
The World of insects is one we only dimly understand. Yet from Mrs. Ellis's Housekeeping Made Easy, the nineteenth-century guide to using arsenic, cobalt, and quicksilver to kill household infiltrators, to the sophisticated tools of the Orkin Man, America has fought to eradicate the bugs it has learned to hate. Inspired by the still-revolutionary theories of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, James E. McWilliams argues for a more harmonious and rational approach to our relationship with insects, one that does not harm our environment and, consequently, ourselves along the way.
Beginning with the early techniques of colonial farmers and ending with the modern use of chemical insecticides, McWilliams deftly shows how America's war on insects mirrors its continual struggle with nature, economic development, technology, and federal regulation. He reveals a very American paradox: the men and women who settled and developed this country sought to control the environment and achieve certain economic goals; yet, at the same time, their methods of agricultural expansion undermined these very efforts and linked them even closer to the inexorable realities of the insect world. As told from the perspective of the often flamboyant actors in the battle against insects, American Pests is a fascinating investigation into the attitudes, policies, and practices that continue to influence our behavior toward insects. Asking us to question, if not abandon, our reckless (and sometimes futile) attempts at insect control, McWilliams convincingly argues that insects, like people, have an inherent right to exist and that in our attempt to rid ourselves of insects, we compromise the balance of nature.
"McWilliams's (A Revolution in Eating) knowledge of American history and food production (he's a fellow in agrarian studies at Yale) provides a firm foundation to this colorful chronicle of pest management in the United States. The author traces a history in which timber harvesting, monoculture and various forms of development contributed to the spread of insects that feed on crops. McWilliams marks the beginning of 'the professional fight against insects' with the 1841 publication of a book for farmers by Thaddeus William Harris, a self-taught entomologist. Agricultural journals advised farmers on how to protect tobacco crops from hornworms and wheat from weevils. Trains and barges hastened the spread of the Colorado potato beetle and chinch bugs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture added a Division of Entomology, but early biological and cultural methods soon faded as companies found profit in selling pesticides; DDT, first a miracle for eradicating malaria-carrying mosquitoes, became the bane of environmentalists thanks to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. McWilliams's treatment is as well written as it is thorough and should appeal to readers interested in history as well as environmental issues. Illus., maps. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Inspired by the still-revolutionary theories of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," McWilliams argues for a more harmonious and rational approach to people's relationship with insects, one that does not harm the environment and, consequently, ourselves along the way.
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