An Editorial Flop Revisited: Rethinking the Impact of M. Bookchin’s Our Synthetic Environment on its Golden Anniversary
Juan Diego Pérez Cebada
Global Environment 12 (2013): 250–273
2012 is the golden anniversary of two important books in the history of the American Environmental movement: Our Synthetic Environment (OSE), written by Murray Bookchin (under the pseudonym “Lewis Herber”) and Rachel Carsons’ canonical Silent Spring, published just a few months later. Both books deal with the complex problem of chemicals in food, and have a clear objective: to achieve a popular audience. But, these books had a very different reception on the part of critics and public. While Silent Spring was a genuine bestseller, OSE seemed to fall l into oblivion. For some, even, it was a complete flop. This article however revises the reception of Bookchin’s work and shows that although Bookchin cannot certainly be considered a mass author like Carson, he was an influential thinker in selected North American and European academic circles of his time. The book had its origin in an article entitled The Problems of Chemicals in Food (1952). In the first part of this article, we study this and other related articles that preceded the publication of OSE as well as their impact in the intellectual world. The second section analyzes specific bibliography and documentation from Jonathan Cape Ltd, the English publisher of the book (1963), in order to establish its reception. Jonathan Cape had hired Durrant’s, a well known press cutting firm, in order to prepare a complete report on references to the book in newspapers and other periodical publications both in the U.K. and the Commonwealth. Durrant´s dossier confirms that the book was favorably appraised in U.S. by outstanding figures such as B. Commoner, R. Dubos or W. Vogt. However the documentation shows a better reception of the book in Europe, especially in U.K. and Germany. The final section stresses the contribution of OSE to the Environmental movement and the Green left thought.
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