Lear, Linda J. 1940–

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Lear, Linda J. 1940–

(Linda Jane Lear)


Born February 16, 1940 in Pittsburgh, PA; married John Nickum, 1974; children: Ian Cole. Education: Connecticut College, A.B., 1962; Columbia University, A.M., 1964; George Washington University, Ph.D. (history), 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Horticulture, collecting botanical art.


Home—Bethesda, MD; and Charleston, SC. Agent—c/o Henry Holt & Co., 115 W. 18th St., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011. E-mail—[email protected].


Vail Deane School, chair of department of history, 1963-65; National Cathedral School, chair of department of history, 1965-68; New Mexico State University, Las Cruses, assistant professor, 1974-76; American Association of Retired Persons, project director and special assistant in humanities program, 1976-78; George Washington University, Washington, DC, assistant director of experimental programs and associated professor, 1978—; committee on government affairs, U.S. Senate, consultant in political science, 1976—. Member of board of directors, Connecticut College.


American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society for Ethics and Human Values, Gerontological Society.


Prize for best book on women in science, History of Science Society, 1998, for Rachel Carson; Goodwin-Niering Center Alumni Environmental Achievement Award, Connecticut College, 1999.


Harold L. Ickes: The Aggressive Progressive, 1874-1933, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1981.

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor and author of introduction) Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson, Beacon Press, 1998.

Beatrix Potter, a Life in Nature, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of introduction for Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998, Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, and Under the Sea-Wind, 2007.


Historian Linda J. Lear's biography of environmentalist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was considered by New York Times Book Review contributor Robert B. Semple, Jr. to be a "long overdue" study of an important figure in environmental history. Lear's book Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature presents Carson as a woman who rose above the limitations of her meager resources to make a lasting contribution to the study of ecology.

Carson struggled with childhood poverty and won scholarships to attend college, eventually enrolling at Johns Hopkins University to earn a Ph.D. in zoology. Financial pressures forced her to leave without finishing the degree, however. Throughout the Greate Depression of the 1930s, Carson supported her family by working at the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service. At the same time, she wrote several articles for newspapers and magazines and two landmark books. The Sea around Us, published in 1951, described the marine ecosystem and generated much interest among nonspecialists for more information on the natural world. Silent Spring, published in 1961, exposed the hitherto-hidden dangers to the environment of chemical poisons, and became a standard text for a new generation of environmental activists.

Lear's biography, declared Semple, "is the most exhaustive account so far of Carson's private, professional and public lives." However, Semple was disappointed that Lear maintains a strictly chronological approach rather than engaging in more analysis of her material. "[Lear] does not fully engage the intellectual debates that Carson inspired," Semple remarked. A Publishers Weekly reviewer considered Lear's study a "comprehensive biography" that would leave readers with a deeper awareness of both Carson's complexities as a person and the development of American environmental policies. A Kirkus Reviews critic commended the biography as "definitive."

Lear brings further attention to Rachel Carson with the collection Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson. The book, edited by Lear, is made up of unpublished writings by Carson that Lear found during her research for the environmentalist's biography. Lost Woods is described by New York State Conservationist writer Francis Sheehan as a "magnificent collection of little-known works" that "provides new insight into the life and influence of one of America's greatest environmental scientists." The selections showcase Carson's scientific knowledge and her writing ability, and demonstrate its development, beginning with her contributions to the literary magazine St. Nicholas, made when she was still a teenager, and continuing on to letters written as she drew near her death from cancer, in 1963. Also included are speeches, journal excerpts, newspaper articles, and essays. "We owe much to Linda Lear for helping us understand the evolution of Rachel Carson as scientist, writer and crusader for the natural world," concluded Sheehan. Donna Seaman, a reviewer for Booklist, also recommended this book, calling Lost Woods "a boon … as well as a quiet pleasure."

Another naturalist is the focus of Lear's biography Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature. Best known as the creator of the "Peter Rabbit" series of children's books, Beatrix Potter was also an enthusiastic naturalist and early conservationist. Growing up in Victorian England, her education was much more limited than it would have been had she been born male, but she showed great natural intelligence and excelled in the education she was given. Working with Potter's journals, Lear produces an "engrossing account" of Potter, one that will appeal to those interested in children's literature, ecology, or history, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The author was also praised by an Economist reviewer who stated: "Diligent and humorous, Linda Lear is a good match for her subject, and she never makes the mistake that academics so often make of substituting prurience and a convoluted political correctness for insight and a clear writing style."

Lear has also published her unrevised Ph.D. thesis, Harold L. Ickes: The Aggressive Progressive, 1874-1933. The book, published in 1981, attracted interest mostly in the academic community. A Political Science Quarterly reviewer found it "useful and interesting," while a critic for the American Historical Review commented that the book adds "relatively little to our understanding of the broader questions of interpretation" but nevertheless recognized it as a "richly documented study."



American Forests, December 4, 2006, Carl Reidel, review of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson, p. 47.

American Historical Review, February, 1983, review of Harold L. Ickes: The Aggressive Progressive, 1874-1933, p. 206.

Audubon, September-October 1997, review of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, p. 96.

Booklist, August, 1997, review of Rachel Carson, p. 1862; November 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Lost Woods, p. 458; December 1, 2006, Michael Cart, review of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, p. 11.

Choice, September, 1982, review of Harold L. Ickes, p. 170.

Economist, January 6, 2007, "Force of Nature: Beatrix Potter," p. 67.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1997, review of Rachel Carson, p. 930; November 1, 2006, review of Beatrix Potter, p. 1114.

Library Journal, July, 1997, Randy Dykhuis, review of Rachel Carson, p. 94; January 1, 2007, Kathryn R. Bartelt, review of Beatrix Potter, p. 110.

New Statesman, January 15, 2007, "The Real Peter Rabbit," p. 56.

New York State Conservationist, February 1, 2002, Francis Sheehan, review of Lost Woods, p. 30.

New York Times Book Review, October 5, 1997, Robert B. Semple, Jr., review of Rachel Carson, p. 18.

People, November 10, 1997, Deborah J. Waldman, review of Rachel Carson, p. 41.

Political Science Quarterly, winter, 1983, review of Harold L. Ickes, p. 720.

Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1997, review of Rachel Carson, pp. 190-191; October 5, 1998, review of Lost Woods, p. 66, December 4, 2006, review of Beatrix Potter, p. 47.

Time, October 6, 1997, Eugene Linden, review of Rachel Carson, p. 97.

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