Rain is elemental, mysterious, precious, destructive.
It is the subject of countless poems and paintings; the top of the weather report; the source of the world's water. Yet this is the first book to tell the story of rain.
Cynthia Barnett's Rain begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain, from ancient rain dances to the 2,203 miles of levees that attempt to straitjacket the Mississippi River. It offers a glimpse of our "founding forecaster," Thomas Jefferson, who measured every drizzle long before modern meteorology. Two centuries later, rainy skies would help inspire Morrissey’s mopes and Kurt Cobain’s grunge. Rain is also a travelogue, taking readers to Scotland to tell the surprising story of the mackintosh raincoat, and to India, where villagers extract the scent of rain from the monsoon-drenched earth and turn it into perfume.
Now, after thousands of years spent praying for rain or worshiping it; burning witches at the stake to stop rain or sacrificing small children to bring it; mocking rain with irrigated agriculture and cities built in floodplains; even trying to blast rain out of the sky with mortars meant for war, humanity has finally managed to change the rain. Only not in ways we intended. As climate change upends rainfall patterns and unleashes increasingly severe storms and drought, Barnett shows rain to be a unifying force in a fractured world. Too much and not nearly enough, rain is a conversation we share, and this is a book for everyone who has ever experienced it.
Environmental journalist Barnett (Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis) examines how dramatic flood and relentless drought have made their mark on human lives. She packs her persuasive volume with plenty of solid history, but her style in this exploration leans much more toward the lyrical in understanding how rain whether dreary, cleansing, or unrelentingly wet has become a core anchor of the human condition. Barnett draws inspiration from a wide range of sources: the music of Seattle's grunge bands; the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Emily Dickinson; the drive to predict and control that spurred the actions of early weather trackers, rainmaking charlatans, and government cloud-seeders; the urge to blame that brought women to their deaths in the witch trials of Europe; the creative ambition displayed by the inventor of the Macintosh coat; and the scent-making magic behind monsoon-ravaged India's earthy petrichor attars or America's obsession with the synthetic smell of "rain-themed products." There are also some odder quirks in the account, particularly her discussion of bizarre phenomena such as rains of frogs and a bit of ill-placed Indian travelogue at the end. Nevertheless, Barnett beautifully evokes universal themes of connecting cycles of water, air, wind, and earth to humankind across time and culture, leaving readers contemplating their deeper ties with the natural world.
Cynthia Barrett's book was excellent and should be required reading for the next U.S. President. HAPartch, Anacortes, WA