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The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest

by Timothy Egan

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3741450,736 (4.07)31
A fantastic book! Timothy Egan describes his journeys in the Pacific Northwest through visits to salmon fisheries, redwood forests and the manicured English gardens of Vancouver. Here is a blend of history, anthropology and politics. From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Timothy Egan follows in the footsteps of Winthrop, who traveled in the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s and wrote a travel book about it. Egan looks at how the Pacific Northwest has and has not changed since then. Each chapter explores a particular area, examining its history, geography, and some of the interesting people who live there. The book focuses a lot on nature and ecology, because nature is such a major defining characteristic of the area.

There's lots of interesting information in here. Egan is a good writer. Some chapters were less interesting than others, so I found myself skimming parts of the book.

The book was written in 1990, and naturally the Pacific Northwest has changed a lot in 30 years. If you're looking for a current description of the Pacific Northwest, this isn't it. The logging industry, salmon recovery efforts, and attitudes about damming rivers are very different now (although they all follow trajectories found in the book). The chapter about Seattle is downright hilarious now: Egan talks about efforts to curb growth in the city of Seattle in the 1980s. The Seattle of today is suffering a lot from those efforts, because you can't stop a city from growing, and today Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US and that growth is causing a lot of major problems. ( )
  Gwendydd | Dec 31, 2019 |
This book was written in 1990 and at the time Egan was the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the New York Times. This book is in many ways a companion to Egan's later (1998) book Lasso the Wind.

The book starts with a chapter on Egan taking his grandfather's ashes to the headwaters of a river in the Northwest. It then morphs as Egan becomes interested in what has happened to the land that he grew up on and that his grandfather helped to settle. As Egan does the research he comes across one of the best books about the early Northwest that was written and Egan begins to follow the trail of Theodore Winthrop as Winthrop travels by foot, canoe, and horseback in 1853 from Vancouver, B.C. to Astoria, Oregon. Each chapter of Egan's book is about a different section of the trail as followed by Winthrop and Egan contrasts the past and the present as he makes his journey following the same trail. The two journeys turn out to be very different. Egan manages to maintain a fair hand in dealing with all the changes, but there are times when his own prejudices show. He laments the loss of estuaries, free flowing rivers, and most of all the old growth forests. At the end of the book he says, "The most economically distressed counties in the Northwest are those that depend on logging for their livelihood. The most prosperous are those that have unchained themselves from their mills." (p. 253) But at the end of his last chapter he says, "Standing above the Columbia today, the river that carries water from all parts of the Pacific Northwest to the ocean, uniting deserts and glaciers, forest and farmland, cities and sage country, I'm trouble by this paradox. Winthrop thought the land here would change a man, not the other way around; still, at the ebb of the twentieth century, we have yet to prove him entirely wrong." (p. 250)

There were times as I was reading this book, that I wondered if the statistics that he quoted would still be true because it is 30 years after the publication of the book, but in general I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was still relevant and generally true. The biggest question I have is about the explosion of population that the Northwest has seen in the last thirty years and its effect on the environment. I would think that it has got to be the biggest problem for the area at this point in time.

Like all of Egan's books, this one is high quality and a great read. ( )
  benitastrnad | Oct 4, 2019 |
Three stars doesn't do this book justice. It should get 5 for the second half, and -1 for the worst parts.

When it's good, this is a beautiful, moving and informative description of the Pacific Northwest. Egan can be wonderful at describing the beauty of the region and the emotions it induces in people, and at the stupidity and sheer unbridled greed that has led to some of the worst problems we have today. But he can also over-reach, both in terms of just over-egging his writing and exaggerating claims (he makes Rainier Valley sound like Compton) to the point of undermining his own credibility. And in places he falls for the sort of ridiculous stereotypes and cliches that make it sound like he's writing this all from New York.

The chapter about Victoria, in particular, was such an irritating pastiche of stereotypes about Canada, the US and Britain that it almost made me stop reading and I would advise anyone to skip it altogether. I'm glad I continued though, and most of the badness is concentrated towards the beginning.

The chapters on native tribes and on salmon are particularly beautifully written, and the parts that I know the factual background to check out with the other things I've read or learned about. They will make you angry, but appropriately so. ( )
  eldang | Sep 18, 2019 |
Three stars doesn't do this book justice. It should get 5 for the second half, and -1 for the worst parts.

When it's good, this is a beautiful, moving and informative description of the Pacific Northwest. Egan can be wonderful at describing the beauty of the region and the emotions it induces in people, and at the stupidity and sheer unbridled greed that has led to some of the worst problems we have today. But he can also over-reach, both in terms of just over-egging his writing and exaggerating claims (he makes Rainier Valley sound like Compton) to the point of undermining his own credibility. And in places he falls for the sort of ridiculous stereotypes and cliches that make it sound like he's writing this all from New York.

The chapter about Victoria, in particular, was such an irritating pastiche of stereotypes about Canada, the US and Britain that it almost made me stop reading and I would advise anyone to skip it altogether. I'm glad I continued though, and most of the badness is concentrated towards the beginning.

The chapters on native tribes and on salmon are particularly beautifully written, and the parts that I know the factual background to check out with the other things I've read or learned about. They will make you angry, but appropriately so. ( )
1 vote eldang | Aug 11, 2019 |
This should have been a 5 star book. The title "The Good Rain"; the locale - Washington, Oregon and British Columbia - my homeland, especially Washington; and the stories. The story about the Goldman family alone was worth 5 stars - a horrific true-crime tragedy. Young family brutally killed, and it turned out to be a mistake by a drunken, mentally disturbed man. The back story that set him off included a proto-McCarthyite attack on the previous generation of Goldman's, pre-WWII. The attacker won the election battle but long term lost the battle against cheap electricity from Grand Coulee dam. Still bitter from being on the wrong side, he was telling a drifter in the bar how he had been wronged and, perhaps unintentionally, sent the fellow off to find and kill the wrong Goldman. I will not soon forget that tragic story.

But the author ruined it for me. The first hint was in an early chapter, set in Victoria, BC. A statue of the namesake was referred to as representing "an overweight queen." I told myself not to take it personally, and the various stories had just about overcome my annoyance. Then he visited the site of Mt. St. Helens, and while there he interviewed a female park ranger. Her comments were found worthy to be included at length, but throughout the segment, she was referred to only as "the rangerette." No more than 1/2 star for Timothy Egan.

I don't want to ever read anything else he wrote.
( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
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A fantastic book! Timothy Egan describes his journeys in the Pacific Northwest through visits to salmon fisheries, redwood forests and the manicured English gardens of Vancouver. Here is a blend of history, anthropology and politics. From the Trade Paperback edition.

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