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Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

by Cynthia Barnett

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4568644,348 (3.93)50
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. 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.… (more)
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Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. This is a history, not a science, text. But as a history of rain, it's 100% more interesting than a book on rain would generally sound. Filled with anecdotes that bring the history to life, and raise it a notch above a dry (ha!) academic narrative, once I got past the parts of history I always find slow (ie, any part we have to speculate about) I found it hard to put the book down.

The author tries tackle the subject globally, but generally, it's US-centric (which, if I remember right, she disclaims at the start). There's a certain amount of doom and gloom when she gets to present day human vs. rain (spoiler: rain always wins), but I was incredibly please and very inspired by the stories she told about how certain cities are learning from their mistakes. In a global culture that is so, I'm sorry, collectively stupid about climate change, it often feels like we're being beat about the head with it; we haven't yet figured out that, just as this tactic doesn't work on children, it doesn't work on humanity in general. But a story about people learning from the past and taking steps to remediate the problems - that's what, in my opinion - is going to inspire the long-term change we so desperately need.

She ends the book with the most telling irony - her trip the the rainiest place on the planet, Mawsynram, where she experiences 5 cloud free, sunny days, while back home in Florida her family lives through the rainiest weather in the state's recorded history.

A pleasant, informative and well-written read. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 27, 2022 |
This is the book for me. A scientific and cultural exploration of rain, which seems to be the most mysterious of weather. The writing is engaging and poetic. And the information is fascinating. ( )
  JessicaReadsThings | Dec 2, 2021 |
What fresh new hell is this? To enticingly describe a book in a book yet not give the title. Cynthia Barnett, what on earth is the title of the Joaquin Miller utopian novel you describe? It's not even listed in the notes section.

So with that out of my system ...

History, linguistics, literature, fashion, music, archaeology, evolution, cinema, engineering, perfumery, planetary science, and, of course, meteorology and ecology. The only thing this lacks to cover every thing your wee heart could ever want to know about rain. A pluviophile's delight. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Sep 23, 2021 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review. My opinion remains my own.

I really enjoyed this one! I live in the Southwest, where rain is a much desired occurrence. But I used to line in an area where rain was dangerous, often resulting in flash floods that could sweep away cars and cattle. The writer does a great job talking about such a simple subject and making it interesting. It's especially timely now with the importance of weather forecasting and climate change. Worth reading. ( )
  cmbohn | Jan 13, 2021 |
In light of the continuing water crisis in California, this is a timely publication about humans and their interaction with rain, from American pioneers during the Westward Expansion to reporters on the Weather Channel. It is an entertaining, though sometimes poignant read; there is a chapter about the struggles of a farmer in the late 1800s, who broke ground on his farm during an unusually rainy and fertile run of years before the weather returned to its usual dry and windy climate.


I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway!
( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
Toward the end of her book, Barnett draws again from Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles.” Bradbury wrote that his imagined Martians “blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” In essence, this blending is exactly what Barnett does for rain, merging religion and art and science to capture a gestalt, one best considered and appreciated somewhere less than dry, perhaps during a wet morning on a soaked trail, where printed pages can be baptized by the very substance that is their subject.
added by mysterymax | editNew York Times, BILL STREEVER (Apr 17, 2015)
 
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Epigraph
And who art thou? Said I to the soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence vaguely form'd, altogether changed, and yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin, and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,
Reck'd or unreck'd, duly with love returns.)

                                                              Walt Whitman,
                                                   "The Voice of the Rain"
                                                                            1885
Dedication
For Aaron
First words
Prologue
Origins

The rain on Mars was gentle, and welcome. Sometimes, the rain on Mars was blue. One night, rain fell so marvelously upon the fourth planet from the sun that thousands of trees sprouted and grew overnight, breathing oxygen into the air.
Part 1
Elemental Rain

One
Cloudy with a Chance of Civilization

If you've ever admired a brilliant azure sky, and wondered how it was the heavens that day radiated such clear and dazzling color, you could probably thank a rain storm. Rain is Earth's great brightener, beginning with the sky. As fine dust, pollution, and other tiny particles build up in the atmosphere, our celestial sphere grows paler and paler, from blue to milky white. A good rain washes the particles away, shining the heavens to their bleu celeste best.
Quotations
Through late April and early May, The Mississippi’s floodwaters rose phenomenally. In two separate waves, flood crests in the newly fortified river topped all previous records – approaching sixty feet above sea level. As John M. Barry explained in his chilling history of the 1927 flood, Rising Tide, the levees, built as high as forty feet, created a man-made catastrophe far worse than any natural flood could have wrought. “These heights changed the equations of force along the river.” Barry wrote. “Without levees, even a great flood- a great ‘high water’ – meant only a gradual and gentile rising and spreading of water. But if a levee towering as high as a four –story building gave way, the river could explode upon the land with the power and suddenness of a dam bursting.”
Levee by levee, the illusion of safety behind the government barricades began to crack. On April 15, the first length of levee, 1,200 feet long, collapsed just south of Cairo. Across the Delta, African American plantation workers and sharecroppers were forced to the levees to fill sandbags. Thousands of men worked desperately to save the levee at the Mounds, Mississippi, ferry. Held at gunpoint, black laborers had to keep filling sandbags when everyone could hear the warning roar of the water in their ears and feel the barricade shaking under their feet. No one knows how many were swept to their deaths when the Mounds levee broke. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported, “Refugees coming into Jackson last night from Greenville declare there is not the slightest doubt in their minds that several hundred negro plantation workers lost their lives in the great sweep of water.”
The muddy torrents crashed into the Delta with more than double the force of flood-stage Niagara Falls, and inundated more than 2.3 million acres. It was more water than the entire upper Mississippi had every carried, more than it has ever carried since. People scrambled onto the roofs of houses, then the houses washed away. They took refuge in the tops of trees, then the trees gave way. To take pressure off the levees protecting New Orleans, authorities dynamited a levee downstream in Caernarvon, Louisiana, which flooded most of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. The homes and fields of the poor living to the east and south of New Orleans were sacrificed for what the city fathers considered a greater good. (The dynamiting left scars so deep that many living in the Lower Ninth Ward when Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans in 2005 insisted the levees had been dynamited once more to save the wealthier, whiter sections of the city).
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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. 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.

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