Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
By Cynthia Barnett
When reading Cynthia Barnett’s opus to rain, it rained pretty much the entire time. And when we originally recommended her book, it was still raining. While it’s been sunny and warm recently, doubtless it will rain again. When it does, have a copy of her book on hand. Not only will you pass the time pleasantly, you’ll end up with a vast and fascinating storehouse of information on all things rain.
Much of Rain is lyrical; it comprehensively covers rain; and it dispenses both useful information, insights, and trivia. If you remember nothing else after finishing, you’ll hopefully remember that weather, and its component rain, is not simply a local phenomena; it is an intricately interconnected and interdependent system that can be, and is being, disrupted and changed in various parts of the world. These changes effect everybody.
Barnett divides the story into five sections. In “Elemental Rain,” she shows how rain helped in the creation and destruction of civilizations. As in all the sections and chapters, she enthralls you with interesting facts, such as the shape of a raindrop and this reminder (in case you’ve forgotten, as we had): “As children we learn that water is old and constant; we drink the same water the dinosaurs did.” Floods and droughts get attention, as well as how people throughout time have implored their various deities for rain to come or go.
“Chance of Rain” tells about those who began recording and sharing weather information. Among them, the author Daniel Defoe, who in 1703, after experiencing the greatest storm ever to assault the British Isles, gathered the recollections of others, published The Storm, and lent his hand to launching weather journalism.
“American Rain” offers us tales of the first weather forecasters, how weather influenced the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, and how when rain disappeared or diminished to normal patterns rainmakers drummed their brands of salvation. Some of what you’ll read will strike you as so outlandish as to have you scratching your head in wonderment, particularly the disappearance of the great American desert. That is, a long but temporary change in mid west U.S. rain patterns from arid to wet. People subscribed to the notion that settlement and human labor led to better weather conditions; railroads and land developers promoted the idea. Of course, when weather reverted to the norm, payback proved quite unpleasant.
Lovers of literature will enjoy “Capturing the Rain.” Here, Barnett illustrates how weather and rain influenced and continues to influence writers and other creators of our fine arts. She also helps us understand why rain smells as it does, and the impact of rain in cities.
Finally in “Mercurial Rain,” she delights us with many curiosities of rain, among them raining fish and frogs, and rains of various colors. In her final chapter, she addresses how humankind is contributing to rapid climate change and how we’d be best to listen to our climate scientists, as opposed to our vocal deniers.
You’ll enjoy Rain whether you read it on a sunny or rainy day. And when you finish, you’ll better appreciate a rainy day, and you’ll know about rain than anybody on your block does. w/c