Review: Rain, A Natural and Cultural History


Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, Cynthia Barnett. New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

Summary: An exploration of this elemental reality on which our lives depend, how we have tried to control it, produce it, predict it, protect ourselves from it and how it has shaped our lives and how we are shaping future rainfall.

We complain about it, write poems about it, sing and dance in it, and, when it is lacking, pray for it or otherwise try to manipulate the heavens to produce it. In this finely crafted book, Cynthia Barnett tells the story of rain, from our planet’s natural history and the earliest rains on our cooling planet to farm communities that rose and civilizations that fell in the presence and absence of rain. she reminds us of poetry, myth, and song celebrating rain such as Gene Kelly’s “singing in the rain.”

We learn about the shape of the falling raindrop, more like a parachute than our image of a drop, and the articles we use to protect ourselves from it–the umbrella and the mackintosh and our modern goretex rain gear. We learn about the interesting cast of characters in the history of meteorology. There is Thomas Jefferson, one of the first Americans to keep detailed meteorological records, but who situated Monticello on a mountaintop far above the water table in all but the wettest years. There were the rainmakers who tried to blast rain out of the sky, precipitate it through exotic brews, or seed it from the skies. And there was the rise of the TV weather person, comedian David Letterman to Weather Channel founder John Coleman.

Barnett explores the ways we try to control, channel, and preserve our rains through levies, channels, and cisterns, none totally reliable. She plainly prefers restoring flood plains and creating rain gardens. She concludes, paradoxically, with the one definitive way we’ve impacted rainfall patterns through consumption of fossil fuels.

Cynthia Barnett takes us on a global rain trek from the arid Great Plains to the rainiest place on earth in north India. She fashions a narrative with elements of science, history, biography, and travelogue. Her book delights with story, and reminds us of our utter dependency, and ever-present  vulnerability to the power of rain.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


2 thoughts on “Review: Rain, A Natural and Cultural History

  1. Pingback: My Ten Top Rain Songs | Bob on Books

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: April 2016 | Bob on Books

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