cover image Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Cynthia Barnett. Crown, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3709-6

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. [em](May) [/em]