RAIN by Cynthia Barnett
Kirkus Star


A Natural and Cultural History
Email this review


An environmental journalist returns with a multifaceted examination of the science, the art, the technology and even the smell of rain throughout history.

Barnett, who has written previously about hydrology (Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis, 2011, etc.), has an eclectic agenda for her new work. She takes us back to the Big Bang and then moves rapidly forward, explaining in crisp, evocative sentences why Earth is our solar system’s only habitable planet. She then discusses rainfall issues around the globe before commencing her focus on individual facets of the subject. Barnett writes about historical cycles of drought and flood and how they affected the world’s principal religions—from Noah to Indian rain dances. She segues into weather forecasting, with an emphasis on the meticulous records that Thomas Jefferson kept (she returns to him at various other times). She pauses to tell us about the developments of the raincoat and the umbrella and provides a couple chapters on rain in American history—with details in one chapter about the westward migration, including the difficulties in Nebraska and elsewhere on the Great Plains. A particularly engaging chapter deals with “rainmakers,” from charlatans to scientists. The author then tries to show the influence of rain on various arts, from Chopin to Dickens to Dickinson to Woody Allen. (This topic needs an entire book of its own.) Next comes the scent of rain, the perfume industry in India, and the problems of rainwater in urban areas, with a focus on Seattle and Los Angeles. Barnett also deals with the oddities of rain (frogs falling from the sky), and she ends with some sharp comments for climate change deniers—and with a visit to the rainiest place on earth, a town in India.

Highlights the severity of some of our environmental problems with knowledge, humor, urgency and hope.

Pub Date: April 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3709-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2015


NonfictionBLACK FLAGS by Joby Warrick
by Joby Warrick
NonfictionDEAD WAKE by Erik Larson
by Erik Larson
NonfictionH IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald
by Helen Macdonald
NonfictionKATRINA by Gary Rivlin
by Gary Rivlin


NonfictionA CLIMATE OF CRISIS by Patrick Allitt
by Patrick Allitt
NonfictionPACIFIC by Simon Winchester
by Simon Winchester
ChildrenYOUR WATER FOOTPRINT by Stephen Leahy
by Stephen Leahy