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Rain summary

Cynthia Barnett

A Natural and Cultural History

4 (17 ratings)
10 mins

Brief summary

Rain by Cynthia Barnett is a historic and scientific account of how humans have tried to control and understand rain, and how it has shaped civilizations. It explores the importance of water and the necessity for humanity to preserve it.

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    Rain can give life and destroy it too.

    Where would we be without water? Well, we wouldn’t be anywhere at all! Life on earth would not have developed if it weren’t for water. Today, water sustains our living world. It’s no wonder then that humanity has always worshipped rainfall.

    Native Americans created dances to summon the rain. The Prophet Muhammad performed rain prayers, casting his arms skyward and turning his cloak inside out. In Judaism, rain is prayed for every year on the eighth day of the harvest festival, Sukkot. In 2011, following a three-month drought, a Christian governor of Texas declared the three days from April 22 through 24 as official prayer days for rain.

    A lack of rainfall has, of course, been a serious threat for communities throughout history and around the world. However, too much rainfall is just as dangerous! Heavy rain brings mold, rot and mosquitoes with it, which in turn spread diseases.

    Torrential rain can even wipe out crops and cause widespread famine, which is what occurred in Europe during the Great Famine of 1315–1322. Heavy summer rain prevented grain from maturing, which meant no crops could be seeded in autumn. The rains continued through spring and the sowing of oats, barley and spelt was impossible.

    These rains not only caused some three million people to starve to death, they also led to a wave of brutal witch-hunting. Witches were accused of bringing on the hail and thunderstorms that had damaged the crops. Whether it’s the source of life or the bringer of death, rain is certainly powerful!

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    What is Rain about?

    Rain (2015) tells the story of one of the most valued, destructive and inspiring natural forces on our planet. These blinks trace a journey from rain worship in ancient cultures to the use of weather forecasting throughout the ages – and even the scientific explanation behind raining frogs.

    Best quote from Rain

    Rain can be a Janus; at once the face of salvation and despair.

    —Cynthia Barnett
    example alt text

    Who should read Rain?

    • Anyone interested in the relationship between the natural world and human civilization
    • Hobby meteorologists seeking some background to the science

    About the Author

    Cynthia Barnett is an environmental journalist who has reported on water from the Suwannee River to Singapore. She is the author of Mirage, which won the gold medal for best nonfiction title in the Florida Book Awards, and Blue Revolution, singled out as one of the top ten science books of 2011 by the Boston Globe.

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