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We are excited to have Cynthia Barnett, an award-winning journalist and author, back as our keynote speaker. Some may remember that she spoke about her previous book, Blue Revolution, at Confluence four years ago.
She is back with a new book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
Cynthia Barnett’s Rain begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science – the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains – with the human story of our ambition to control rain, from ancient rain dances to the 2,203 miles of levees that attempt to straitjacket the Mississippi River. It offers a glimpse of our “founding forecaster,” Thomas Jefferson, who measured every drizzle long before modern meteorology. Two centuries later, rainy skies would help inspire Morrissey’s mopes and Kurt Cobain’s grunge. Rain is also a travelogue, taking readers to Scotland to tell the surprising story of the mackintosh raincoat, and to India, where villagers extract the scent of rain from the monsoon-drenched earth and turn it into perfume.
Now, after thousands of years spent praying for rain or worshiping it; burning witches at the stake to stop rain or sacrificing small children to bring it; mocking rain with irrigated agriculture and cities built in floodplains; even trying to blast rain out of the sky with mortars meant for war, humanity has finally managed to change the rain. Only not in ways we intended. As climate change upends rainfall patterns and unleashes increasingly severe storms and drought, Barnett shows rain to be a unifying force in a fractured world. Too much and not nearly enough, rain is a conversation we share, and this is a book for everyone who has ever experienced it.
“Mesmerizing and powerful history. Barnett is a passionate, intrepid journalist whose research has taken her everywhere from a Mackintosh factory in Glasgow to a rickety suspension bridge, made of steel-wire rope, 30 feet above India’s Simtung River during monsoon season. Her cultural references are equally far-reaching… Abundant details, spiced with irreverence and humor, are what make this book so delicious. What elevates it and makes it important is Barnett’s exploration of humanity’s attempts throughout history to prevail over the elements… Reading this book, we are witness to the profoundly flawed, hubristic core of human nature itself.”
—DANI SHAPIRO, MORE
“Transporting…An elemental biography, Rain wanders widely through time and space, packed with intriguing stories…At times playful and at times grand, Barnett discusses the planetary genesis of rain and its influence on agriculture, religion and the arts. She is especially good at making the large and distant close and personal…Throughout, Barnett beats a steady tattoo: whether abundant or scarce, rain has shaped humans.”
—ELIZABETH ROYTE, ELLE
“Barnett sets an ambitious goal, making something so everyday interesting, even fascinating, and she accomplishes that with far-reaching research and lyrical prose, tracing rain through literature and myth, science and history….In a state where the governor has prohibited the discussion of climate change, Rain is as welcome as a summer afternoon shower on a hot day.”
—THE MIAMI HERALD
“With Rain, Cynthia Barnett will make a rain fanatic out of anyone, not just self-described weather aficionados…Through her approachable and engaging writing, Barnett tells this eclectic story by combining science and history with humor, anecdotes, poetry, and personal travel adventures…Barnett captivates the reader through her unique way of finding a human face to describe historical climate and weather events…In a particularly memorable chapter, ‘Writers on the Storm,’ Barnett explores the role that rain has played in the creation of art, including the works of Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Frédéric Chopin, The Smiths, Nirvana, and Woody Allen.”
“Cynthia Barnett’s eye-opening book is enough to make even the most fervent rain-hater experience a change of heart. From the storms of biblical proportions that lashed the Earth when it was newly formed to why Woody Allen prefers to shoot against a rainy backdrop, Barnett addresses rain’s role in science, culture and history with a forensic eye for detail and a good sense of humour.”