Rain | Cynthia Barnett

Summary of: Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
By: Cynthia Barnett

Introduction

In ‘Rain: A Natural and Cultural History’, Cynthia Barnett unveils a detailed exploration of the origins, implications, and cultural perceptions of rain throughout history. Covering an expansive range of subjects, from the earliest scientific studies of rainfall by the Ancient Greeks to the peculiar phenomenon of raining frogs, the book offers an in-depth look at the powerful influence rain has had on our planet. Delving into the evolution of weather prediction networks and the emergence of waterproof technologies, the book further illustrates how our understanding of rain has developed over the millennia. At the same time, ‘Rain’ explores the way rain has inspired numerous poets, writers, and artists alike, revealing the multifaceted impact of this natural phenomenon on our lives.

The Power of Rain

Water is essential for life, and rain has a significant impact on human history and culture worldwide. Rainfall has been worshipped, prayed for and feared. While a lack of rain can lead to droughts and famine, torrential rain can also cause widespread diseases, crop failure, and even famine, as experienced during the Great Famine of 1315–1322 in Europe. The heavy summer rain prevented grain from maturing, and this meant no crops could be seeded in autumn, leading to the deaths of three million people due to starvation, and a wave of witch-hunting. Rain is undoubtedly powerful, and its impact on humanity cannot be underestimated.

Evolution of Weather Observation and Rain Protection

From the Greeks and Ancient Indian rain gauges to the development of the first national weather network in North America, weather observation has come a long way. The use of the humble umbrella also dates back centuries, with the development of waterproof material in the eighteenth century. Charles Macintosh’s invention of the macintosh raincoat paved the way for modern fabric such as Gore-Tex.

Rainmaker Fraud

During the late 19th century, homesteaders moving westward in search of fertile land were met with surprise rainfall, which led them to expand further. Unfortunately, the rains were short-lived, leaving the farmers with vast lands but no rain. Seeking solutions, they turned to rainmakers, who were often fraudsters. One of the most prominent rainmakers of the time was Frank Melbourne, aka “The Rain Wizard,” who charged up to $500 for a “good rain” that covered a 100-mile radius. Though Melbourne’s methods were questionable and his results were often no better than forecasted rainfall, he earned the trust and admiration of farmers. Despite being accused of fraud, Melbourne continued to attract crowds until his death in 1929.

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