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A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  199 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
After two decades, Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden returned to his small-town birthplace in the Pacific Northwest to follow the rise and fall of the West’s most thoroughly conquered river. To explore the Columbia River and befriend those who collaborated in its destruction, he traveled on a monstrous freight barge sailing west from Idaho to the Grand Coulee Dam, t ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published April 2nd 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published June 1996)
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(showing 1-30 of 425)
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Debbie Stone
Apr 07, 2015 Debbie Stone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
First of all I am giving this book 4-stars.
Not because I LOVED it -- (well, maybe I did) but because it's so very interesting -- to ME-- and I thought it very well researched and written.

I grew up next to the Columbia River in Washington State and I love this river, but... if you are from anywhere but Oregon, Washington, Idaho.. I don't think this would have any interest for you.
Unless you are weird like me!
( I do like regional history. and culture! and Food! and people! and stories!)

The Columb
Pete Danko
Feb 13, 2013 Pete Danko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had read this book way back in 1998 when I was living in Southern Oregon, with no connection to the Columbia. This rereading, aloud to Niko, came after five-plus years living just a couple of miles from the Columbia. In one sense, the book suffers from the passage of time, because it is written in a very current/newspapery style. But the thrust of the book remains as true now as it did then -- that the Columbia long ago ceased to be a river but is now simply a piece of the machinery of the Wes ...more
Jul 15, 2014 Virginia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. The industrialization of theColumbia River is a metaphor for the misuse of all natural resources. The mighty Columbia and Snake Rivers have been turned into slack water all the way to Lewiston Idaho. Blaine Harden has covered this terrible destruction, from the native Americans, the lost of fish habitat , the agricultural canals, power dams, slack water barges, and Hanford Nuclear waste dump. The book introduces the people involved. The past idealists, greedy barons, politicians, far ...more
Oct 07, 2015 Perri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Harden does a great job of sharing the story of the damming of the Columbia River and its effects. A complex issue, he breaks it down and shares opposing viewpoints What most impressed me was how fairly he balanced the benefits and the cost of the project.
Lorna Rose-hahn
Sep 28, 2014 Lorna Rose-hahn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading for everyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, especially those who think of themselves as pioneers and think government subsidies are the devil.

"This book is about the destruction of the great river of the West by well-intentioned Americans whose lives embodied a pernicious contradiction. They prided themselves on self-reliance, yet depended on subsidies. They distrusted the federal government, yet allowed it to do as it pleased with the river and the land thro
If you've ever been on or driven alongside the Columbia River, you should read this book. Meticulously researched (including stories and interviews from the author's days spent floating down the river on barges) and compassionately narrated, you will have a much fuller vision of this part of the planet.
Aug 19, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book manages to be both passionate and objective about the challenges besetting the Columbia River. Little has changed in the 20 years since it was written. The irrigators and shippers still call the shots and the politicians still quiver at the mention of dam breaching. One difference is that there seems now to be at last some momentum on the removal of the four lower Snake River dams - part of the Columbia watershed, dams that Harden traverses - for they are operating at a loss. It will b ...more
Spacek Kim
Jan 21, 2016 Spacek Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author lays out a history. based on themes, of the Columbia River since the 1930s when dams began being built on the river. There are a lot of players in the river machine that make the hydropower system very complex. Salmon recovery is one theme discussed throughout the book and an issue that can be resolved. Electricity and salmon can live harmoniously. If the government can subsidize those who live and work on the river, then it can certainly do the same for the fish that live in the rive ...more
Jamie Grove
Another interesting non-fiction book, and one that hit closer to home. I will say that working in the engineering field helped me to understand the more technical aspects of damming the river better than had I read the book without the background (riprap, aggregate, and the giant pain that is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would otherwise have been Greek to me). My job also made it more difficult for me to pick a side. Although his language is sometimes biases, Harden does not take sides betwe ...more
Jan 07, 2013 Reiden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The addition of dams on the Columbia River flooded the region with the country’s cheapest electricity, followed by industry, and jobs in the tens of thousands. Dams that gave farmers irrigation rights as well as consumers the luxury of cheap power, also sent once abundant salmon species into present day near-extinction levels, displaced local Natives and led to nuclear waste.

The book starts off with memoir-styled descriptions of the author’s childhood near Moses Lake, WA, as well as the work hi
Aug 23, 2015 Kiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting look at the Columbia River and the history of the US government turning it into a powerful machine for industry. Harden spends a serious amount of time with all of the groups who have a hand in use of the Columbia, from those who helped build the Grand Coulee Dam to barge captains to farmers using land irrigated from the Columbia to the Native Americans that all of these projects displaced. How the Columbia River should be used is complicated, and this book dives right into th ...more
Jan 29, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honest, heartfelt portrait of someone in search of their roots and discovering a story about a big river along the way.
Feb 22, 2011 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A troubling-but-fascinating blend of reportage, memoir, and history that dissects the state of the Columbia River since New Deal programs turned it from the wildest big river in North America to the world's largest bathtub. Harden grew up in the engineered area of Eastern Washington, but moved on to work for the Washington Post as a foreign correspondent before coming back to look into the strife that mars his home territory. A little out-of-date -- the book is 15 years old now -- but still rele ...more
Apr 21, 2013 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I grew up in cities on the banks of the Columbia River, so I was very familiar with the places, but not as familiar as I wish I had been with the history and the stories of these places and people who shaped destiny of this River. I loved journeying with the author as he saw the River and captured the sentiments and the recollections of those who knew her well (or thought they did). I'll never see or think of the River in the same way again - and that's a good thing.
As a lifelong Washingtonian who's lived on both sides of the Cascades, this was a wonderful primer on a huge number of environmental and cultural issues that are still relevant. Harden has a pretty clear point of view throughout the book, but also treats his subjects with compassion as he addresses tribal dispossession, salmon on the Columbia, Hanford, federal irrigation projects, river barges and dam building.
baxter baxter
Must read about the environmental history of the Columbia Basin from pre european but mostly through the New Deal to the end of salmon. The author grew up in Moses Lake and the arc of his family's history and prosperity is interwoven with the New Deal. If you live in the North West it will give you new eyes with which to view the Columbia Basin and-indeed much of the West. And he can really write!
Feb 18, 2014 Brittany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had to read for school.
Aug 07, 2012 Georgene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I grew up along side the banks of the Columbia River. This book demonstrates the changes that have affected the mightiest river of the West. It was a real eye opening for me as I thought I was pretty well versed on "my" river. Some good things were done, but LOTS of things with unintended consequences that few people care to change at this point. This one is a keeper in my library.
Lura Landon
Mar 15, 2011 Lura Landon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really learned so much about the Columbia and Snake river histories. I'm disheartened that efforts made to save salmon or to even preserve salmon were almost completely ignored and dismissed by the federal government and large power companies. I also heard a lot about the WOOPS bond scandal at work so reading about it in this book gave me some more context.
Laird Bennion
Mar 09, 2014 Laird Bennion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book. Not a book for anyone to read if you're either pro-hydropower or pro-farmer. This changed my understanding of eastern Washington economic policy and farm subsidies.
The section on Hanford Nuclear reservation was thinner than it should have been. Read this book and hug a salmon!
Aug 07, 2008 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All Columbia River/Gorge lovers must read this. You'll wonder why you didn't already know its story. How come you never asked? Here's a tip: go hike the new Washington-side Cape Horn trail and stand under a perfect waterfall while you read. Stand in awe...
Jan 22, 2012 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading material for PNW-centric history courses (do they still teach those in high school?).

Fantastically written and reasearched, I'm actually curious about some follow-up on some of the information presented here.
Jan 03, 2016 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: whitman
Really great read- I had to read more than half of it for class but read the rest on my own. A really great book to give you a foundation of the conflicting results of damning rivers like the Columbia.
William Nealy
Mar 09, 2013 William Nealy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my kind of book. Plenty of information without being overly bias, this book provides all sides of the story... even the parts you would never think to consider.
prepping for the Oregon Trail vacation by getting to know the River (or what's left of it)
Nov 02, 2009 Alice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite interesting if you're into western water issues (like me).
Dec 20, 2012 Joel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kay Bowles
Kay Bowles rated it really liked it
Feb 09, 2016
Steven Harbin
Steven Harbin marked it as to-read
Feb 09, 2016
Carrie rated it it was amazing
Feb 07, 2016
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Harden is an author and journalist who worked for The Washington Post for 28 years as a correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine. He contributes to The Economist and PBS Frontline.

Harden's most recent book is "The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot" (Viking/Pen
More about Blaine Harden...

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