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A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia
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A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia

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4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  157 ratings  ·  20 reviews
The story of how well-meaning Americans dammed up the Columbia River in the North-Western United States, to produce cheap electricity and gardens blooming in the desert. This narrative of exploitation records how one of the West's most majestic rivers was sacrificed to economic advance.
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published December 2nd 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published June 1996)
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Pete Danko
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
Virginia
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
Lorna Rose-hahn
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
...more
Brian
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.
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
Reiden
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
...more
Peter
Honest, heartfelt portrait of someone in search of their roots and discovering a story about a big river along the way.
Joseph
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
Robin
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.
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!
Brittany
Had to read for school.
Georgene
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
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
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!
Erin
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...
Michelle
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.
William Nealy
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.
Billy
prepping for the Oregon Trail vacation by getting to know the River (or what's left of it)
Alice
Quite interesting if you're into western water issues (like me).
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541490
Harden is an author and journalist who reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post 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.

Harden's most recent book is "Escape From Camp 14." He is also the author of "A Ri
...more
More about Blaine Harden...
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom Evasión del Campo 14: Del infierno de un campo de concentración en Corea del Norte a la libertad (No Ficción)

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