Read A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden Online


After a two-decade absence, 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.Harden's hometown, Moses Lake, Washington, could not have existed without massive irrigation schemes. His father, a Depression migrant trained as a welder, helped buildAfter a two-decade absence, 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.Harden's hometown, Moses Lake, Washington, could not have existed without massive irrigation schemes. His father, a Depression migrant trained as a welder, helped build dams and later worked at the secret Hanford plutonium plant. Now he and his neighbors, once considered patriots, stand accused of killing the river.As Blaine Harden traveled the Columbia-by barge, car, and sometimes on foot-his past seemed both foreign and familiar. A personal narrative of rediscovery joined a narrative of exploitation: of Native Americans, of endangered salmon, of nuclear waste, and of a once-wild river now tamed to puddled remains.Part history, part memoir, part lament, "this is a brave and precise book," according to the New York Times Book Review. "It must not have been easy for Blaine Harden to find himself turning his journalistic weapons against his own heritage, but he has done the conscience of his homeland a great service."...

Title : A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393316902
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 382 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • Matt
    2019-03-06 10:42

    Five years I lived in Wenatchee. While there, I learned a bit about the Columbia, a bit about the dams, but had no idea the full history, the power plays involved.Harden's research is astounding, and he manages to present all sides without dehumanizing or failing to understand what's at stake for any of the players, while also giving clear facts. (For instance, he does a great job of debunking quite a few common myths re: dams and dam advocates, as well as pointing out the economics of such projects, which benefit a few at cost to many.)I read this just after The Big Burn, and both books together changed my idea of what historical nonfiction could be, but in different ways. Both are also books I'm sure I'll return to, and books I thoroughly recommend to anyone looking for good natural history reads.[4.5 stars for excellent research, great writing, and solid insights.]

  • Kerri Anne
    2019-03-13 12:05

    Do you know where your electricity comes from? (I often find myself wondering how often people wonder about where any of their (natural or otherwise) resources originate; this book definitely changed the way I think about a river I grew up near my entire life.) If you live anywhere from Alaska to California to Oregon to Montana, and all the way southeast to Arizona (and parts of Texas!), your electricity likely comes from the Columbia River, via a huge dam in a tiny town in Washington State that most people wouldn't have ever heard of unless they've also heard of Grand Coulee Dam. It's a city that wouldn't exist without that dam, just like so much of our current power grid also wouldn't exist without that dam. The dam that successfully harnessed the once wildest river in the West and turned it into a mighty machine to power our every waking moment, while simultaneously shutting down successful salmon spawning and displacing and bankrupting countless Native Americans in the process.Harden's premise (and an undeniably factually accurate one): A mighty working river is a double-edged sword, and this country is bleeding. We're bleeding at our rivers, at our dams, and that's trickling down to our oceans, and our groundwater, and our food sources. This book is a deep-dive into both the river in its historical form, and the working river as it existed in 1996, when this book was originally researched and published. (Sadly, very little has changed since then.) Harden doesn't skirt any issues surrounding what it means to create and maintain a "working river," and instead spends copious amounts of time talking to people on both sides of the proverbial and literal waters, including a great recap of farm and irrigation subsidies, and how many small and large farms were (and potentially still are) misusing water allocations and other assistance provided by the government and taxpayer dollars. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year, and a book I know I want for our home library.[Four-point-five stars for historical accuracy and the inherent power of telling the truth, no matter how unpopular it may make you.]

  • Debbie Stone
    2019-03-23 07:00

    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 Columbia River and its history are really complicated. It's the only river in the United States that is completely controlled by computers.There are 14 dams on the river -- 3 of which are in Canada, 4 border WA/Oregon, so there is an international as well as bi-state cooperation/agreement on how to manage the river nowadays. It's huge! The agreement AND the complications of the river.There are the dwindling salmon, Native American fishing rights, irrigation, hydro-electric power, atomic/plutonium dumping ground, timber industry, the river as a super highway (barges/transportation), etc to deal with.Federal, State, County, City laws to figure out!The book talks about all of that--good and bad. It pulls no punches-- and while I found that interesting--and read aloud to the Handyman on the 8 hour trip up to Washington last weekend-- I also found it bittersweet.We grew up on the river. Or rivers. We grew up where the Snake River flows into the Columbia.We picnicked in the park where Lewis and Clark camped, when they too first saw the Columbia. The smaller Yakima River, another tributary, also meets the Columbia there.We grew up in the middle of the desert, surrounded by water, water everywhere.It's hard to explain, unless you've been there. OR read the book.There is a geological reason for the dry desert with rivers running thru it.Geology AND Franklin D. Roosevelt (who endorsed the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1934)All that aside---Home is where the heart is!I love the Columbia River.Everything that happened to the Columbia River was a product of it's time... so let's not waste time thinking about 'what might have been'..even if that's what the book did.There's no going back now.

  • Virginia
    2019-02-25 13:42

    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, farmers, Indians, barge pilots, environmentalists, and windsurfers. We have created a dilemma, and Blaine Harden has created a fantastic book.

  • Pete Danko
    2019-02-24 12:45

    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 West. One has to acknowledge all that it has given us -- cheap power, a means to move goods, etc., all things that make life for many much easier. But the callous disregard for the impact of these changes -- it's pretty staggering to think about. We're not perfect now, but for goodness sakes, we are much better.

  • Paul
    2019-03-19 13:47

    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 be a momentous day when the salmon once again can traverse the Snake without those concrete clogs in their way.

  • Brian
    2019-03-16 05:52

    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.

  • Perri
    2019-03-04 10:42

    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.

  • Robin
    2019-03-18 10:47

    It would be easy to write book about the damming and polluting of America’s mightiest river in a heavy-handed and depressing way. Yet author Blaine Harden wrote A River Lost like the excellent journalist he is, presenting all sides of the issues and letting the ignorant and brainwashed speak for themselves. Nor does the author abstain completely from editorial comment, which he adds in small doses when the stories told don’t quite reflect the facts. The author gives equal voice to all who have an interest in the Columbia, and is much less biased than I might seem in this review.Harden grew up on the Columbia, and his father helped build the Grand Coulee Dam, a structure so large that it can be seen from space. He spent his early years with families who believed that damming the river for electrical power and irrigation was crucial to a prosperous US. These farmers, builders, and townspeople quickly came to expect that government subsidies offered were their permanent right. It is sad and unfair that such subsidies were initially offered but not given to displaced Native Americans, whose towns, burial grounds, and salmon runs/food supplies were submerged in favor of cheap water for farms and flat water for industry.A major part of the book is a river journey that Harden takes on barges moving merchandise down the Snake and Columbia Rivers between the dams. Harden describes people and places exquisitely, and I could imagine each captain’s appearance and personality, as well as the feel of being on a craft with significant tonnage and limited steering/stopping capacity. Having enjoyed observing windsurfers on the Columbia, I can understand the conflict between this recreational use and barges operating on a timetable. Harden does a good job of representing both groups.I had no idea that radioactive waste was leaking into the Columbia, so the chapter on the Hanford Project was particularly shocking and enlightening. Ironically, this is the only part of the Columbia that is “wild and scenic,” because plentiful cold water was needed for making plutonium during the 1940s – 70s. Although this industry shut down in 1987, efforts to clean up radioactive waste continue. Hanford contains 2/3 of the US’s high-level radioactive waste. 53 million tanks of highly toxic radioactive waste in leaky underground tanks await cleanup. Radioactive groundwater has been detected. Both workers and downwind neighbors have been exposed to radiation. Harden interviews a number of workers and is taken on a tour of the low-radiation areas of the plant. His interviews with downwind neighbors are rather surprising.Throughout the book, there are useful maps that illustrate the entire Columbia watershed, both in toto and as detail maps representing the subject of each chapter. This gives the reader a good sense of the areas discussed, as well as an overall appreciation for the hugeness of this river system.Anyone who has visited the Columbia or Snake River and wants to learn more will find plenty of information about the watershed, its history, and the variety of the people who depend upon it. People who live in or love the Pacific Northwest, as I do, might want to give it a try. The book is alive with conversations and characters, as well as complex issues about river use. The next time I see the Columbia, I will be looking at it with a deeper understanding.

  • Bob
    2019-03-17 14:06

    Having recently read "Salmon, People and Place", this powerful and well-written account of the politics of the Columbia River was a different perspective on the same issue: the destruction of the river and its ecosystem, as well as the horrible mistreatment of the Native Americans who lived in this area for thousands of years before the coming of the white people. This is a searing look into the nearly 100 year history of the government/corporate collaboration in establishing priorities in favor of dams for irrigation, hydropower and barge transportation, and against the natural river system - and of course, the rapidly disappearing salmon. I'm old enough that nothing about politics and money can really shock me anymore, but this is another close-up view of the powers that be, and a sad but honest depiction of the right-left gulf and enmity that results in the complete disrespect that has become common in our American society.

  • Joyce
    2019-03-04 13:46

    Great history of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and the multiple dams that harness them. Good reporting of how the dams effect those who live in that region and beyond. After reading this book, I feel like it may be time to dismantle all the dams - even the Grand Coulee - and let the river return to as natural a state as possible. It seems there is a lot of waste happening. This isn't the 1950s anymore, we have new and different technologies. It's time to move into the future for power and commerce and give the Native Americans, the animals and the fish their rivers back.

  • Kim
    2019-03-14 14:06

    I've lived next to the Columbia River for almost 3 years now. I learned so much about this area and the river reading this book. I learned about Dam building, irrigation, farming, plutonium, salmon, barges, Native Americans, the federal government and so much more. It was interesting to hear different people's opinions about these things.

  • Jamie
    2019-02-26 07:44

    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 between the environmentalists and the conservatives. He makes it clear that the dams, Hanford, aluminum companies, and barges all take a toll on the river. At the same time, the environmentalists also go far overboard with campaigning and pointing fingers. I found myself in a funny niche - too environmentally inclined to not be appalled at the damage done to the Columbia, but also dependent on the income from the engineering firm I work for that is not unlike the ones that dammed up the river in the 1930s. Harden himself seemed to be in a similar situation; had it not been for his father's jobs that depended on engineering the Columbia, his family wouldn't have had an income, but after leaving the area for years he returned to a different area. The book covered a handful of issues, including fish, Native Americans, employment, and the health hazards of living downwind from a plutonium plant. It was dry in places, but ultimately full of interesting tidbits about the pros and cons of machining the river.

  • Reiden
    2019-03-02 14:00

    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 his father did during the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. This is followed by interviews and research which take the book on a well investigated journey to discover the history of the river’s influence on the Pacific Northwest. The growing problems are complex and currently unresolved; and like all modern day political issues, there are people standing firmly on every side of the Columbia and its multifaceted controversies.

  • Lorna Rose-hahn
    2019-02-20 11:59

    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 through which it flowed. As long as there was federal money, they did not mind that farmers wasted water, that dams pushed salmon to extinction, or that plutonium workers recklessly spilled radioactive gunk beside the river…..My story of the river is a memoir, a history, and a lament for a splendid corner of the American West that maimed itself for the sake of prosperity and that continues not to understand why."And the part about Hanford is especially interesting.

  • Angela
    2019-03-08 09:43

    One of the best nonfiction books I have read. Blaine Harden interviews barge workers, farmers, activists, dam engineers, Native Americans, Hanford engineers and others, giving a fair voice to each of them. And who better to tell their stories than Harden, a product of the engineered west himself? Though it was written 20 years ago, it's well worth the read to learn about the river's history and deepen your understanding of the way things are today. Some particular highlights for me were the history of Hanford and the interview with the Wanapum man. Even though you often hear about the effects of the dam on all the native tribes, I feel like I took that for granted. Somehow I think that interview brought me a little closer to really understanding those effects. I can absolutely recommend this book for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, east and west of the cascades. It will change the way you think about so much in the region.

  • Spacek Kim
    2019-02-21 10:03

    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 river.

  • Joseph
    2019-03-05 06:42

    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 relevant, and compelling.

  • Kiah
    2019-03-12 09:10

    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 this multi-layered issue with personable conversations and solid research.

  • baxter baxter
    2019-03-16 13:05

    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!

  • Robin
    2019-03-18 12:43

    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.

  • Rachel
    2019-03-16 13:53

    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.

  • Lura Landon
    2019-03-21 06:51

    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.

  • Georgene
    2019-03-16 07:09

    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.

  • Michelle
    2019-02-24 06:09

    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.

  • Elizabeth Greenfield
    2019-02-27 05:53

    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.

  • Laird Bennion
    2019-03-20 08:08

    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
    2019-03-12 09:49

    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...

  • Ann
    2019-03-04 10:07

    This is a must for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest. But the stories of the damming of the Columbia also tell us much about America in the 20th century.

  • Joel
    2019-03-06 08:10