Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Rainmakers by Clark C. Spence

The Rainmakers by Clark C. Spence is a delightful read about the history of rainmaking in America. It is based on true stories from the days when charlatans and quacks, for profit or science, promised to cause rain at whim. There is whiff of science, but mostly this is a tale of deception. Grand claims, backed by coincidences made some people appear as successful rainmakers. Most ran out of luck, and vanished into obscurity after being in thick of action from weeks to years.

The newspaper reports mentioned in the book as well as the description of the tricks employed and the sales pitch adopted by Rainmakers are funny for a modern reader. Yet only a hundred years ago, there were farmers and senators, scientists and laymen in Kansas as well as Los Angeles who were being duped by tall claims for methods to make rain and remarkable coincidences which helped Rainmakers. Seen in the light of hoaxes practices and the amount of money scammed, the first artificial rain seems like a more momentous achievement than we credit it as.

Atmospheric science has made most progress in last hundred years and has been instrumental in last two hundred years for inspiring studies about a large number of interesting physics issues that involved great men like Clausius, Stokes, Langmuir, Aitken, Coulier, Rayleigh, Huygens, Newton, Einstein, and so on. Yet the history of rainmakers resembles the history of miracle curers and healers who have provided for hope in desperation and for rain or cure to people where natural course of events was going to end a drought or disease. History of Theories of Rain by Middleton on the other hand is more of a scientific history and a great read. The texts Cloud in a glass of beer by Bohren, and A short course in Cloud Physics by Rogers and Yau could be good resources for reading about our current understanding of rainfall. But when it comes to reading about deceit, conceit and deceptions, Rainmakers by Spencer is entertaining in its own right. The science part is minimal, so it can be read by anyone and everyone, as a history of how easily men are led to believe in miracles when they are faced with a difficulty.

While these tales seem fictional and funny now, it was only a few generations back that people wanted to fly pointed balloons, or use fuming fluid placed in close labs, or chimneys that released steam or charged carrying sand air-dropped into clouds to cause rain. To celebrate the geniuses of the day, requires us to know the other end of the spectrum, and this book manages to do it with tongue in cheek humor.

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