A river lost : the life and death of the Columbia

by Blaine Harden

Hardcover, 1996




New York : W.W. Norton, c1996.


This is a book about how well-intentioned Americans dammed up the Columbia, "Great River of the West," fulfilling dreams of cheap electricity and gardens flourishing in the desert. It is also a narrative of exploitation: of Native Americans, of endangered salmon, of nuclear waste, and of a river - once wild - tamed to puddled remains. Harden's story is a journey of rediscovery. His home town, Moses Lake, Washington, once bone dry, could not have existed without gargantuan irrigation schemes. His father, a Depression migrant trained as a welder, helped build dams - including Grand Coulee - and later worked at the secret Hanford plutonium plant. Now he and his neighbors, who had thought of themselves as patriots, stood accused of killing the river. As Blaine Harden traveled the thousand miles of the Columbia - by barge, by car, and sometimes on foot - his own past seemed both foreign and familiar. He met rugged individualists (albeit with government subsidies), fervent environmentalists, and Native Americans reduced to consuming canned salmon. He also encountered a newly ascendant political force whose more subtle agenda was to preserve and conserve for its own pleasure and recreation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member will5352
This book is now 20 years old so I am really late to the party to write a review. I actually came across this book in the footnotes of a much more current book, but I was prompted to read it based upon that footnote. I was not disappointed, even though 20 years have likely made much in the book dated. First of all I found Harden’s prose exceptional. I cannot say that about many books I read. He begins with a narrative of his family that I found it very riveting. So, not to be too long winded I’ll just say he gives each side a fair representation concerning the Columbia. I learned allot that I did not know before and to me that is always a big plus from a book. What I learned from this book that I did not know is why I give it a 5 Star review. You can an East Sider, a West Sider, a Slackwater, a Hanford or a Native American. They all have their views and each has its value. Harden comes from the Columbia Basin and you might expect because of that he would conclude the book with a bias one way or another. He does not. The reader must make their own judgement after a very fair presentation of all sides. “A River Lost” is 20 years old but worth the read. I would like to someday read “A River Revisited.” How much more might I learn. Harden, are you out there? New book? Please!!!!… (more)


Page: 0.1942 seconds