My general impression of this book, after completing the first four chapter a year or so ago was that it would have been better had Binns staid within the realm of a book about his own youth and life. Instead, what could have been a nice deep map of western Washington gets blurred into a history/travelogue of the entire state.

After Binns leaves the wet side of the state and begins meandering up the Columbia River, his experiences leave off and what he has read in books and learned from other people picks up. From that point on, The Roaring Land reads a lot less like what Murrary Morgan would do with his histories of Washington starting tens years later than cheap boosterism.

That said, the best line in the book comes from the worst chapter, the final “Living Map of Washington,” which repeats the airplane level history Binns eventually dives into. Speaking about people who would generalize about Washington:

To them the whole state is forested with giant evergreens, rain falls year round, and radicalism flourishes in the wet shade of the forest.

Add something about coffee or grunge rock, and that would still apply.

My favorite chapter is the second, Steamboat Era. It gives a view of my particular corner of Washington (the deep South Sound) from a vantage point we don’t get very often. We follow a young Archie and his family as they travel from their stump farm near Shelton as they get on a ferry in Hammersly Inlet and travel by saltwater (switching boats once) all the way to Tacoma.

I may have sounded harsh, but the other great chapter in the book is Center of Gravity, which covers what was the center of gravity in Puget Sound country in Binns’ time, the Kent Valley. Binns looks at the valley in much the same way we do, in a “wow, hasn’t that changed.” While we’ve seen a transformation from farms to cement parking lots, Boeing industrial areas and the Tuckwila mall area, Binns’ generation (and his dad’s generation) saw the transformation from old growth forest to farms.

For him, the farms were the pinnacle of advancement, the malls of Tuckwila not even imagined.

He also made an interesting note about the character of the people of the Kent Valley (which served as a way for him to explain the character of all Puget Sounders). Since farms (and timber operations) were in that time small, everyone owned a piece of something. Or, at least worked a piece of something. Since there were no big owners, everyone depended on each other for business and socially. When someone was down on their luck, it was easier for Puget Sounders to pick up their neighbors than it would have been for dry siders, who mostly owned or work for large operations.

The next book will be The Laurels Are Cut Down, a review of which can be found here.