I walked up to the cashier at Browsers bookshop with a stack of books that all had to do with Olympia. The staff was puzzled and mildly excited. The cashier spotted “Olympia” by David Scherer Water in my stack and told me “My landlord wrote this book.” That is when I knew that I was in for a treat.
I purchase more books than I have time to read between trips to capitals. For the first time I started and finished this one during the trip. I am really glad I did because I learned about the city, culture, people, and history before seeing some of it for myself. In addition it gave me an opportunity to reach out to the author while we were still in town and we were lucky enough to be able to meet him in real life.
If you are looking for a travel guide or a traditional history book then this book is not for you. Instead, David offers a raw, humorous, and honest voice that provides a glimpse into the real history of Olympia. The provocative introduction piqued my interest and made me want to learn more about the town.
Like most cities in the United States, Olympia was built on stolen land. The difference is that in this book, and in other publications that I got the chance to read in Olympia, the people seem to take this fact very seriously and encourage others to keep this in mind.
The book provides a great overview of how Olympia and Washington came to be. David does this from a skeptical perspective and does not romanticize pioneers who destroyed native cultures like many other history books seem to. He discusses the impact of Evergreen state college on the tone of the city over the years. Notably, it helped produce people like Rachel Corrie and others like her. He covers police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, which may be one of the first times this has been covered in a recent history book. He observes that many people in the city are engaged in “social studies” and that “There’s a seminar happening on every street corner.”
My favorite part was the discussion on the reasoning behind the trees on the Capitol grounds being held up by steel beams (shown in the cover photo of this post). We learn about modern business, modern culture, and future plans for the city. Olympia is a strange place, David points out some of the absurdities such as a financial solvent bookstore that only sold murder mysteries for over a decade.
I was able to finish the book in a single sitting, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading each page. I really wish that each capital had a book that teaches people about the city in such a unique, slightly sarcastic, and humorous voice. If you ever plan to visit Olympia, or want to see for yourself what an excellent “comedic nonfiction” book looks like, I would highly recommend that you read this book.