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John McPhee describes a cross-section of North America and comes to an understanding not only of the science but of the style of the geologists he traveled with. Completed in four stages under the collected title: Annals of the Former World. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
"Coming into the Country" is an unforgettable account of Alaska and Alaskans. It is a rich tapestry of vivid characters, observed landscapes, and descriptive narrative, in three principal segments that deal, respectively, with a total wilderness, with urban Alaska, and with life in the remoteness of the bush. Readers of McPhee' s earlier books will not be unprepared for his surprising shifts of scene and ordering of events, brilliantly combined into an organic whole. In the course of this volume we are made acquainted with the lore and techniques of placer mining, the habits and legends of the barren-ground grizzly, the outlook of a young Athapaskan chief, and tales of the fortitude of settlers-- ordinary people compelled by extraordinary dreams. "Coming into the Country" unites a vast region of America with one of America's notable literary craftsmen, singularly qualified to do justice to the scale and grandeur of the design.
These three essays center around man's influence on nature and how it (nature) fights back. The First essay centers on New Orleans and how man's influence has contributed to it's now demise. Though written in 1989, Mcphee's research pretty much describes how Katrina, or in the case of the book, a theoretical storm, could have been made much less destructive had development been much less. The second article discusses efforts in Iceland to cool lava with saltwater and stop the destruction of a town. The third describes Los Angeles's expansion and possible demise due to run off and mud slides from the San Gabriel mountains. His premise in all three articles basically is, nature will ultimately have the last word in it's ultimate design.
"You people come into the market--the Greenmarket, in the open air under the down pouring sun--and you slit the tomatoes with your fingernails. With your thumbs, you excavate the cheese. You choose your stringbeans one at a time. You pulp the nectarines and rape the sweet corn. You are something wonderful, you are--people of the city--and we, who are almost without exception strangers here, are as absorbed with you as you seem to be with the numbers on our hanging scales." So opens the title piece in this collection of John McPhee's classic essays, grouped here with four others, including "Brigade de Cuisine," a profile of an artistic and extraordinary chef; "The Keel of Lake Dickey," in which a journey down the whitewater of a wild river ends in the shadow of a huge projected dam; a report on plans for the construction of nuclear power plants that would float in the ocean; and a pinball shoot-out between two prizewinning journalists.
A classic of reportage, Oranges was first conceived as a short magazine article about oranges and orange juice, but the author kept encountering so much irresistible information that he eventually found that he had in fact written a book. It contains sketches of orange growers, orange botanists, orange pickers, orange packers, early settlers on Florida's Indian River, the first orange barons, modern concentrate makers, and a fascinating profile of Ben Hill Griffin of Frostproof, Florida who may be the last of the individual orange barons. McPhee's astonishing book has an almost narrative progression, is immensely readable, and is frequently amusing. Louis XIV hung tapestries of oranges in the halls of Versailles, because oranges and orange trees were the symbols of his nature and his reign. This book, in a sense, is a tapestry of oranges, too--with elements in it that range from the great orangeries of European monarchs to a custom of people in the modern Caribbean who split oranges and clean floors with them, one half in each hand.
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