Let us now praise John McPhee, some more

He’s the reason I subscribe to the New Yorker, he of the three-part series on oranges, birchbark canoes, headmasters, Bill Bradley’s basketball career, geology as revealed in highway cuts, the zen of long-haul trucking, the merchant marine, freight trains and tugboats. All hail John McPhee, the finest essayist that ever lived, master of the long form, and my hero in non-fiction authors.

As I sit on the plane, and watch poor saps miss out on the elegance of McPhee in favor of the latest Dean Koontz, I want to shake them, point them at Amazon, and say: “Buy everything this man has written and read it. And then read it again.”

I just finished his three-essay collection, The Control of Nature. The first is about the control of the Mississippi and should be required reading for anyone thinking of moving to New Orleans. The second is about man fighting volcanoes in Iceland and the final is about mudslide control in Los Angeles. This man can make anything interesting.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Let us now praise John McPhee, some more”

  1. Table of Contents – 1981 – 1984 – my personal favorite, although I haven’t read them all. My favorite piece in there is “A Textbook Place for Bears.” You’re right on the money – he can make anything interesting…even the arrival of telephone poles in an alaskan village.

    Having just wasted 10.99 on the latest Tom Clancy at an airport bookstore, I can answer why that’s the stuff people buy there…it’s usually all they have. FYI, Tom Clancy’s latest would not have made a passable tv script, a mighty fall for the one king of the technothriller.

    It pains me to realize that I personally know many writers much better than the James Pattersons of this world. As I was told years ago by Little Brown in regards to my first book, “we could take a chance on you or we could simply publish another James Patterson.” Obviously we know which direction they went. Very little potential downside on their part.

  2. I too, am a long-time McPhan (his students call themselves McPheenos, like some sort of subatomic particles – geeky cool). Forbes Managing Editor Laury Minard (R.I.P.) was the one who made McPhee required reading for me.

    My all-time favorite McPhee reporting maneuver is in “A Sense of Where You Are,” when he takes Bradley, whose peripheral vision on the basketball court is legendary, to the ophthalmologist. It turns out Bradley’s eyes stick out from his head a lot more than the average person’s, helping to explain his freakishly developed sense of where he – and the ball – are at all times.

    Hope you’re well.