Synopses & Reviews
This acclaimed collection of essays begins with the title essay and a trip to Nevada, where, in the company of a brand inspector, John McPhee discovers that cattle rustling is not just history.
"McPhee is known as the dean of 'literary journalists' . . . His writing creates its own wonderful topographical map of the ways of the world, contemplated with both microcosmic closeness and cosmic breadth."—Kate Shatzkin, The Baltimore Sun
"Somehow McPhee finds, again and again, the kind of people we're told don't exist anymore: unsung heroes . . . living lives of absolute mastery of their varied fields. A master himself, McPhee writes about them with grace. This is a close to poetry as journalism gets."—Andrea Gollin, Miami Herald
"McPhee's essays are proof that the kind of journalism that can effortlessly put a topic into perfect perspective will never go out of style."—Robert R. Harris, The New York Times Book Review
In this collection John McPhee once agains proves himself as a master observer of all arenas of life as well a powerful and important writer.
The title piece of this collection resulted from a casual conversation in which a friend of John McPhee's told him that he had recently been in Nevada and had seen at a remote crossroads a white vehicle with whirling red-and-blue roof lights and the Nevada state seal on the door. Above the seal, where he expected to see the words State Police, he saw the words Brand Inspector. This suggested to him that cattle rustling was not just history in Nevada. He told McPhee that he had thought of him, and what a reporter might learn if he spent a few weeks in that vehicle. The conversation took place in New Jersey. Virtually the same day, the author departed for Nevada. The differing contents of this book reflect the variety in the overall span of McPhee's work - compositions that have in common only and essentially the fact that they are about real people in real places. The longest piece, called "The Gravel Page", is about forensic geology - insights from the science as they are used to help solve major crimes and puzzles on an even greater scale. The shortest piece - "Rinard at Manheim" - is an experimental story about an auction of exotic cars, in which the interviewee, Rinard, takes over the narrative while McPhee's remarks are confined to brackets. Items as unlikely as a virgin forest in central New Jersey, a blind writer-professor working at his computer, and a mountain of scrap tires (forty-four million scrap tires) in California shape the scenes and substance of other pieces. Not to mention Plymouth Rock. "Travels of the Rock", which ends the book, is about a day when the State of Massachusetts had to call in a mason to repair the nation's most hallowed lithic relic. McPhee stood in the pit with the mason in Plymouth and watched the attentive public leaning on the railings above. "Travels of the Rock" is a blend of colonial history, paleogeography, radiometric dating, societal drift, tectonic theory, schoolkids by the busload, and Mayflower descendants in leather jackets, cowboy boots, and one-way shades.
About the Author
was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time
magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker
, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. Also in 1965, he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are
, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the years since, he has written nearly 30 books, including Oranges
(1967), Coming into the Country
(1977), The Control of Nature
(1989), The Founding Fish
(2002), Uncommon Carriers
(2007), and Silk Parachute
(2011). Encounters with the Archdruid
(1972) and The Curve of Binding Energy
(1974) were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. McPhee received the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1999, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World
. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Table of Contents
Irons in the fire -- Release -- In virgin forest -- The gravel page -- Duty of care -- Rinard at Manheim -- Travels of the rock.