Friday, January 14, 2005

John McPhee

Our news is usually dominated by the follies of humanity. The past few weeks have served to remind us that there are other dangers out there, only made more or less threatening by our actions.

After my post about Susan Sontag I would like to recognize another writer of our time, John McPhee. One of the finest examples of a writer of literary non-fiction, Mr. McPhee's book of a few years back, The Control of Nature, was the first thing I thought of after seeing pictures of the recent deadly mudslides in California.

By chance I read some of Mr. McPhee's first writings in the New Yorker magazine when I should have been studying in my high school government class. Those pieces were later turned into a 1965 book, A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton. Mr. McPhee joined the staff of the New Yorker that year and has continued to set the standard by which journalism and non-fiction writing may be judged. His 1999 Pulitzer Prize for his Annals of the Former World, a masterful exploration of North American geology and those who study it, attest to that.

A frequent theme of his writings is struggle and accommodations by humans facing forces larger than themselves. The Control of Nature is really a series of essays taking us from the Atchafalaya River to the volcanoes of Iceland and the unstable mountains of California. If you would like to learn more about what those southern Californians are up against, read John McPhee.

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