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Annals of the Former World
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About the Author

John McPhee 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.

Reviews

A feast for all John McPhee fans, this major book incorporates some of the author's best work on geology into a comprehensive tour de force. Those familiar with McPhee's writing on the subject of geology will know that his narrative includes not only scientific theory but also portraitures of his geologic guides. While the majority of this material has appeared in the New Yorker and in books such as Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain and Rising from the Plains, the collection, which includes 20,000 new words, is much more than a recycling of past writing. As McPhee says, "The text has been meshed, melded, revised, in some places cut, and everywhere studied for repetition." McPhee's many fans won't be disappointed with the high-quality descriptive portraits of geologists, their work and theories. Since the writing follows McPhee's previous works and not any set geography or geologic logic, the author has provided what he calls a "Narrative Table of Contents," which not only describes each section in turn but the theories discussed in it. In this near flawless compilation of ambitious and expansive scope, McPhee's personalized style remains consistent and triumphant: "Ebbets Field, where they buried the old Brooklyn Dodgers, was also on the terminal moraine. When a long-ball hitter hit a long ball, it would land on Bedford Avenue and bounce down the morainal front to roll toward Coney Island on the outwash plain. No one in Los Angeles would ever hit a homer like that." 25 maps, not seen by PW. (June)

"Tripling as a geology primer, an autobiography and a panorama of the nation, bejeweled with splendid vignettes and set-pieces, Annals of the Former World offers a view of America like no other. It is the outpouring of a master stylist. Yield to its geopoetry and have your eyes opened to a barely known aspect of the continent." --Roy Porter, Los Angeles Times "John McPhee has produced, over nearly a quarter of a century, a deep philology of the continent. Annals of the Former World is surely a classic. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was timeless." --A.O. Scott, Village Voice "[McPhee] triumphs by succinct prose, by his uncanny ability to capture the essence of a complex issue, or an arcane trade secret, in a well-turned phrase." --Stephen Jay Gould, The New York Review of Books "The finest non-technical overview of geology ever written . . . " --Milo Miles, The Boston Sunday Globe "No other work explains so well -- and so vividly -- to the layman the living principles of geology. . . More than anyone else, McPhee has turned the world on to rocks." --Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun Times "Sunlit, brilliant. . . this book of wonders . . . ranks with the Journals of Lewis and Clark." --John Skow, Time Magazine "This major book incorporates some of the author's best work on geology into a comprehensive tour de force. Those familiar with McPhee's writing on the subject of geology will know that his narrative includes not only scientific theory but also portraitures of his geologic guides . . . McPhee's many fans won't be disappointed with the high-quality descriptive portraits of geologists, their work and theories. Since the writing follows McPhee's previous works and not any set geography or geologic logic, the author has provided what he calls a 'Narrative Table of Contents, ' which not only describes each section in turn but the theories discussed in it. In this near flawless compilation of ambitious and expansive scope, McPhee's personalized style remains consistent and triumphant." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "No one else can take topics as diverse and seemingly dry and make of them such diverting, entertaining, and educational literature . . . This is the book on geology." --Library Journal (starred review)

McPhee is the most celebrated contemporary writer on North American geology, and Annals is his magnum opus, combining edited and revised sections from previous works with two new essays. (LJ 5/1/98)

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