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Silk Parachute Hardcover – March 2, 2010

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First read by millions worldwide in The New York Times. Gratitude brings together four essays written over the last two years of Sacks' life. Check out "Gratitude". | See more by Oliver Sacks
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is not a new McPhee reader, though surely a third such volume is merited, but rather a collection of the best of his funny and affecting personal essays, works that offer glimpses of McPhee as a willful, curious boy; a nervous rookie New Yorker staff writer; and a bemused and proud father and grandfather. The stellar title essay is a glorious curveball homage to his mother. McPhee also writes of canoeing and lacrosse. Does eating “eccentric food” count as an athletic endeavor? It does when McPhee lives off the land with Euell Gibbons. And certainly fact-checking as practiced at the New Yorker (the home for earlier versions of these delectable pieces), and described in “Checkpoints,” qualifies as the literary equivalent of an Olympic sport. “Season on the Chalk” is a quintessential McPhee essay––he is a game-changing master of the form––in which the roll and pitch of his sentences embody the topography of Europe’s strange and fabled chalk country. Whatever his subject, McPhee’s virtuoso and deeply engaging essays convey the profound pleasure of attending to the world. --Donna Seaman


“We marvel at the pains [McPhee] takes with structure, approaching his subject from oblique angles, slowly building tension, sometimes seeming to wander, but always propelling his narratives forward . . . In the age of blogging and tweeting, of writers' near-constant self-promotion, McPhee is an imperative counterweight, a paragon of both sense and civility.” ―Elizabeth Royte, The New York Times Book Review

“Reading McPhee's lucid descriptions of [lacrosse], with its lightning pace and nuanced skill levels, one wonders why Americans spend so much time watching football . . . We're fortunate McPhee has written as much--and as well--as he has. For readers who have always wanted a more personal glimpse, Silk Parachute should be floating your way.” ―Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times

“How long the McPhee tradition will endure is anyone's guess. But for now we have Silk Parachute, a testament to a kind of literary journalism that will, with any luck, have both its standards and its standard-bearer around for years to come.” ―Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374263736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374263737
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More 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. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The Pine Barrens (1968), A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles (collection, 1969), The Crofter and the Laird (1969), Levels of the Game (1970), Encounters with the Archdruid (1972), The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (1973), The Curve of Binding Energy (1974), Pieces of the Frame (collection, 1975), and The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). Both Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on July 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
John McPhee, in my opinion, has for some 25 years been America's greatest non-fiction writer. Whether it has been his epic, four volume series of geology, or esoterica like The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, or his best work, Coming into the Country, McPhee writes on an extraordinary range of subjects by finding and writing about the amazing people he has encountered, who give us insights into the subjects McPhee has selected.

But not this time. This time the personality is John McPhee, writing about things that have happened to him. Whether it is the delightful title essay, "Silk Parachute," which is worth the price of the book itself, or his lyrical exploration of The Chalk, from England and through France, for the most part these are stories about McPhee, or jokes McPhee tells on himself. And, just occasionally, a glimpse of a truly extraordinary writer, doing what he does best.

I own every published book from McPhee. I have read and re-read them all. This small collection ranks in the top 10%. Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By the_global_village_idiot on August 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
This collection is notable primarily for the way McPhee takes us behind the curtain and reveals more of himself and his process than we usually get to see.

It's a little uneven, quite frankly; his extensive treatise on the game of lacrosse goes on way too long for my taste. McPhee has a knack for finding interesting story points in tiny details; in this particular piece, we find an astonishing ability to cite statistics but only a handful of those stats really move the story along.

But there are also real gems - including the two short essays that open and close the book ("Silk Parachute" and "Nowheres," respectively). They're among the most lyrical and economical pieces of McPhee that I've read.

"Under the Cloth" gives us a look at an unusual collaboration between two large-format photographers, one of whom happens to be McPhee's daughter. It's a knockout, both for the way this working relationship is described, and as a glimpse into McPhee's own life. "Rip Van Golfer" presents us with McPhee as a stranger in a strange land: as a non-sports journalist covering the US Open golf tournament. It's highly entertaining. And we get some fascinating understanding of the editorial machine that is The New Yorker.

I feel I know way more about my favorite living writer than he has ever shown before. And something else that's a treat: McPhee's writing has long been witty, but some of these essays contain stuff that's laugh-out-loud funny. This book is probably a better choice for a confirmed McPhee fan than for someone just discovering him, but I'm really glad this one is in my library. I WILL read it again.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By T. Flory on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In what may be Mr. McPhee's final book, we are treated to some insights that reveal the origins of some of his other writing. Thoughtful and well written as always, but likely most appreciated by those familiar with his work. While so many marvel at his ability to make otherwise mundane topics interesting, the quality of his writing and the simple ease of reading it never fail in any way. While it would be unfortunate for his readers, if this is his last, it is greatly appreciated.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Justin Mclaughlin on March 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In many ways this collection of essays is a complete aberration for John McPhee. In many ways it's not at all. There are several essays that fit the typical McPhee template, ie a copiously studied exposition on a seemingly arcane subject presented in a structurally unique and engaging way. The two essays that jump out of this collection are on the chalk region of northern Europe (England, France, and the Netherlands) and another on Lacrosse. Both of these are flat-out superb, welcome territory for those of us who know and relish McPhee's oeuvre. At the far end of the spectrum are the one and two page personal essays, which may be unfamiliar to those who do not assiduously read the New Yorker. No longer being an assiduos reader of the New Yorker, I found them quite pleasurable to read on first encounter, in part for what they revealed about their author. Lastly there are what I would call hybrid essays - a bit longer than the personal essays, somewhat shorter than the first two I mentioned. Interestingly, these essays draw heavily on from McPhee's earlier writings, including Coming Into the Country and the Headmaster, and are valuable in their examination of McPhee's writing process.

Overall, I always recommend McPhee's writing simply because it is so damn good. There is plenty damn good writing on display here: copiously researched material, crafted with a master artisan's skill with particular attention to clarity without the dilution of detail. That being said, there are plenty of McPhee books that are better; this collection would not do justice to someone first encountering his work; but for those already converted, go out and enjoy this collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M J on November 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I keep thinking that I could make my writing more engaging if I read enough McPhee. Osmosis isn't working, but what fun to read his stuff.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By UrbanMonique on May 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you want to write, you've got to read; a three to one write to read ratio seems about right. And you cannot go wrong reading McPhee - Few writers, very few in fact, can touch what he does with a subject.
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