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The Survival of the Bark Canoe Paperback – May 1, 1982
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“In his own beautifully crafted work, McPhee treats both man and boat with all the respect and admiration their precarious presence commands.” ―Time
“Every white water and wilderness buff should rise to it like a trout, but as all followers of Mr. McPhee's work would expect, its appeal and value cannot be so narrowly limited; it's a lively chronicle, rich in character study and observations.” ―The Wall Street Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
But this is John McPhee, and he can write about whatever he wants.
This book is about a guy obsessed with building bark canoes like the Indians did, about a camping trip in the Maine woods, and about travelling through the wilderness when the rest of the world's advancing further into civilization.
It's a good book on bark canoes, on canoeing in general, on Maine, on the history of fur trapping, on the idea of wilderness, on obsession, and on Thoreau.
It may make you want to build a canoe, and it will almost certainly make you want to go camping. It's worth it just for that.
The book is written in John McPhee's clear, simplistic prose, and always feels focused and well-paced. It's a good introduction to McPhee, and a good book, period.
You should read it.
That other reviewer found the second half to be parody of Vaillancourt, but I disagree. As in The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, real life sometimes takes a turn that a dreamer would not expect. Like his other non-fiction, I felt that McPhee offered real insights to the peoples' character and doesn't hesitate to sing their praises nor describe their shortcomings.
I enjoy the copious background information that McPhee includes in all of his books. Even more than a Tracy Kidder book, you come away feeling like you have some in-depth understanding of the subject.
As usual with McPhee we learn a great deal about the technical subject at hand; here the building of authentic birchbark canoes, but even more about the tradecraft and personality of the person and type of person dedicated to the subject.
Like McPhee, I live in New Jersey and have hiked and camped in the Pine Barrens, and fished for and caught shad in the Delaware River, and perhaps understand a little of his wanderlust. McPhee mentions canoes in many of his other works, is clearly fond of and experienced with them, and can barely contain his excitement over getting authentic with a birchbark canoe.
As others have noted, his portrayal of Henri changes a bit as we move from "the yard" to the water. McPhee notes that Henri is an artist in both ability and temperament. This is an academic conclusion that is easy to come by while watching in the yard, but not without a little personal discomfort to realize in the field.
I often tell my kids that one of the most critical rules one must follow to get along with a group while on a team, on a trip, or even on a family vacation is to take care of your own stuff and do a little more than your share of the work.Henri violates this rule and complicates matters further when it is revealed that although he is the self appointed leader, the emperor has no clothes with regard to actually using the canoes.
There is a faint sense of attempting to, but not quite being able to experience that which is desired. Do the canoes actually work as well as imagined? Is the land as beautiful? What of Thoreau and his observations?Read more ›
While his book about Florida oranges was the first of his books that I have read, and I liked it best, this one is written in that same way. I wish I could afford one of these canoes.
I would recommend this book for all high school students and any adult looking to learn about the canoe or just looking for a good book to read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great, interesting study of bark canoes as well as revealing how to write non fiction, through observation, by a great teacher of writing.Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
John McPhee has been America's best non-fiction writer seemingly forever. This is the first of his I read [decades ago!], but it remains utterly unforgettable. Read morePublished 22 months ago by William C. Lloyd
John McPhee is at his best, as he explores the history of the bark canoe in America, and tells of a canoe trip gone wrong. Read morePublished on January 28, 2014 by Geekless in NC
Worth reading for any fan of canoes, history, paddling and the Maine woods. McPhee paints a great portrait of a man obsessed with the birch bark canoe and those who have to suffer... Read morePublished on January 13, 2014 by Dave McDonough
The books use writing technical for story telling that is very appealing for continuous engagement. And new words become clear from the context. Read morePublished on December 7, 2013 by clifford forester
This was the first book I read by John McPhee about forty years ago. I actually read it in the "New Yorker" where he is a staff writer. Read morePublished on September 11, 2013 by John Komdat