Master how-it-works writer John McPhee has instructed his readers in the arcana of how oranges are commercially graded, how mountains form, how canoes are built and oceans crossed. In The Control of Nature
he turns his attention once more to geology and the human struggle against nature. In one sketch, he explores the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' unrealized plan to divert the flow of the Mississippi River into a tributary, the Atchafalaya, for flood control; in another, he looks at the ingenious ways in which an Icelandic engineer saved a southern harbor on that island from being destroyed by a lava flow; in a third, he examines a complex scheme to protect Los Angeles from boulders ejected from mountains by compression and tectonic movement. As always, McPhee combines a deep knowledge of his subject with a narrative approach that is wholly accessible; you may not have thought you were interested in earthquakes and flood control, but he gently leads you to take a passionate concern in such matters.
“All three elemental battles recounted by the masterly McPhee are unified by the most uncontrolled and stubborn of all forces: human nature.” --R. Z. Sheppard, Time
“It is difficult to put these stories aside. If the stories bear witness to the ultimate triumph of nature over human engineering, they also testify to the triumph of art over nature.” --Stephen J. Pyne, The New York Times Book Review (front page)
“This book is unmistakable McPhee: the silky narrative, with keen detail and sharp dialogue, the finely drawn characters, the nimble metaphors.” --Stephen MacDonald, The Wall Street Journal
“Some of his passages left me gasping for breath…This book gave me more pure enjoyment than anything I've read in a long time.” --Christopher Shaw, The Washington Post Book World