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The Control of Nature Paperback – September 1, 1990


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (September 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374522596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374522599
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Review

“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

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

Very much provided a clear discussions of the Mississippi delta flow control, as well as the lava discharges in Iceland ..
Aquiferman
As with the other McPhee books I've read, this novel is chock-full of really interesting stories and tasty factual tidbits, as well as colorful character portrayals.
Mike
McPhee's gift for revealing characters exceeds that of all but the best novelists, and he uses these people to tell his stories.
the_global_village_idiot

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Elsie Wilson on August 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
A fairly detailed investigation and explanation of three locations where Man is attempting to prevent the course of Nature. The first, the attempt, so far successful, to prevent the Mississippi from changing its exit to the Gulf (it wants to go through the Atchafalaya River, substantially shorter and more attractive to the water), which change would utterly negate the entire economic geography of lower Louisiana. The second, the use of seawater pumped by the hundreds of thousands of gallons onto fresh, hot lava, to prevent said lava from overrunning and destroying the harbour and town of Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. The third, the ongoing attempt to preserve Los Angeles from the self-destruction of the San Gabriel Mountains. All three goals are fully understandable in economic terms; what is not so clear, at least with the first and third, is how long the effort can be kept up. McPhee makes a good case that in human times, not geologic, Nature will win in both cases. One leaves the book with a feeling of excitement and pleasure in the Icelandic battle, a wonder at the power of the Mississippi and the stubbornness of the Army Corps of Engineers, and a sense of amazement at the futility and blindness of people who continue to live under the San Gabriels and hold the City liable for their foolish choices.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
Having completed my Master's thesis on a 300 year flood, I picked up this book to read about Old River and the Corps' struggle to hold its position. However, I found myself even more fascinated with the struggle of the Icelandic people against essentially the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (good luck) and the head-in-the-sand mentality of Southern Californians when it comes to mudslides. McPhee is as artful in explaining geology as geology is complex. When I read his descriptions of complex geological situations put into simple terms, I smile, chuckle, shake my head, and read the line over and over. I just can't believe such complex concepts can be explained so simply using the same language I use everyday.
The man is good.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jvstin VINE VOICE on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I learned that John McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for ANNALS OF THE FORMER WORLD, I blanched a bit at buying and reading that weighty tome. I wasn't sure about tackling it, no matter how highly recommended. Thus, I looked for a smaller volume of his to "test the waters" since I have never read anything written by him before.
I chose, almost at random, this volume, and fell in love with the man's work. McPhee definitely has a talent for writing, both in describing the often unusual people he meets in the three locales depicted, and his intelligent and witty turns of phrase.
This definitely won't be my last John McPhee book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Julie Kimball on November 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read Los Angeles Against the Mountains (3rd chapter in the book) in the New Yorker many years ago which is what drew me to the expanded book. It is rare that I remember a title, author and content for many years!

There is only one thing I can add to the reviews already given which is a suggestion to readers. The book would be greatly enhanced by maps of the Mississipi River, Iceland and even the LA area. For me, the book merits a second reading and I'll have maps in hand. While McPhee's writing creates wonderful images, it would be helpful to tie to those images and his messages to the physical realities.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Control of Nature is a collection of three long esssays about people trying to engineer their way around forces of nature. The first one about control of the Mississippi river to keep it in the current streambed, the second about anticipating volcanic activity in Iceland and the last one dealing with the literal moving of mountains as Los Angeles population pressure pushes people to bulid in the San Gaberial Mountains of California.
McPhee, as always, tries to stay in the background and let the participants speak on the page, but there is no mistaking his memorably vivid descriptions of people or nature. His prose are first rate with an eye for compelling detail.
The book itself is a quick, thrilling read that leaves the reader with a better understanding of unsung heroes and follies.
My favorite McPhee. A warning about some of McPhee's other books: My eyes seem to always glaze over when I attempt one of his "rock talk" full length books on geology.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Oz Wizard on September 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
It is worth noting that the first third of this book is highly relevant to the recent Katrina experience. It discusses the manipulation of the Mississippi River system by the Army Corps of Engineers and various interests (oil and shipping). As the book explains, this hubris has resulted in a period of relative stability and attendant econonomic benefits, but has left Southern Louisiana an ecological "house of cards" whose condition is rapidly worsening. In the wake of Katrina there has been remarkably little discussion of this history of intervention and the threat it poses for the future. This book is a good place to get the story. But it was first published in 1989, so there's been a lot of water under Old River Control since then.

I have only read the first third of this one, but McPhee's books are always crisp, well-written, informative, authoritative, entertaining, and balanced (sometimes to a fault). This one is no exception.
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