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Coming into the Country Paperback – April 1, 1991
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“It is a reviewer's greatest pleasure to ring the gong for a species of masterpiece.” ―Edward Hoagland, The New York Times Book Review
“Justly celebrated…By showing us what Alaska is like, McPhee reminds us of what we have become.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“What is really in view in Coming into the Country is a matter not usually met in works of reportage . . . nothing less than the nature Of the human condition.” ―Benjamin De Mott, The Atlantic Monthly
“McPhee has acted as an antenna in a far-off place that few will see. He has brought back a wholly satisfying voyage of spirit and mind.” ―Paul Grey, Time
“With this book McPhee proves to be the most versatile journalist in America.” ―Editor's Choice, The New York Times
Top Customer Reviews
I own and have read everything McPhee has written. I subscribe to New Yorker mostly for the annual or biennial piece by McPhee. I like the geology series very much, and parts of Birch Bark Canoe still make me laugh out loud, but Country is his best book.
McPhee's many gifts including finding and understanding interesting, compelling people, and writing about them eloquently and non-judgmentally. He uses those people and what they say to convey his larger themes. Stan Gelvin and his dad, Willie Hensley and, of course, the folks in and around Eagle. He somehow wrangled a seat on the state capital relocation committee's helicopter. He somehow charmed the irascible Joe Vogler into candor. I talked with Vogler - who has since been murdered in a gun deal gone bad - about McPhee's interview, and he told me that McPhee took no notes during interviews over a week, and yet "pretty much got it right."
I've lived in Alaska most of my life. I've read the gushy stuff (Michener, for example), the political diatribes (Joe McGinnis, for example), and the gee-whiz tourist fodder. McPhee, instead of trying to paint the whole state, paints a series of miniatures which give you a much accurate glimpse than the writers and hacks who try to "describe" Alaska.
Maybe it's that America's best non-fiction writer brought his special tools and skills to the right opportunities; maybe it's just luck. It all came together in this book.Read more ›
Sadly, the Alaska that McPhee wrote about no longer exists. In the first segment, he writes about the Brooks Range wilderness, and discusses the controversy around establishing the "Gates of the Arctic" National Park there. That park is now established. In the second segment, he writes about the aftereffects of the decision to move the state capital from Juneau to somewhere north of Anchorage. That move never occurred. In the third (and longest and most compelling) segment, he reports on the lives of the people of isolated Eagle, Alaska, a town that today boasts a fax machine.
The third segment is where McPhee's writing really shines: I don't think anyone has ever conveyed the personality of Alaska and Alaskans as well as McPhee has. My favorite was the story of how one man and his son managed to get an entire C9 Caterpillar bulldozer into the middle of nowhere, clearing their way through 70-foot winter drifts, to set up a gold dredging operation. McPhee conveys the extreme beauty and wildness of the place, and the fire and determination of the people to belong to it.Read more ›
Without wishing to carp, I do think that the book is a shade too long -- the final section 'Coming into the Country' could profitably have been pruned of about forty pages -- but the greater length does allow the reader to see the effort McPhee goes to to provide his stories with an aesthetically pleasing structure. The first section, 'The Encircled River' deposits us, in medias res, halfway down a tributary of one of Alaska's northenmost rivers. McPhee and his companions travel downriver to the confluence of a larger river, and then we head back to the headwaters of the earlier river -- the story describes an encircling pattern. The second part 'What they were looking for' is a very funny record of a helicopter trip taken by a committee established to decide on a new capital for Alaska. Here the story skips around the theme as the chopper skips around proposed sites for the new metropolis.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
very interesting way to write about a journey. I tried to teach my students about the way this was written. Rebecca newthPublished 4 months ago by rebecca newth
John McPhee is the greatest outdoor writer since Hemingway! This book is the real story of Alaska and her people, country, adventure, and written with McPhee's style, feelings and... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Steve
A marvelous tour of the unique and ponderous country and it's people. A latter day version of the people who trapped the western mountains and homesteads the prairie.Published 8 months ago by Suzanne N.
a good read and would recommend it to anyone interested in adventure and outdoors. well written and informative.Published 9 months ago by Jerry M. Welch
I appreciated McPhee's lyric descriptions of places and events he experienced, but not the disjointed development of themes regarding political issues of the time. Read morePublished 10 months ago by AG