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Giving Good Weight Hardcover – November 26, 1979
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“Replete with the reportorial virtues for which John McPhee is so much respected.” ―Larry McMurtry, The New York Times Book Review
“McPhee . . . is a diamond-hard, diamond-clear reporter with exquisite taste.” ―Barry Siegel, Los Angles Times
“An excellent sampler of McPhee's writing.” ―Robert R. Harris, The Washington Post
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. Also in 1965, he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the years since, he has written nearly 30 books, including Oranges (1967), Coming into the Country (1977), The Control of Nature (1989), The Founding Fish (2002), Uncommon Carriers (2007), and Silk Parachute (2011). Encounters with the Archdruid (1972) and The Curve of Binding Energy (1974) were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. McPhee received the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1999, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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1. New York's Greenmarket, a big farmer's market, is the title article, back when farmer's markets were new. McPhee talks to the farmers/vendors, mostly, and works for a couple of them for awhile. The farmers generally like the black people best as customers, finding them less fussy. Then the Spanish, and the wealthy whites are the least popular: fussy and rude. The farmers like getting paid much more than wholesale, and the customers like good produce at reasonable prices. Win-win, and 4 stars. 73 pp.
2. New Jersey Public Service had a serious proposal to build a large, floating nuclear power plant 3 miles offshore, in the early 70s. McPhee talked to the engineers, the biologists, and the oceanographers studying the proposal. The utility seemed to be doing a careful and methodical job , and the scientists appreciated the work. The biologists were more dubious about the project, the oceanographers more supportive. No fatal technical issues were found -- the design was tested for a simulated million-year storm (a super-hurricane) and a simultaneous shipwreck of a supertanker on the enclosing breakwater. Citizen opposition had begun, but no permits had been granted when the project was put on indefinite hold in 1978. 5 stars, 44 pp.
3. McPhee meets one New York's 2 pinball wizards, tries out his favorite Bally machine, then the two wizards meet at the Circus Circus off Times Square. Short, sweet, very entertaining. I was never very good at pinball. McPhee's piece makes me want to play a game or three. 4 stars, 12 pp.
4. A canoe trip down Maine's St. John River, in Aroostook County, almost to Canada. McPhee's companions include a Saltonstall, a Cabot from Boston, and a Byrd, a descendant of the polar explorer. At the time, there was an active proposal to build Lake Dickey, a large hydropower pool, but the Maine river remains largely a wilderness waterway today. 3.5+ stars, 47 pp.
5. "Brigade de Cuisine" is a article about a chef-owner and his wife, the pastry chef, who operated a restaurant in the wilds of upstate NY, and insisted on anonymity for both themselves and their restaurant, which was about to move anyway. "Otto", trained in Switzerland, grew up in Spain and worked there again later, where he met "Anne", his wife. McPhee spent considerable time with them, much of it in the kitchen, listening and eating -- McPhee says that the 20 or 30 best meals in his life were at the couple's rural restaurant. There might be more lists of ingredients and dishes here than I really needed to know, but this is also the most entertaining essay in the book. Here's "Anne", who's served a Chivas to a customer, who accuses her of subbing something cheaper: "You get out of here and you *never* come back!" The woman ran for her car. 5 stars, 60 pp.
Peter D. Tillman
In "Giving Good Weight", McPhee serves up five splendid examples of the essayist's art. First, the title essay, about the produce sellers of the open-air farmer's market, the Brooklyn Greenmarket. McPhee interviewed, and sacked produce for, several of the sellers. His specialty, green peppers. He follows the sellers back to their farms, tracking the greens from seed to sale.
What if you had a dream of how to produce electricity cleanly, out-of-sight, and still be competitive? That's what Richard Eckert, subject of the second essay, 'The Atlantic Generating Station' had. McPhee focuses on Eckert and the other dreamers involved, but along the way gives us lots of information about oceangraphy, marine biology, the electrical utility industry, and nuclear regualation.
'Pinball Philosphy' is about the two best pinball players in New York City, at a time (1975) when public pinball was illegal there. We learn about the machines, the sub culture that saw pinball play as their life and work as the finacing mechanism to supply quarters, and tricks of play. Then, McPhee puts Tony Lukas and Tom Buckley head-to-head for play on a Williams Fun-Fest machine. Only the best flipper can win.
Next, we join McPhee and some cronies for canoeing in Maine, mostly on the St. John River, in 'The Keel of Lake Dickey'. McPhee's first mass market bestseller was his Alaskan classic "Coming into the Country" and in this essay he shows yet again his love and feel for nature.
The last, and best, essay in the book is 'Brigade de Cuisine'. This is about a restaurant, it's one man kitchen crew Chef "Otto" (hence the title), and his family. In the essay, McPhee never identifies 'Otto', the name of the restaurant, or even it's location. This caused quite a fuss with the professional food critics of New York when the essay was published in the 'New Yorker', as they couldn't believe that such a place could exist. In time they found the place, and did their best to destroy it, out of sheer pique. Fortunately, 'Otto' already had plans to move out West and open a new place. It would be fun if McPhee would write a sequel to 'Brigade' and tell us his view of all the fuss. Oh, for anyone who has read the essay, and might be interested to know, 'Otto's real name is Alan Lieb, and his restaurant was in Shohola. PA.
Most recent customer reviews
Marvel at the hard work, complexities and politics of farming and produce vending and nutrition.Read more
Every lover of wonderful storytelling/reportage/writing should read this.Read more