- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (January 1, 1975)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374512973
- ISBN-13: 978-0374512972
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 67 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oranges Paperback – January 1, 1975
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While many readers are familiar with John McPhee's masterful pieces on a large scale (the geological history of North America, or the nature of Alaska), McPhee is equally remarkable when he considers the seemingly inconsequential. Oranges was conceived as a short magazine piece, but thanks to his unparalleled investigative skills, became a slim, fact-filled book. As McPhee chronicles orange farmers struggling with frost and horticulturists' new breeds of citrus, oranges come to seem a microcosm of man's relationship with nature.
Like Flemish miniaturists who reveal the essence of humankind within the confines of a tiny frame, McPhee once again demonstrates that the smallest topic is replete with history, significance, and consequence.
“Fascinating. A sterling example of what a fresh point of view, a clear style, a sense of humor and diligent investigation can do to reveal the inherent interest in something as taken-for-granted as your morning orange juice.” ―Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal
“It is a delicious book, in a word, and more absorbing than many a novel.” ―Roderick Cook, Harper's
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McPhee's inspiration was simply that he liked orange juice and wanted to find out where it came from. That took him to Florida where he found scientists, growers, and the entire history of a piece of fruit most of us take for granted, a native of China that was unknown in the Holy Land and the Western hemisphere at the time of Christ, that would not make it to the Americas until Columbus. For all its ubiquity in the modern world, citrus is a temperamental plant that requires particular soil and climatic conditions, not to mention careful grafting to maintain true products. There are many varieties of oranges--not just seedy, seedless and tangerine--and across history they have been valued by kings and inspired poetry. Ponce de Leon may have introduced them to the Florida mainland in the 16th century, to sustain troops. The coming of the railroad and improved shipping popularized the fruit produced in the Jacksonville, St. John's River basin and Indian River regions (northern and central Florida) in the 19th century, and an international industry was born. Fast forward to the 1960s and McPhee puts the reader in the midst of a highly evolved industry populated with creative entrepreneurs and scientists and power brokers who might be kings.
McPhee concludes his tour at a time when juice concentrate is king in America. This book could benefit from a coda updating how the trends for organic and fresh ("never from concentrate," my bottle brags) have affected the industry, as well as the real estate development that has overrun former growing areas.
Like so many everyday things, there's a lot beneath the surface. Take a walk through a sandy Florida orange grove, taste the fruit, and learn how your OJ maintains its consistency.