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The Survival of the Bark Canoe Paperback – May 1, 1982

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In an age of mass-produced and disposable objects, traditional crafts are becoming extinct, and appreciation for craftsmanship has become a hobby for the wealthy dilettante. But here and there, a few stalwart individuals carry on the old traditions. Henri Vaillancourt of Greenville, New Hampshire is in large part responsible for the continuing survival of the birch bark canoe. McPhee tells the story not only of Vaillancourt and his work, but of the canoe's role in American history. Many McPhee fans consider this lovely and lucid book one of his finest works.

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“In his own beautifully crafted work, McPhee treats both man and boat with all the respect and admiration their precarious presence commands.” ―Time

“Every white water and wilderness buff should rise to it like a trout, but as all followers of Mr. McPhee's work would expect, its appeal and value cannot be so narrowly limited; it's a lively chronicle, rich in character study and observations.” ―The Wall Street Journal

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 114 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (May 1, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374516936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374516932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Typically, I hate it when people write books about really short trips that aren't very adventurous or eventful.

But this is John McPhee, and he can write about whatever he wants.

This book is about a guy obsessed with building bark canoes like the Indians did, about a camping trip in the Maine woods, and about travelling through the wilderness when the rest of the world's advancing further into civilization.

It's a good book on bark canoes, on canoeing in general, on Maine, on the history of fur trapping, on the idea of wilderness, on obsession, and on Thoreau.

It may make you want to build a canoe, and it will almost certainly make you want to go camping. It's worth it just for that.

The book is written in John McPhee's clear, simplistic prose, and always feels focused and well-paced. It's a good introduction to McPhee, and a good book, period.

You should read it.
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John McPhee has been America's best non-fiction writer seemingly forever. This is the first of his I read [decades ago!], but it remains utterly unforgettable. Here's my chance to "plug" once again my OTHER all-time favorite "outdoors" books [out-of-print? -- no matter, do yourself a favor and track down used copies!]: Elliot Merrick's "True North;" John J. Rowland's "Cache Lake Country;" and R.M. Patterson's "The Dangerous River -- Adventure on the Nahanni" [previously just "Dangerous River"].
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Format: Paperback
John McFee has crafted an elegant essay that juxtaposes the lost native art and craft of canoe making with the psyche and only too human angst of an endangered species; a man who embraces the non-technical world.
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Format: Paperback
As a canoeist, handyman, and McPhee fan, I enjoyed this little book very much. Like the 5-11-2000 reviewer, I found it to come in two parts. The first part details technical details about birch-bark canoes and how Vaillancourt became a self-taught master of their construction. The second part describes a canoe trip with Vaillancourt and others.
That other reviewer found the second half to be parody of Vaillancourt, but I disagree. As in The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, real life sometimes takes a turn that a dreamer would not expect. Like his other non-fiction, I felt that McPhee offered real insights to the peoples' character and doesn't hesitate to sing their praises nor describe their shortcomings.
I enjoy the copious background information that McPhee includes in all of his books. Even more than a Tracy Kidder book, you come away feeling like you have some in-depth understanding of the subject.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book years ago and have even given a couple of copies away to friends! So I highly recommend this book and many of McPhee's other works. As to Henri Vaillincourt, the hero of the book; he would say don't believe everything you read in the book... He builds canoes still today, and very nice one at that. He even has a website that I will not list here. The true beauty of the book is first it recreates how to build a true Algonquin style canoe. Second it recreates Thoreau's "Maine Woods" trip. Lastly it shows a man, Henri with an interest that has became his passion for the last forty years or his life. If you ever drive up up New Hampshire Route 31 you can see his works of art in progress on the side of the road. I also recommend Thoreau's The Maine Woods as a companion book to this one!
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This was the first book I read by John McPhee about forty years ago. I actually read it in the "New Yorker" where he is a staff writer.
I was completely mesmerized by this book. It is beautifully written and packed with details about making a canoe as an American Indian would.
If you have never read anything by this author, I urge you to try this small book. When you are done, you will not be able to wait to get your next McPhee book. Luckily, he has written a bunch of books.
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John McPhee is at his best, as he explores the history of the bark canoe in America, and tells of a canoe trip gone wrong. The character development and the story line are both excellent. They provide endless opportunities for humor, as the characters struggle to keep their canoes afloat, and their emotions in check, while mother nature and human nature conspire against them.
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You won't learn much about canoe building but you do get to know the builder. He's very immature the book shows that. I wonder if the years have helped Henri to grow. I wish there were a follow up to this book.
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