"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
I am nearly finished with the individual portions of' Annals of the Former World' ('Basin and Range' ☑, 'In Suspect Terrain' ☑, 'Assembling California' ☑). All I have left is to read the section 'Crossing the Craton' (a sixty page addition to his 40th parallel/I-80 project that filled in the blank in the map and allowed the publishers of 'Annals of the Former World' some additional McPhee text not found in the four main books/sections previously published to incentivize McPhee's fans to fork out the addtional $35 in 1998 to get the whole brilliant McPhee mess).
I read/listened to these books a little out of order over a little over the last year. I started off well with 'Basin & Range', 'In Suspect Terrain', but then jumped to 'Assembling California' since a couple of weeks ago I was going to be driving through California and figured it would be nice to have some geology of the geography I was going to be driving through next to me.
While I was a little disappointed with 'Assembling California', I loved 'Rising from the Plains'. I don't know if it was a return to my roots (Wyoming and Snake River and Mormon Country), or the fact that this book seemed just to excite McPhee more. You could tell he loved the Loves (David Love: Yale educated geologist, cowboy; John Love: David's father, mirthful Scot rancher/cowboy, nephew of John Muir; Ethel Waxham Love: David's mother, teacher, writer). He threads this family's golden personality and history with the geology and geography of Wyoming.
These books are dangerous and should not be given to children. I am keeping them locked up with my William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, etc. If my son or daughter (no field geology sexist me) were to discover these McPhee books too young (s)he might just grow up to be a passionate field geologist. Reading this as I near my 40s, McPhee almost makes me want to take up a hammer, hop on a horse and ride into the mountains.
I give it four stars, simply because 'Coming into the Country' still exists for me as a slightly better book, but I think the combined energy of all of the 'Annals' is definitely amazing. I've grown to appreciate the narrative skills of Nelson Runger, although he went back and forth calling the Uinta Mountains at times the [WINtas) and at other times properly the (YOU-IN-tas). Anyway, a minor issue, but not overly distracting.
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."
I've been wanting to read this book for years. Patiently it sat, right behind me, waiting. I enjoyed Philbrick's 'Mayflower' and 'Sea of Glory'. Given how much I love Moby-Dick, I'm kinda surprised it took me so long (15 years) to read this history of the Essex.
Philbrick paces this narrative well. He patches together all the major perspectives. When the story leaves gaps, he dead reckons and is able to fill the story in with similar types of accidents, aggressive whale experiences, sailors, oil, blood, starvation, and -- well -- other episodes of cannibalism. He is able to humanize the captain, the first-mate, and the people of Nantucket (while also giving serious consideration for all the other sailors; those from Nantucket, outlanders, and black sailors too). It was a quick read, and compelling.
What I absolutely love about McPhee's nonfiction is his ability to write about place, people and ideas with both beautiful prose and amazing intimacy. My favorite parts are where McPhee weaves place and people, or people and ideas together and establishes the grand metaphor for his book. McPhee picks up pieces of conversation, and stray facts, from these amazing geologists and their satelites that might get missed by most other writers, but manages to find, keep and eventually place these nuggets into his book (written over 20 years) in a way that works to support his big themes.
Seriously, this book is one of my favorite nonfiction works of all time. You can see the mark McPhee left on his students' writing if you've ever read Robert Wright, Richard Preston or New Yorker editor David Remnick. Some consider (McPhee would flunk me for such vague, nonattributable writing I'm sure) McPhee to be the godfather of New New Journalism, but he is much more than that. IMHO, he is the godfather on modern nonfiction writing, period.
That being said, this is the last of the series, and the weakest piece of the book (and also the weakest piece of geology). So, if you are new to McPhee, or interested in listening to 'Annals of the Former World', this is the soft and permeable end. Start wtih 'Basin and Range' >next> 'In Suspect Terrain' >next> 'Rising from the Plains' >next> 'Assembling California' >next>'Crossing the Craton'.
Just beware Audible lists 'Crossing the Craton' as book 4, but it is really Book 5 because for whatever reason Book 4 ('Assembling California') has "separated" from main body of "Annals of the Former World'. California geology writing is just as mysterious as California's people and geology, I guess.