Irons in the Fire


In this collection John McPhee once agains proves himself as a master observer of all arenas of life as well a powerful and important writer.

Items as unlikely as a virgin forest in central New Jersey, a blind writer/professor working at his computer, and a mountain of 44 million scrap tires in California shape the scenes and substances of this new collection of pieces by John McPhee, author of such works as Looking for a Ship and ...

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1997 AUDIO CASSETTE Good Audio Book 6 AUDIO CASSETTES, tested for your satisfaction for a worthwhile set, in the clamshell case, withdrawn from the library collection. The ... clamshell case has a chip. Some shelf wear and library markings to the box and the tapes. The Audio Cassettes are in individual slots, protected and clear sounding. Enjoy this worthwhile AUDIO CASSETTE performance. Read more Show Less

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Irons in the Fire

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In this collection John McPhee once agains proves himself as a master observer of all arenas of life as well a powerful and important writer.

Items as unlikely as a virgin forest in central New Jersey, a blind writer/professor working at his computer, and a mountain of 44 million scrap tires in California shape the scenes and substances of this new collection of pieces by John McPhee, author of such works as Looking for a Ship and In Suspect Terrain. 224 pp. National ads. 35,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Whether attending an auction of exotic cars, watching masons repair a crack in Plymouth Rock or exploring a primeval virgin woods in central New Jersey, prolific essayist McPhee has a marvelous knack for finding the universal in the particular. The title essay of this latest collection of New Yorker pieces is a ripsnorting account of cattle rustling in Nevada that harks back to the Wild West. In California, McPhee ponders an environmental disaster in the making as he inspects the world's largest mountain of scrapped automobile tires. Other pieces deal with a blind professor of English who uses a talking computer and forensic geologists who sift sand, pebbles, microfossils and mineral grains to solve murders, track down terrorists and pinpoint remote geographies. McPhee's usual craftsmanship, unflappable curiosity and openness to experience shine through as he discovers worlds off the beaten path, microcosms wherein he takes human nature as his province. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Most people think cattle rustling belongs to the past or to Wild West movies, yet, as McPhee informs us, the practice still presents problems for cattle ranchers in Nevada, necessitating the state position of brand inspector. In addition to this title essay, McPhee's collection features other unusual topics, such as repairing the crack in Plymouth Rock and tracing murders through geological clues. McPhee, a prolific writer best known for his best-selling Coming into the Country (1977), employs an accessible journalistic style and a scientific sensibility that stimulate interest and understanding in his somewhat esoteric subjects. In the Plymouth Rock essay, for instance, he surrounds his description of the actual repair with a social and geological history of the famous landmark. This book will appeal to curious readers looking for something unusual, especially those interested in the West and the geological sciences. McPhee's essays are entertaining as well as enlightening. For all libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Kirkus Reviews
Nothing, it seems, is beyond McPhee's purview, and these seven essays (which first ran in the New Yorker) offer further evidence that in the right hands even the most prosaic of topics harbors an unsuspected richness of surprising facts and fancies.

McPhee (The Ransom of Russian Art, 1994; Looking for a Ship, 1990, etc.) casts his net wide. The title essay describes his journey to Nevada to examine the process of branding cattle. Along the way, he turns up tales of high-tech cattle rustling and offers some typically shrewd glimpses of the lives of ranchers and cattle- brand inspectors. Lyrical to a deadpan fault, McPhee can describe a lowing herd as no other writer: "They sound like baritone whales. They sound like jets passing overhead without Doppler effect. They sound like an all-tuba band warming up." Elsewhere, on more familiar but no less startling ground for his readers, McPhee looks at forensic geology, relating how beer magnate Adolph Coors's killer was tracked down through careful study of the mineral grains deposited on a car's underside, and describes how an FBI geologist helped to solve the murder in Mexico—-no thanks to the corrupt Mexican police—-of Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique Salazar. Perhaps the most fascinating piece here concerns one of the most ubiquitous objects in contemporary society—-tires. McPhee visits the largest tire dumps in America, interviews an assortment of surprisingly visionary entrepenuers, and emerges, as usual, with an arcane yet impressive array of statistics; for example, three billion tires sit discarded in the US, from which 178 million barrels of oil could be recovered. McPhee also profiles a blind writer who relies on a humorously idiosyncratic talking computer, describes the efforts of a mason to repair the cracks in Plymouth Rock, and in one of his more uncharacteristic essays, attends a unique auction of exotic cars in Pennsylvania.

Newcomers to McPhee, welcome. For old hands, more of the unique pleasures you have come to expect.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780788718793
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 12/17/2001
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Meet the Author

John McPhee

John McPhee is the author of twenty-six books, including Annals of the Former World, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.


"John McPhee ought to be a bore," The Christian Science Monitor once observed. "With a bore's persistence he seizes a subject, shakes loose a cloud of more detail than we ever imagined we would care to hear on any subject -- yet somehow he makes the whole procedure curiously fascinating."

This is his specialty. A New Yorker writer hired in 1965 by another devil-is-in-the-details disciple, William Shawn, McPhee has taken full advantage of the magazine's commitment to long, unusual pieces and became one of the practitioners of so-called "literary journalism," joining a fraternity occupied by Tom Wolfe, Tracey Kidder, and Joan Didion. He hung on during the Tina Brown days, when the marching orders were for short and topical pieces. And the magazine's current editor, David Remnick, was once a student of McPhee's annual writing seminar at Princeton University.

The temptation is to brand McPhee a nature writer, since he spends so much of his professional life trekking through the outdoors or scribbling notes in the passenger seat of a game warden's pickup truck. But his writing isn't so easily labeled as that. Instead, he has the luxury of writing about whatever strikes his fancy, oftentimes plumbing childhood passions. In fact, his big break as a professional writer combined two of his favorite things: sports and Princeton, his home since birth. In 1965, he finally got published by The New Yorker with a profile on Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley. The piece later became his first book.

He wrote for the television program Robert Montgomery Presents in the late 1950s and was on staff at Time in the ‘50s and ‘60s, frequently pitching pieces to his dream publication,The New Yorker. That particular success eluded him until Shawn picked up the Bradley piece and then spent hours with him editing the piece the night the magazine was going to press. In a 1997 interview with Newsday, McPhee recalled that experience: "I said to him, 'This whole enterprise is going on and you're sitting here talking to me about this comma. How do you do it?' And he said, 'It takes as long as it takes.' That's the greatest answer I ever heard."

The same might be said of McPhee himself. He has written what, for many, is the definitive book on Alaska, Coming into the Country. "With this book,The New York Times said, "McPhee proves to be the most versatile journalist in America." He spent 696 pages on the geological development of North America in Annals of the Former World. He explored man's battle to tame mudslides and lava flows in The Control of Nature. He considered the birch-bark canoe in The Survival of the Bark Canoe. He caused a bit of head-scratching over the topic of his 17th book, La Place de la Concorde Suisse: the Swiss army.

The itinerary, at first blush, might not always be compelling, but in McPhee's hands, the journey is its own reward.

"Mr. McPhee is a writer's writer -- a master craftsman whom many aspirants study," The Wall Street Journal said in 1989. "For one thing, he has an engaging, distinctive voice. It is warm, understated and wry. Within a paragraph or two, he takes us into his company and makes us feel we're on an outing with an old chum. A talky old chum, to be sure, with an occasional tendency to corniness and rambling, but a cherished one nevertheless. We read his books not so much because we're thirsty for information about canoes, but because it's worth tagging along on any literary journey Mr. McPhee feels like taking."

Good To Know

The son of a doctor, McPhee credits his love of the outdoors to the 13 summers he spent at Camp Keewaydin, where his father was the camp physician.

His devotion to the perfect sentence came from a high school English teacher who assigned her students three compositions a week, an assignment that included an outline defending the composition's structure.

Bill Bradley made McPhee his daughter's godfather.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John A. McPhee
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 8, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      A.B., Princeton University, 1953; graduate study at Cambridge University, 1953-54
    2. Website:

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