John McPhee

John McPhee
John Mcphee.jpg
John Angus McPhee

(1931-03-08) March 8, 1931 (age 90)
EducationPrinceton University
Magdelene College, Cambridge
Spouse(s)Yolanda Whitman (second wife)
ChildrenFour daughters of first marriage: Jenny, Martha, Laura, Sarah

John Angus McPhee (born March 8, 1931) is an American writer. He is considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. He is a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the category General Nonfiction, and he won that award on the fourth occasion in 1999 for Annals of the Former World[1] (a collection of five books, including two of his previous Pulitzer finalists). In 2008, he received the George Polk Career Award for his "indelible mark on American journalism during his nearly half-century career".[2] Since 1974, McPhee has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.[3]


McPhee has lived in Princeton, New Jersey, for most of his life. He was born in Princeton, the son of the Princeton University athletic department's physician, Dr. Harry McPhee. He was educated at Princeton High School, then spent a postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy, before graduating from Princeton University in 1953 with a senior thesis titled "Skimmer Burns", and spending a year at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge.[4][5][6] McPhee was a member of University Cottage Club while he was a student at Princeton.[7]

While at Princeton, McPhee went to New York once or twice a week to appear as the juvenile panelist on the radio and television quiz program Twenty Questions.[8] One of his roommates at Princeton was 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier.[9]

Twice married, McPhee is the father of four daughters: the novelists Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee, photographer Laura McPhee, and architecture historian Sarah McPhee.[10][11]

Writing career

McPhee's writing career began at Time magazine, and led to a long association with the weekly magazine The New Yorker from 1963[12] to the present. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1965.[13] Many of his twenty-nine books include material originally written for this latter periodical.

Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the "new journalism" of the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, more literary style of writing that more thoroughly incorporated techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness styles of Wolfe and Thompson, but used detailed description of characters and vivid language to make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity, and diversity of his literary output.[14][15]

Reflecting his personal interests, McPhee's subjects are highly eclectic. He has written pieces on lifting-body development (The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed), the psyche and experience of a nuclear engineer (The Curve of Binding Energy), a New Jersey wilderness area (The Pine Barrens), the United States Merchant Marine (Looking for a Ship), farmers' markets (Giving Good Weight), the movement of coal across America ("Coal Train" in Uncommon Carriers), the shifting flow of the Mississippi River ("Atchafalaya" in The Control of Nature), geology (in several books), as well as a short book entirely on the subject of oranges. One of his most widely read books, Coming into the Country, is about the Alaskan wilderness.

McPhee has profiled a number of famous people, including conservationist David Brower in Encounters with the Archdruid, and the young Bill Bradley, whom McPhee followed closely during Bradley's four-year basketball career at Princeton University.


McPhee is also a renowned nonfiction writing instructor at Princeton University, having taught generations of aspiring undergraduate writers. McPhee teaches his writing seminar every year in the spring semester.[16]

Many of McPhee's students have achieved their own distinction for writing:[11]

Awards and honors

McPhee has received many literary honors, including the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, awarded for Annals of the Former World. In 1978 McPhee received a LittD from Bates College, in 2009 he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University, and in 2012 he received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Amherst College.



Title Date Publication Details Notes
A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of William Warren Bradley 1965 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51485-2
A profile of Hall of Fame basketball player and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley.
The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden, of Deerfield 1966 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-16860-1
Biography of Frank Boyden, long time headmaster of Deerfield Academy.
Oranges 1967 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-22688-1
The history and significance of the farming of oranges, how farmers have struggled with frost and how horticulturists have introduced new breeds of citrus.
The Pine Barrens 1968 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-23360-8
The story of the near wilderness central area of New Jersey, known since the seventeenth century as the Pine Barrens.
A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles 1968 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51501-8
Levels of the Game 1969 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51526-3
Explores the relationship between two tennis players, Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, and their tennis match at Forest Hills in 1968.
The Crofter and the Laird 1970 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-13192-9
A memoir of the author's stay with his family on the island of Colonsay in Scotland, where his forebears had been raised.
Encounters with the Archdruid 1971 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-14822-8
Discussions in three wildernesses - on a coastal island, in a western mountain range, and on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon - with "Archdruid" David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth.
Wimbledon 1972 New York: The Viking Press
ISBN 0-670-77079-5
Contains two essays – "Hoad on Court 5" (originally published in 1971 as "Centre Court" and collected in Pieces of the Frame) and "Twynam of Wimbledon" (originally published in 1968 and collected in A Roomful of Hovings) – and photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed 1973 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51635-9
Story of the Aereon, a combination aerodyne/aerostat, a.k.a. hybrid airship.
The Curve of Binding Energy 1974 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-13373-5
Traveling American nuclear institutions with Theodore Taylor, one of the founders of those technologies. Finalist for the National Book Award.[20]
Pieces of the Frame 1975 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51498-4
The Survival of the Bark Canoe 1975 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-27207-7
The story of the ancient craft of making birch-bark canoes, still practiced by a builder in a small town in New Hampshire.
The John McPhee Reader 1976 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-17992-1
Collection of excerpts from his first twelve books, edited by William L. Howarth.
Coming into the Country 1977 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-52287-1
The story of Alaska and the Alaskans.
Giving Good Weight 1979 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-16306-5
Collection. Title story is about New York City's Greenmarkets in 1976-1977.
Alaska: Images of the Country 1981 San Francisco: Sierra Club Books
ISBN 0871562901
Selections from Coming into the Country. Photographs by Galen Rowell.
Basin and Range 1981 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-10914-1
First in his 'Annals of the Former World' series of books on geology and geologists. Republished in Annals of the Former World. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.[1]
In Suspect Terrain 1983 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-17650-7
Second book in his 'Annals of the Former World' series on geology and geologists, from the outwash plains of Brooklyn to the Appalachian landscape. Republished in Annals of the former world.
Annals of the Former World. Two Volumes. Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain 1983 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Limited to 450 numbered copies signed by McPhee on the limitation page of each volume. Full cloth with gilt lettering on spine. Issued without dustjackets. Illustrated slipcase.
La Place de la Concorde Suisse 1984 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-18241-8
The study of the Swiss Army's role in Swiss society. Also published as The Swiss Army.
Table of Contents 1985 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-27241-7
Heirs of General Practice 1986 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-51974-9
Stories of young doctors who specialize in family practice. Also included in the Table of contents collection.
In the Highlands and Islands 1986 London: Faber and Faber
ISBN 0-571-14599-X
Contains "The Crofter and the Laird" and three essays from Pieces of the Frame, all originally published in 1969 and 1970.
Rising from the Plains 1986 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-25082-0
Third book in his 'Annals of the Former World' series on geology and geologists, covering the Rockies and surrounding areas. Republished in Annals of the former world. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.[1]
Outcroppings 1988 Layton: Gibbs Smith
ISBN 0879052627
Writings on geology and ecology from Rising from the Plains, Basin and Range, and Encounters with the Archdruid. Photographs by Tom Till. Edited by Christopher Merrill.
The Control of Nature 1989 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-12890-1
Three stories: the US Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to control the waters of the Mississippi near New Orleans; townspeople in Iceland cooling flowing lava to prevent it from flowing into their town; and residents of Los Angeles attempting to control debris flows that roar down mountain canyons.
Looking for a Ship 1990 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-19077-1
The story of one of the last American merchant ships. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.[1]
Assembling California 1993 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-10645-2
Fourth book in his 'Annals of the Former World' series on geology and geologists. Surveys throughout California and elsewhere, describing the geologic history of the land. Republished in Annals of the former world.
The Ransom of Russian Art 1994 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-24682-3
The story of how an American professor of Soviet economics managed to remove thousands of works of art in the 1960s and 1970s from the Soviet Union to the US.
The Second John McPhee Reader 1996 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-52463-7
Collection of excerpts from previously published nonfiction books and nonfiction essays, edited by Patricia Strachan.
Irons in the Fire 1997 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-17726-0
Collection of essays. The title essay describes a trip to Nevada where, accompanying a brand inspector, the author discovers that cattle rustling is still practiced.
Annals of the Former World 1998 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-10520-0
Compilation of four previously published books on geology, plus a final part, "Crossing the Craton". Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1999.
The Founding Fish 2002 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-10444-1
The history of the shad, going back to the days of George Washington and Henry David Thoreau.
The American Shad: Selections from The Founding Fish 2004 Far Hills, N.J.: Meadow Run Press
ISBN 1-886967-14-8
Limited edition.
Uncommon Carriers 2006 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-28039-8
Essays on travels by several unconventional means, primarily ocean and water freight transportation.
Silk Parachute 2010 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-374-26373-6
The Princeton Reader: Contemporary Essays by Writers and Journalists at Princeton University 2011 Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press
ISBN 9780691143071
Edited with Carol Rigolot.
Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process 2017 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 9780374142742
Essays that form a guide to writing long-form nonfiction
The Patch 2018 New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 978-0374229481
His seventh collection of essays

Selected essays and reporting


  1. ^ a b c d e "General Nonfiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ McPhee, John Angus. Skimmer Burns (Thesis). Princeton University. Department of English.
  7. ^ "About the Cottage Club". University Cottage Club. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  8. ^ "A Letter From The Publisher: 23 Nov. 1962". Time. November 23, 1962. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  9. ^ "A number like no other". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  10. ^ Birnbaum, Robert (December 25, 2002). "Jenny & Martha McPhee". Identity Theory. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  11. ^ a b Peter Hessler (Spring 2010). "The Art of Nonfiction No. 3, John McPhee". The Paris Review. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  12. ^ "John McPhee The New Yorker". Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  13. ^ Eighty Five from the Archive, The New Yorker
  14. ^ While being interviewed on the August 27, 2009, edition of Radio West (KUER, Salt Lake City, Utah), writer Christopher Cokinos said that he has a sign above his desk which says Too tired to write? John McPhee isn't.
  15. ^ Royte, Elizabeth (March 21, 2010). "At Close Range". New York Times.
  16. ^ "Course Details « Office of the Registrar". Princeton University. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "John Angus McPhee". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  20. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1975" Archived September 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  21. ^ John Maher (January 22, 2018). "2017 NBCC Awards Finalists Announced". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 23, 2018.


  • Weltzein, O. Alan and Susan N. Maher (2003). Coming into McPhee Country: John McPhee and the Art of Literary Criticism. ISBN 978-0-87480-746-2.

External links

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