John McPhee’s prose is alchemical. He takes simple ingredients, facts, dialogue, close observation and spins them into elegant, beautiful writing about nature and the real life characters who shape it.
My first McPhee was The Survival of the Bark Canoe a book about a man, in New Hampshire, who was still making birch-bark canoes as the Native Americans had for centuries. It’s an incredibly efficient little book that manages to tell the story, explore the ecology of the native birch trees, sketch an enormously compelling character, and loop in Native American history.
McPhee’s sentences are so economical, the book is over before you know you’ve been sucked in.
There is a vast cannon of work here, all of it in that inimitable style, all of it illuminating, all of it asking the right questions about how humanity interacts with the natural world