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The control of nature by John McPhee

The control of nature (1989)

by John McPhee

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It's incredible the lengths people will go to.

And THAT is pretty much what this book is about. ( )
  amelish | Sep 12, 2013 |
Reading a 20 year old discussion of the lower Mississippi levees and the Atchafalaya flood basin as the crest of this year's flood slowly moved south along the Mississippi gave the first essay in this collection an eerie relevance. McPhee's second essay, about lava flows and eruptions in Iceland and Hawaii, also caught my attention, since we live in sight of Mt. Baker, an active volcano. The final essay explores erosion, ecology and Los Angeles. Very interesting reading. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
This book is a collection of three pieces essaying to answer why people choose to stay and fight against nature when a rational person would pick up their bags and move. I found the first chapter, covering the Army Corps of Engineers taming the lower Mississippi river, very dull. The last chapter, on Los Angeles vs. rockfalls out of the San Gabriel mountains, was more interesting. The middle portion, on the people of Vestmannaey Jar against a volcano, was absolutely amazing. Maybe it was because this portion of the book was about a specific event, or maybe it's the fact that a few hundred villagers and engineers successfully fought off a volcano. I'd say the book is worth a read just for the account of the eruption on Vestmannaey Jar.
My edition (paperback) didn't have any maps in it. All three portions of the book would have been easier to understand with maps. In the internet age maps are a click away, but it would have been nice to see the progression of the Atchafalaya or the lava flows. ( )
  JHFrazier | Apr 13, 2011 |
This is the second book of McPhee's that I have read - the first was _The Curve of Binding Energy_. It's pretty clear that McPhee has a formula and sticks to it. The great thing is, the formula really works. Of course he has a consistent style too, and that is part of his well-deserved success. But the formula: reading these books, I learn an enormous amount about some facet of the world, and I learn it through a steady stream of factual narrative; a lot of that story is first person, McPhee's investigative trail.

My Mom grew up in Los Angeles and would go skiing and camping in the San Gabriel Mountains, back in the 1930s and 1940s. I read the third chapter of _Control_ staying with her, which gave us a lot to talk about. She pulled out her map of Los Angeles, which gave me a visual aid to understand the placement of all the towns McPhee mentions. The general shape of the area was just how I envisioned it from the book, but the order of towns wasn't made clear in the book - not that it really made a difference.

The first chapter, on the Lower Mississippi levees etc., is much the longest of the three. The second chapter is on the pumping of sea water onto a lava flow in Iceland, to save a key fishing harbor.

I love to learn. McPhee makes learning a great joy. What a gift! ( )
1 vote kukulaj | Jun 16, 2010 |
He gives three in-depth examples of where man is controlling nature. His first example is about the Mississippi & how we've been redirecting its course for decades. He explains in detail the reasons for it & brings home how difficult the job has been. His writing is excellent. He personalized the struggle for me. I really got a feel of it in an interesting factual way. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Sep 25, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John McPheeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krupat, CynthiaBook and cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olafsson, GudjonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Three hundred miles up the Mississippi River from its mouth -- many parishes above New Orleans and well north of Baton Rouge -- a navigation lock in the Mississippi's right bank allows ships to drop out of the river.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374522596, Paperback)

Master how-it-works writer John McPhee has instructed his readers in the arcana of how oranges are commercially graded, how mountains form, how canoes are built and oceans crossed. In The Control of Nature he turns his attention once more to geology and the human struggle against nature. In one sketch, he explores the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' unrealized plan to divert the flow of the Mississippi River into a tributary, the Atchafalaya, for flood control; in another, he looks at the ingenious ways in which an Icelandic engineer saved a southern harbor on that island from being destroyed by a lava flow; in a third, he examines a complex scheme to protect Los Angeles from boulders ejected from mountains by compression and tectonic movement. As always, McPhee combines a deep knowledge of his subject with a narrative approach that is wholly accessible; you may not have thought you were interested in earthquakes and flood control, but he gently leads you to take a passionate concern in such matters.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:35 -0400)

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Details the strategies and tactics through which people attempt to control nature.

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