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Irons in the Fire by John McPhee

Irons in the Fire

by John McPhee

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Al Lehman In a land where a common saying is that no one eats his own beef, the Nevada brand inspector becomes crucial to civilization. Without one, There'd be a lot of dead bodies." Rustling in the 1990's is still an occupational hazard where ranches are measured in tens of thousands of acres. John McPhee, a favorite writer of mine, has recently published a new collection of essays entitled, Irons in the Fire. The title essay is his investigation of brands and their history. The brand inspector's job is to keep everyone honest and the ranchers accept this and approve. The inspector also has to be part cop, part private investigator, part, Indian tracker, and have a whole lot of knowledge and instinct for the people and the country in order to recognize hundreds of brands and how they might be changed.

In another essay, McPhee writes about the virgin forest, particularly a spot near Brunswick New Jersey where the suburbs grow so fast that animals are often trapped between motels. The land had originally belonged to the Van Liew family who had acquired it in 1701 and farmed all but sixty-five acres they set aside. In the 1950s they consulted a sawyer and discovered that the value of some of the white oaks that dated to the 17th century was "expressible in ducats." Making their desire to sell public, all sorts of organizations came out of the woodwork :-)) to prevent the felling of these trees. Not enough money was raised until the Carpenters' Union bought the land and gave it to Rutgers University in 1955. The restriction on Rutgers were that only a small path could be maintained along one edge. They could not enter or change anything else on the sixty-five acres – just study it from a distance. There are only a few other areas of virgin forest left in the United States – one in Illinois along the Wabash. The Hutcheson Memorial Forest owned by Rutgers is perhaps the most famous. It has supported the research for hundreds of advanced degrees including thirty-six Ph.D.s. "So many articles, papers, theses, and other research publications have come out of Hutcheson Forest that – as the old saw goes – countless trees have been cleared elsewhere just in order to print them." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
The story about cattle rustling is best. Also the kidnapping one. Tepidly recommended, except for my dad, who might really like it. ( )
  leeinaustin | Aug 29, 2008 |
cattle rustlers to blind writer to tree collection in california to plate tectonics--typical McPhee
  AnneliM | Jun 25, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John McPheeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Runger, NelsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
7 essays originally published in the New Yorker:

Irons in the Fire
In Virgin Forest
The Gravel Page
Duty of Care
Rinard at Mannheim
Travels of the Rock
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374525455, Paperback)

Master essayist John McPhee heard about vehicles in Nevada that resemble police cars, but the cop inside was actually a "brand inspector," a lawman charged with tracking cattle rustlers. Ever curious, McPhee left his home in New Jersey for Nevada and spent a few weeks in those cars. The title essay of this collection is, as we've come to expect from McPhee, well-reported and beautifully written. Also included are essays based on McPhee's observations of a stand of virgin forest in the middle of New Jersey, a huge pile of automobile tires in California, and a long and fascinating look at forensic geologists and how stones tell a story.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:13 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The differing contents of this book reflect the variety in the overall span of master observer McPhee's work. Irons in the Fire concerns catlle rustling in contemporary Nevada. The Gravel Page is about forensic geology--a science used to help solve major crimes and puzzles on an even greater scale. Rinard at Manheim is an experimental story about an auction of exotic cars. Items as unlikely as a virgin forest in central New Jersey and a mountain of forty-four million scrap tires in California shape the scenes and substance of other pieces. Not to mention Plymouth Rock: Travels of the Rock, about a day when the State of Massachusetts had to call in a mason to repair the nation's most hallowed lithic relic, is a blend of colonial history, paleogeography, radiometric dating, societal drift, tectonic theory, schoolkids, and Mayflower descendants in leather jackets and one-way shades.--From publisher description.… (more)

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