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Oranges by John McPhee


by John McPhee

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Originally intended to be a magazine story, Oranges is a short book all about oranges. McPhee meets with growers, pickers, scientists, and others to bring the reader a fascinating picture of oranges and the industries surrounding them.

I liked the beginning and the end of the book the best. The middle dealt mostly with the cultural history of the orange and the history of orange groves in Florida, neither of which were particularly interesting to me. Other parts of the book were much more fascinating. McPhee explores the history and production of orange juice concentrate, growing and grafting techniques, and the expansion of the orange industry. At one point, one of McPhee's interviewee comments, "We are growing chemicals now, not oranges," as he relates that many of the oranges were being used to make artificial flavorings, cattle feed, and chemicals used in fighting forest fires.

The book was written in 1967, so the information was quite dated. I'm sure the modern food industry has found many more ways to manipulate the orange and its juice and make use of its chemical components. I would love to read an updated version. Parts of the book were definitely four star material, but I had to settle with three. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Yesterday, after dinner, Tina and I split an orange. This was a delicacy made new by my perusal of the John McPhee treatise Oranges this weekend. As with all McPhee books, this is filled with fun and fascinating facts that weave together into a compelling story. For instance:

* An orange is always sweeter on the blossom end. I tested this rule of thumb, and it held quite well for the ochre segments we ate (over the sink, of course) in the kitchen.
* The best oranges on a tree are grown high up, on the south-facing side.
* Navel oranges have a thick skin (as do California-grown oranges) compared to the Valencia orange (or the Florida-grown ones).
* Far from the corporate behemoth I pictured it as, Sunkist is the largest agricultural cooperative in the world.
* Frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ, for fans of the film Trading Places) is not simply concentrated orange juice. It's fresh OJ that's been vaccuum-extracted to within an inch of its life, resulting in a tepid acid-sugar syrup with no particular orange character. Packers then add a small amount of fresh OJ and d-limonene (orange peel oil) to give it the flavor we've come to know and love as "orange juice." No WONDER freshly-squeezed OJ tastes so different from Minute Maid.
( )
  Brian.McGovney | Mar 30, 2013 |
Like a long encyclopedic entry this book tells you everything there is to know about oranges...where they come from, how they settled in the US, the history of the Florida orange growers, how to grow the best oranges..etc, etc. I want to eat more varieties of oranges and grow my own tree now. ( )
  mrminjares | Mar 6, 2010 |
Written in the '70's, things have changed in Florida and in the orange market, but McPhee's writing is timeless. This book, like many of his works, is a slender volume. I was able to read it in just a couple afternoons. With his lively descriptions and 'first person' style, make it a smooth read and you learn a thing or two to boot! ( )
  dichosa | Sep 8, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374512973, Paperback)

While many readers are familiar with John McPhee's masterful pieces on a large scale (the geological history of North America, or the nature of Alaska), McPhee is equally remarkable when he considers the seemingly inconsequential. Oranges was conceived as a short magazine piece, but thanks to his unparalleled investigative skills, became a slim, fact-filled book. As McPhee chronicles orange farmers struggling with frost and horticulturists' new breeds of citrus, oranges come to seem a microcosm of man's relationship with nature.

Like Flemish miniaturists who reveal the essence of humankind within the confines of a tiny frame, McPhee once again demonstrates that the smallest topic is replete with history, significance, and consequence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:04 -0400)

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McPhee writes about the botany, history, and industry of oranges.

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