“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pulitzer-prize winning writer, John McPhee, and UCD geologist and plate tectonicist, Eldridge Moores

If you love geologic history and haven’t read John McPhee, you are truly missing something:

"There is no one of whom I am aware with a more facile understanding of the
language. As a expository writer he has no equal; I feel as if I am in the physical
presence of the man as he unravels a scene. In his book "Coming Into the Country" he paints a scene wherein a man looks down into a crystalline
stream. There are so many fish  he remarks it as if he is "looking up into a sky
full of zeppelins."  He is, in my mind, one of the finest writers to ever have put
ink to paper. He is sine qua non; pure and simple. If I could have but one McPhee, I would be most content with "Giving Good Weight", assuming I was
ignorant of his other wonderful books. It would be a hardship for a devotee of
this American treasure to have access to but one McPhee.” 
Ambroid Phlexes

  • John Angus McPhee is an American writer, widely 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. In 2008 he received the George Polk Career Award for his “ ndelible mark on American journalism during his nearly half-century career."
  • Annals of the Former World (1989) brings together John McPhee's four previous book on US geology with a new closing essay and the sum surpasses its parts. Geology is a descriptive science and McPhee's book is above all a kind of dictionary fieldwork in the depths, shales and dispositions of a technical language. It's a Dostoyevskian book because you have to live with it for weeks. Not because it is that big (it's less than 700 pages of medium typeset, not the 1500 pages of fine print of The Brothers Karamazov) but because the abundant descriptions of rock and outcrops are the reading equivalent to a 7+ grade boulder climb. The second thing that is at the heart of McPhee's geological project is his sly but constant coupling of geological and human time frames. This book deals with geology but its subject, in the last analysis, is the human condition. Annals of the Former World is the great non-fiction competitor to all the great American novels. It's view of America in geological time is itself a critique on the basic assumptions of, say, the religious right and all other short sighted voices. And it has great maps to boot.


  1. McPhee’s work is one of the great gifts of being alive. A chance to appreciate the part, albeit small and short, but nevertheless incredibly unique in the very annals of our universe.

  2. Never heard of this writer before. But bet my wife has....I'll ask.

    Thanks for the reading tip.

  3. .

    I may check the book out as a Christmas gift for my wife. She is an ardent rock hound. We can't go on vacation, to the park, or even through the neighborhood without her bringing home a few. People gift her rocks from all over.

    Over the years, I have come to the suspicion she might be planning to plant me out in the back yard and build a cairn over me when the time comes in order to save on burial expenses.


  4. You both will enjoy the decision. :)