John McPhee

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John McPhee
John Mcphee.jpg
Born John Angus McPhee
(1931-03-08) March 8, 1931 (age 84)
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Yolanda Whitman (2nd wife)
Children four daughters of first marriage, Jenny, Martha, Laura, Sarah

John Angus McPhee (born March 8, 1931) 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[1] (a collection of five books including two of his previous Pulitzer finalists). In 2008 he received the George Polk Career Award for his "indelible mark on American journalism during his nearly half-century career."[2]

Since 1974, McPhee has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.[3]


McPhee has lived in Princeton, New Jersey, for most of his life. He was born in Princeton, the son of the Princeton University athletic department's physician, Dr. Harry McPhee. John was educated at Princeton High School, then spent a postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy, before graduating from Princeton University in 1953,[4] and spending a year at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge.[5]

While at Princeton, McPhee went to New York once or twice a week to appear as the juvenile panelist on the radio and television quiz program Twenty Questions.[6] One of his roommates at Princeton was 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier.[7]

Twice married, McPhee is the father of four daughters: the novelists Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee, photographer Laura McPhee, and architecture historian Sarah McPhee.[8][9]

Writing career[edit]

McPhee's first book (1965), was a profile of Princeton senior – and future pro basketball star – Bill Bradley

McPhee's writing career began at Time magazine and led to a long association with The New Yorker weekly magazine beginning in 1965 and continuing to the present. Many of his twenty-nine books include material originally written for that magazine.

Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the "new journalism" in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, more literary style of journalism that more thoroughly incorporated techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity, and diversity of his literary output.[10][11]

McPhee's subjects, reflecting his personal interests, are highly eclectic. He has written pieces on lifting body development (The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed), the United States Merchant Marine (Looking for a Ship), farmers' markets (Giving Good Weight), freight transportation (Uncommon Carriers), the shifting flow of the Mississippi River (The Control of Nature), geology (in several books), as well as a short book entirely on the subject of oranges. One of his most widely read books, Coming into the Country, is about the Alaskan wilderness.

McPhee has profiled a number of famous people, including conservationist David Brower in Encounters with the Archdruid and the young Bill Bradley, whom McPhee followed closely during Bradley's four-year basketball career at Princeton University.


McPhee is also a renowned nonfiction writing instructor at Princeton University, having taught generations of aspiring undergraduate writers. McPhee still teaches his writing seminar two years out of every three, most recently during the spring 2016 semester.[12]

Many of McPhee's students have achieved distinction for their writing:[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

McPhee has received many literary honors, including the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, awarded for Annals of the Former World. In 1978 McPhee received a Litt.D. from Bates College, in 2009 he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University, and in 2012 he received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Amherst College.



Title Publication Date ISBN Notes
A Sense of Where You Are January 1, 1965 ISBN 0-374-51485-2 A profile of Hall of Fame basketball player and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley.
The Headmaster November 21, 1966 ISBN 0-374-16860-1 Biography of Frank Boyden, long time headmaster of Deerfield Academy
Oranges February 20, 1967 ISBN 0-374-22688-1
The Pine Barrens May 12, 1968 ISBN 0-374-23360-8
A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles October 17, 1968 ISBN 0-374-51501-8 collection
Levels of the Game September 23, 1969 ISBN 0-374-51526-3 Explores the relationship between two tennis players.
The Crofter and the Laird June 1, 1970 ISBN 0-374-13192-9 A memoir of the author's stay on the island of Colonsay in Scotland.
Encounters with the Archdruid August 6, 1971 ISBN 0-374-14822-8
The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed January 1, 1973 ISBN 0-374-51635-9 Story of the Aereon, a combination aerodyne/aerostat, a.k.a. hybrid airship.
The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor May 22, 1974 ISBN 0-374-13373-5  finalist for the National Book Award[14]
Pieces of the Frame June 23, 1975 ISBN 0-374-51498-4 collection
The Survival of the Bark Canoe November 24, 1975 ISBN 0-374-27207-7
The John McPhee Reader January 1, 1977 ISBN 0-374-17992-1 collection of excerpts from previous stories
Coming into the Country December 1, 1977 ISBN 0-374-52287-1
Giving Good Weight November 26, 1979 ISBN 0-374-16306-5 collection
Basin and Range April 1, 1981 ISBN 0-374-10914-1 Republished in Annals of the Former World. —finalist for the Pulitzer Prize[1]
In Suspect Terrain March 1, 1983 ISBN 0-374-17650-7 Republished in Annals of the Former World.
La Place de la Concorde Suisse May 7, 1984 ISBN 0-374-51932-3
Table of Contents October 7, 1985 ISBN 0-374-52008-9 collection
Heirs of General Practice April 1, 1986 ISBN 0-374-51974-9 Also included in Table of Contents collection.
Rising from the Plains November 17, 1986 ISBN 0-374-25082-0. Republished in Annals of the Former World. —finalist for the Pulitzer Prize[1]
The Control of Nature August 16, 1989 ISBN 0-374-12890-1
Looking for a Ship September 15, 1990 ISBN 0-374-19077-1  —finalist for the Pulitzer Prize[1]
Assembling California February 1, 1993 ISBN 0-374-52393-2. Republished in Annals of the Former World.
The Ransom of Russian Art December 31, 1994 ISBN 0-374-24682-3
The Second John McPhee Reader February 28, 1996 ISBN 0-374-52463-7 Collection of excerpts from previously published stories.
Irons in the Fire April 1, 1997 ISBN 0-374-17726-0 collection
Annals of the Former World January 1, 1998 ISBN 0-374-10520-0. Compilation of five previously published books on geology. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1999.
The Founding Fish October 13, 2002 ISBN 0-374-10444-1
The American Shad: Selections from the Founding Fish March 1, 2004 ISBN 1-886967-14-8 limited edition
Uncommon Carriers May 16, 2006 ISBN 0-374-28039-8 Essays on travels by several unconventional means
Silk Parachute December 2, 2010 ISBN 0-374-26373-6 collection

Essays and reporting[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "General Nonfiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "A Letter From The Publisher: 23 Nov. 1962". Time. November 23, 1962. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved September 18, 2008. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Birnbaum, Robert (December 25, 2002). "Jenny & Martha McPhee". Identity Theory. Retrieved March 16, 2008. 
  9. ^ a b Peter Hessler (Spring 2010). "The Art of Nonfiction No. 3, John McPhee". The Paris Review. Retrieved October 2, 2011. 
  10. ^ While being interviewed on the August 27, 2009, edition of Radio West (KUER, Salt Lake City, Utah), writer Christopher Cokinos said that he has a sign above his desk which says Too tired to write? John McPhee isn't.
  11. ^ Royte, Elizabeth (March 21, 2010). "At Close Range". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Course Details « Office of the Registrar". Princeton University. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1975". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-11.


  • Weltzein, O. Alan and Susan N. Maher (2003). Coming into McPhee Country: John McPhee and the Art of Literary Criticism. ISBN 978-0-87480-746-2.

External links[edit]