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Publisher's Summary

The long-awaited guide to writing long-form nonfiction by the legendary author and teacher.
Draft No. 4 is an elucidation of the writer's craft by a master practitioner. In a series of playful but expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he's gathered over his career and refined during his long-running course at Princeton University, where he has launched some of the most esteemed writers of several generations. McPhee offers a definitive guide to the crucial decisions regarding structure, diction, and tone that shape nonfiction pieces and presents extracts from some of his best-loved work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. The result is a vivid depiction of the writing process, from reporting to drafting to revising - and revising, and revising.
More than a compendium of advice, Draft No. 4 is enriched by personal detail and charming reflections on the life of a writer. McPhee describes his enduring relationships with The New Yorker and Farrar, Straus and Giroux and recalls his early years at Time magazine. Enlivened by his keen sense of writing as a way of being in the world, Draft No. 4 is the long-awaited master class given by America's most renowned writing instructor.
©2017 John McPhee (P)2017 Recorded Books
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Darwin8u on 09-19-17

McPhee is the Craft

"It is possible in managing a quote--not to say manipulating a quote--to present something that is both verbatim and false."
- John McPhee, Draft No. 4

John McPhee is a God. Not a minor deity either. A big "G" god. He isn't just good at the craft of writing nonfiction, he is the craft. Or at least that is how he seems. This perception, this read, of John McPhee only grows the more of his books, articles, etc., the reader consumes. You don't have to be passionate about geology. It is OK. McPhee is. You don't have to care about oranges. McPhee does. What happens is his writing, his interests, his ability to construct a story from the perfect characters and the right place transforms not just the object of McPhee's interest, but the reader. Am I sounding too passionate about this man? Well, of course I'm passionate. I love to read and John McPhee contains multitudes.

Not only is he the Master at the New Yorker, but he has for years (probably since I was near tit) taught writing at Princeton (where he went to school). Can you imagine? Seriously, if I could chose between a $1 million and the ability to audit his course on Creative Nonfiction (JRN 240/CWR 240), I might just say F-it to the money. He has nurtured readers and writers for years. Some of the direct fruit of the McPhee tree include:

- David Remnick (now his editor at the New Yorker)
- Richard Stengel (managing editor of Time magazine)
- Jim Kelly (former managing editor of Time)
- Robert Wright (former senior editor at The New Republic)
- Jennifer Weiner

And many, many more including at least two of his daughters (Jenny and Martha). He really is the godfather (or at least one of the godfathers) of New New Journalism. In an age when good writing seems to be as rare as good readers (dammit, I should probably scratch that pun, too easy), it is nice to read about the craftsmanship of writing from one of the masters.

'Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process' collects eight essays on writing that McPhee has published in the New Yorker (McPhee's home since before I was born). They are:

Progression - 11/14/2014
Structure - 01/14/2013
Editors & Publisher - 07/02/2012
Elicitation - 04/07/2014
Frame of Reference - 03/09/2015
Checkpoints - 02/09/2009
Draft No. 4 - 04/29/2013
Omission - 09/14/2014

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18 of 20 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars
By Brandon Folsom on 02-23-18


Honestly, this isn’t what I expected, and I felt duped once I heard him say this book contained a few articles he had written. Wasted money on something I could have googled.

The stories themselves were overwritten, and I often asked myself, “Who cares?” Not worth the time, in my opinion.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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