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What I absolutely love about McPhee's nonfiction is his ability to write about place, people and ideas with both beautiful prose and amazing intimacy. My favorite parts are where McPhee weaves place and people, or people and ideas together and establishes the grand metaphor for his book. McPhee picks up pieces of conversation, and stray facts, from these amazing geologists and their satelites that might get missed by most other writers, but manages to find, keep and eventually place these nuggets into his book (written over 20 years) in a way that works to support his big themes.
Seriously, this book is one of my favorite nonfiction works of all time. You can see the mark McPhee left on his students' writing if you've ever read Robert Wright, Richard Preston or New Yorker editor David Remnick. Some consider (McPhee would flunk me for such vague, nonattributable writing I'm sure) McPhee to be the godfather of New New Journalism, but he is much more than that. IMHO, he is the godfather on modern nonfiction writing, period.
That being said, this is the last of the series, and the weakest piece of the book (and also the weakest piece of geology). So, if you are new to McPhee, or interested in listening to 'Annals of the Former World', this is the soft and permeable end. Start wtih 'Basin and Range' >next> 'In Suspect Terrain' >next> 'Rising from the Plains' >next> 'Assembling California' >next>'Crossing the Craton'.
Just beware Audible lists 'Crossing the Craton' as book 4, but it is really Book 5 because for whatever reason Book 4 ('Assembling California') has "separated" from main body of "Annals of the Former World'. California geology writing is just as mysterious as California's people and geology, I guess.
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