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Oranges

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,311 ratings  ·  139 reviews
A classic of reportage, Oranges was first conceived as a short magazine article about oranges and orange juice, but the author kept encountering so much irresistible information that he eventually found that he had in fact written a book. It contains sketches of orange growers, orange botanists, orange pickers, orange packers, early settlers on Florida’s Indian River, the ...more
Paperback, 168 pages
Published January 1st 1975 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1967)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,256)
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Ruth
I came to this book with two misapprehensions. First, I thought it was a new book. Second, I thought it would be about California.

I own a whole string of McPhee books, but lately my enthusiasm for his writing has been in need of a transfusion. A new book seemed the thing to do it. This turned out to be one of his first books. How come I never heard of it until now?

I have lived for the major portion of my life in the middle of the orange groves. (McPhee says Californians speak of orange “orchards
...more
Myles
(3.9/5.0) If you’ve ever devoted more than a few hours to your local public access woodworking program, getting acquainted with the different block planes and varieties of stains and oils, you’ll know how the bracingly dull can still sometimes draw your admiration, even your surprise. In that he’s a pensive, soft spoken bearded man with the patience to resolve challenging and thankless issues of craft, John McPhee is akin to master carpenter Norm Abram. Here, as he does with the rest of his writ ...more
Roberto
You may not know this about me but I have a fruit phobia. Yep. So this was an unusual (and big-boy brave) choice of book for me. I've never eaten an orange, or even held one. But reading about them didn't gross me out too much (admittedly citrus is pretty far down my hierarchy of fruit grossness), and this lovely book from 1966 was actually really interesting, had a casual charm and made excellent bedtime summer reading.
Glenn
I'm a big fan of McPhee. "Oranges" is not his best book, and it sometimes fails to keep me engaged in his passionate curiosity about this fruit. Nonetheless, McPhee maintains his usual brilliance in sparse, perfectly selected prose. He is a master wordsmith, and a superb researcher too. Bing Crosby investing in oranges? Cops stopping a Cadillac loaded with 3,500 stolen oranges? Orange seeds are incestuous? Reading "Oranges" will transform you into the person who bores everyone at a party with en ...more
Jill
Who would have thought that you could devote an entire book to the subject of oranges? But if anyone can pick a random topic, delve into it and create a fascinating piece packed with hitherto unknown factoids, it's McPhee. In this compact read, McPhee traces the origin of oranges (China), unravels the history and science of their cultivation, its role in history and art and profiles some of the men who have spent their lives working in the business of oranges.

Who knew that "a single citrus tree
...more
Ryan Williams
They say a good writer can take almost anything as his subject, no matter how ordinary, and leave you wondering if you have ever really looked at one before by the time you reach the book's end.

McPhee took the simple household orange as his subject, intending to produce a single magazine article. Once he got going, his curiosity burned ever brighter - and his enthusiasm is highly contagious.

The result was this book - a classic work of non-fiction, and a marvel of reportage. Coming from the coun
...more
Bill
Oranges is a snapshot of the Florida citrus industry as it was in the late 60's, and it gives a whirlwind survey of the domestication and spread of citrus trees, particularly orange trees. I found it more entertaining than three stars' worth, but this was mostly due to a nostalgia I feel towards the orange groves McPhee describes.

One of the strengths of the book is that it doesn't cast a romantic eye on its subject. Financial busts are covered as much as booms, freezes are documented, and the co
...more
John
You get done with this book and say "I just read an entire book about oranges?!"
Charlotte
We have this brilliant little book by McPhee to thank for the rise of other works such as Cod, Spice, Mauve, Curry, Tea, and Cotton (to name a few). This book split my head open...when I picked it up, I thought it was a joke, "Really? A whole book just about oranges? That's it?" And man, when I found I couldn't put it down I realized he was onto something. Though I think The Control of Nature is my favorite of his books, this one was life-changing in realizing what was to be a lifelong love for ...more
Abby
Utterly charming and enjoyable. If I could write books, I'd like to write books like this. John McPhee is entirely engaging, lissome, and witty in this brief overview of the history and current* (*circa 1960s) purview of the orange. Angela told me to read this book years ago, and I'm so glad I finally did, having stumbled on it at the library book sale.

A thought: For such a slim volume, how many hours McPhee must have devoted to this subject! He clearly knows his subject thoroughly, and back th
...more
Paul Donahue
In the 1960s John McPhee got really interested in oranges. He did a tremendous amount of research; traveled to Florida; interviewed "orange barons" and "from concentrate" company executives; waded through orange groves; flew over them in helicopters; and basically became an orange, just as a cliche sports movie coach would tell you to "be the ball." He then, as far as I can tell, wrote everything he learned as fast as he could.

In a quick 150 pages there is a lot to learn. I was particularly int
...more
Kendra
In keeping with a short book, I'll try to write a short review.

When one of my professors found out I had somehow made it into an MFA program (in nonfiction writing, no less!) without having read anything by John McPhee, he immediately gave me a suggested reading list. Orangestopped the list, mostly because it is, as previously mentioned, short. I'm fairly certain my inability to focus on longer pieces of contemporary nonfiction has begun to be noticed by my classmates. I admit--I'm a horribl
...more
Emily
I enjoyed this book, but as a big fan of John McPhee, I have to say this isn't one of this best. It's a quick read, little more than a long magazine piece (which it started out to be), and is mostly a collection of interesting orange-related factoids, ranging from the botanical to the historical, with a couple of short character profiles thrown in. All of the usual elements of his style are there: short, declarative sentences; long, uninterrupted monologues quoted from interviews; a reporter's b ...more
Carin
John McPhee's books are so reliable. I was looking for something short, engrossing, but not emotional. His nonfiction musings are always filled with facts and fascinating, but are very removed. Is that partly because he wrote it 40 years ago? Perhaps. It is odd that his new introduction (from 2000) doesn't update anything - just talks about how he came to wrote this article/book. That wasn't a big question I had though - if you know anything about John McPhee, you know he can explore in depth AN ...more
Brian
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,
...more
Andrew
This book is intriguing both for it's history of Oranges and its snapshot of the time in which it was written. Originally published in the mid-1960's, it captures a time when the citrus industry was working like made to accommodate the demands of the concentrate industry, frozen canned juice becoming wildly popular among "Midwestern housewives." Growers speak of the "good old days" of fresh fruit with nostalgia. It's fascinating to see this transition to the prepackaged convenient consumerism of ...more
Katie
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 fascin
...more
Jamie Allen
I learned a lot! I also felt like I was at a cocktail party in the 1960s and one guy knows a whole lot about oranges and can spin an entertaining story, and so everyone gathers around his martini glass all smiles, and we learn some things and think this dude is really smart and also a bit obsessive, which is fine by me because I am too, and then you notice he seems to say 'modern' a lot - because everything was modern and rockety in the '60s - and also he covets a certain kind of middle-aged man ...more
Tim
i like oranges. oranges are good.

This would be a great McPhee book for him to do an updated edition of, or rather, a sequel. At the time he wrote Oranges, orange juice concentrate was king. McPhee obviously doesn't really buy into that, but that was the state of the industry, and the descriptions of concentrate-making were fascinating. I'm curious how the orange industry has changed with such a move away from the desirability of concentrate. Another awesome McPhee book.
Sheather Nelson
Man, John McPhee can make a book out of anything. I started this when I was in Florida, visiting family in the Indian River area, and before the massive freeze killed most of the orange crop. I was amazed to learn that oranges will vary in a sweetness in a predictable way based on their placement in the tree, and I really enjoyed the portions about the history of the citrus industry in Florida, historic freezes (which I was recalling with some dismay a few weeks ago), etc. It's hard for me to be ...more
Aileen
I went through a phase a few years ago when I read a lot of books that were written to delve deeply into a single, simple thing. I finally stopped because for the most part the books were not that well written. (I think there was one on the history of the color mauve that finally did me in).
I should have started and probably finished with John McPhee. He manages to devote equal time to oranges and the people who grow them and think about them. I learned a lot about citrus reading this book. I j
...more
James Helfrich
John McPhee has the most lucid prose style I've ever encountered. He uses no rhetorical flourishes aside from the occasional dash of dry humor, and he thus never seems pretentious or contrived. Only hints of his personality shine through his writing, but he observes others so keenly and weaves their quotations so seemlessly with his story that the human element permeates even the most technical subjects.

After finishing one of his pieces, I always feel like I have learned interesting details abo
...more
Patrick
This is pretty light reading compared to other McPhee works, but still very entertaining and informative. He is a great writer and citrus farming turns out to be an interesting subject. Apparently this short book started as a feature in a magazine that McPhee turned into a book. This leads to a slight feeling of disjointedness in the narrative, but this is just nitpicking on what is a fun, short read.
Jessica Brauer
This book seems to be largely misunderstood. It is most definitely a dated book, from the sixties, which is apparent in the language and use of terms that today are considered offensive. Also, it is a product of a news story from a journalist who became largely interested in a topic and found himself with far to much information for a news feature.

I was assigned this book for a features writing seminar, and was surprised to find it interesting. I enjoyed McPhee's broad discussion of a seemingly
...more
Adam Engelhart
It's a book about oranges. Not the color, not the Protestants in Ireland, not the royal house of the Netherlands--it's about fruit. John McPhee wrote a 168-page book about a fruit you can buy at the grocery store for 99 cents, and he made it fascinating. Strongly recommended.
Elizabeth
Of course, I learned a tremendous amount about oranges. Anythign John McPhee writes is worth reading. Anything. Who else could make an entire book about oranges so fascinating? One of my favorite authors, by a long shot.
Not even just about oranges, it also deals with the recent history of orange growing states, and how the orange continues to sheape them.
This book covers the history of oranges, and examines their hybridization. In one part, it discusses the taste of orange juice, and how every
...more
William Fulton
I never thought I would enjoy reading about a fruit ... but ... whew, this was actually quite captivating and informative and delivered with much lightheartedness. An easy and rewarding read.
Deborah
If you want to know everything there is to know about oranges, this is the book for you. It had interesting information, and I learned a LOT (I just hope I can remember some of it!). But it was written in the mid 1970's, and most of it was published in The New Yorker as separate articles, so there was an odd lack of continuity to it as a whole. What I realized is that current non-fiction is written more interestingly, with more attention paid to craft than I found in this book. It was interestin ...more
Kelly
If John McPhee didn't actually invent the genre of the book-about-one-thing-from-all-angles (cf. [Cod:], etc.), then he wholly owns it. Oranges is an original, stemming from what was to be a New Yorker article back when he was a young writer. It's stuffed with fascinating facts about citrus - did you know that oranges can be chimerical, with single segments genetically different compared to the other segments? Or that some fruits "breathe" out a gas that can make an orange peel more orange? Or t ...more
Sean Hackbarth
An essay in the truest sense of the word. Follow McPhee as he roams around Florida learning all that there is to know about oranges.
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Oranges, by John McPhee 2 16 Oct 10, 2011 06:18PM  
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more
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