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Oranges

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,579 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
While many readers are familiar with John McPhee's masterful pieces on a large scale (the geological history of North America, or the nature of Alaska), McPhee is equally remarkable when he considers the seemingly inconsequential. Oranges was conceived as a short magazine piece, but thanks to his unparalleled investigative skills, became a slim, fact-filled book. As McPhee ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 24th 2000 by Penguin (first published 1967)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,884)
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Ruth
Jan 03, 2009 Ruth rated it it was ok
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
Jul 16, 2015 Myles rated it really liked it
(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
John
Jun 27, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
You get done with this book and say "I just read an entire book about oranges?!"
Ryan Williams
Jun 18, 2016 Ryan Williams rated it it was amazing
They say a good writer can take anything as his subject, no matter how ordinary, and leave you wondering if you have ever looked at it before. McPhee took the simple household orange as his subject, intending to produce a one off article. Once he got going, his curiosity burned ever brighter - and his enthusiasm is contagious. The result was this book - a classic work of non-fiction, and a marvel of reportage. Coming from the country that gave the world Joseph Mitchell, Gay Talese, Joan Didion a ...more
Bert
Sep 10, 2014 Bert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 09, 2011 Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2012 Jill rated it really liked it
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
Elizabeth
May 21, 2007 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
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
Julia
Aug 28, 2015 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
i was going to start with the exclamation, "i've wanted this book for years!" but upon a few seconds' reflection i realized this was a lie and that i have wanted oranges for two years at most, when i saw it more than once in the 'essays' section of the evanston barnes & noble in the summer of 2013. i didn't purchase it because there were used bookstores in evanston at which i could spend less money and i assumed if one b&n had oranges so would others, and so would other bookstores. i was ...more
Michael Heneghan
Aug 18, 2015 Michael Heneghan rated it really liked it
A great gift from my good friend Andy Schroeder.

First, some interesting facts: If you plant an orange seed, you might get a grapefruit. Or a lemon. And vice versa. Oranges originally derive from southeast Asia, historically. The U.S. produces more oranges than anywhere. Mexico: fourth! Americans used to eat more fresh oranges THAN ALL OTHER FRESH FRUIT COMBINED?! Florida oranges: thin-skinned and full of juice, usually Valencias. California: thick skinned, less juice, usually Navel oranges.

The
...more
Heather
Apr 02, 2015 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The seven sections of Oranges don't feel like they necessarily have to be in the order they're in, which is maybe the only thing I didn't like about this book: it sometimes felt a little disjointed. Still, this was a really interesting read and I kept telling my boyfriend various things I was learning about oranges in general, and about the Florida orange industry (up to 1965) in particular. I learned that Florida oranges are (or were?) juicier than California oranges. I learned that ripe orange ...more
Bill
Jan 30, 2015 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: florida
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
Adam Engelhart
Oct 26, 2014 Adam Engelhart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sarah
Kinda felt like McPhee had a really bad craving for some fresh squeezed orange juice and ended up writing 150 pages about it. It's not my favorite book of his, but it is perfectly readable and charming the way McPhee's writing always is. And it did get me to pick up some blood oranges and a grapefruit at the grocery store (traditional oranges have never been my favorite, but this book had me illing for a citrus fix).

Give this one a read if you like McPhee or if you like oranges or if you're jus
...more
Charlotte
Apr 20, 2014 Charlotte rated it it was amazing
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
Jtomassetti
Jan 13, 2016 Jtomassetti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: florida
Oranges is a narrative nonfiction book written by John McPhee in 1966. I picked this book up at a used-book sale mostly because I greatly enjoyed other McPhee books I read in the 1970s and 1980s.

These would include The John McPhee Reader (collection, 1977) ISBN 0-374-17992-1, Giving Good Weight (collection, 1979) ISBN 0-374-16306-5 and The Control of Nature (1989) ISBN 0-374-12890-1. I also picked it up because I live in Florida, I love orange Florida orange juice.

As with most John McPhee the
...more
Abby
Jan 19, 2015 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, nature
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
Mar 17, 2012 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 04, 2016 Carin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science, nature
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
Aug 09, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
May 10, 2008 Andrew rated it liked it
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
James Helfrich
Dec 16, 2015 James Helfrich rated it it was amazing
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 seems incapable of writing anything as pretentious or contrived as this sentence. 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'v
...more
Tim
Apr 21, 2014 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 19, 2010 Sheather Nelson rated it really liked it
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
Aug 05, 2008 Aileen rated it really liked it
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
Greg
Jun 12, 2015 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a neat little book. It moved well at the beginning and slowed down for me in the last couple chapters. I think I would have enjoyed this immensely at the time it was written or if it was re-written today. Because it is almost fifty years old, I can't really take any of the knowledge I gained as current or useful, but it is an interesting glimpse at a particular element of our society as it was understood at a particular time in history.
svnh
May 22, 2015 svnh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I had the pleasure of reading a pristine first edition copy of this book, and I found it strangely and unexpectedly compelling. Perhaps because of my Florida roots and appreciation and perhaps because it is so dated, it was easy for me to read a kind of magic of the mundane into this little gem. Not life changing or groundbreaking but oddly pleasant and almost peaceful, serene. I'm glad I read this.
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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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