Coming into the Country
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Coming into the Country

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  3,301 ratings  ·  161 reviews
This is the story of Alaska and the Alaskans. Written with a vividness and clarity which shifts scenes frequently, and yet manages to tie the work into a rewarding whole, McPhee segues from the wilderness to life in urban Alaska to the remote bush country.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 1st 1991 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1977)
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Alaska, the early 1960s. Darkness covered the land. The latest winter storm, which by then had already lasted half a century, still showed no sign of ending. The cold and the snow were beginning to wear the proud Alaskans down. Then Russia invaded. Again. The fledgling state was unprepared for war, and so the Alaskan Militia fell back before the forces of the Dark Lord Stalin, and the Red Army of Moscow reached the walls of Juneau. For two days and nights the city was bombarded by communist orcs...more
Things I learned about Alaska:

-- Merrill Field, a light-plane airfield in Anchorage, handles fifty-four thousand more flights per year than Newark International. This is so because bushplane trips are more common than taxis or driving, the roads being what they are.

-- Fried cranberries will help a sore throat.

-- That somethings are better left unchanged or not re-named:

"What would you call that mountain, Willie?"
"Denali. I'll go along with the Indians that far."
Everyone aboard was white but Will
Clif Brittain
I love McPhee's writing. I first read this book when it was published in part in the New Yorker, and again soon after it was published as a book. So this is the third time I've read it. I've read maybe ten books three times, so I really, really like this.

First, because McPhee writes so beautifully. He could write about anything and I would read it. I've even read his geology books. Not because I like geology, (I don't), but because I just eat up his words. It is like eating chocolate, I usually...more
McPhee's Coming Into the Country is rightly considered a classic with its detailed description on life in mid-1970s Alaska. Much of the writing is stunning, packed full of river trips and anecdotes about characters the author encountered during his many months in the country. He captures well the contradictions embodied in many Alaskans: a thirst for solitude alternating with a an affinity for social gatherings, an abhorrence of government even as they live and trap on public land, and the spars...more
Brian Davis
This book has meant a lot to me as an Alaskan interested in the raggedy interplay between development and conservationism, although I had never read it in its entirety. Now I have. I would say this book at best offers a kind, sympathetic view of all sorts of Alaskans circa 1977, a period which I just barely remember from grade school. I still recall the statewide debate on whether to give "Mount McKinley" the new/old name of "Denali" as part of ANILCA, then called the D-2 Lands Bill, which was a...more
Rex Fuller
The Country lies around the upper Yukon River. The book induced aching for it. This one work teaches more about Alaska than any other source I know: Statehood demeaned Alaska, the Native Claims Settlement Act made a well-intentioned wreck, and the pipeline contorted it in good and bad ways that will prove insignificant over time. Most of all, the book made clear how painful the federal government's interference is to "whites and Indians alike" of The Country.
I read this book in the mid-80's. I was encouraged to read it by a friend who had lived in Alaska in the early 80's and knew some of the people mentioned in the book. I remember I liked it and found it interesting but I don't remember too much about the details.
This book was a challenge for me. McPhee divided his exploration of Alaska into three sections--the first, stage-setting section on the northern tree line; the second, uses the search for an ideal site for a new state capital to explore urban Alaska; and the final section, on "the bush," really focuses on the motives and lifestyles of in-migrants to the state. I breezed through the first two parts; the relocation of the state capital (which never happened) in particular was literally a bird's ey...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Nov 25, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nature Lovers, Lovers of Americana, Those Who Enjoy Literary Journalism
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Ultimate Reading List - Travel
This book is about Alaska, at least circa 1976. Back then Alaska could boast a population of 400 thousand, of which 60 thousand were Native Americans. (As of 2011, Alaska's population had risen to 722,718.) Both then and now Anchorage boasted half the population. At the time Alaska became a state in 1959, the inhabitants hoped that would give them more control over their destiny--as McPhee explained, at the time only half of one percent of Alaska was in private hands--the rest was under federal...more
The book has three pieces. The first two are shorter but I only would rate them one star. The last longer piece for which the book is named is much better and I would rate 3 stars.
The first story takes place in North West Alaska near Kotzebue,and is full of country political tirades most of which I found somewhat offensive from my Yukon upbringing. I don't know what the five of them were doing going down the river but I was not impressed with their preparation or boats. Most of them were govern...more
I read this non-fiction book before I went to Alaska in May. It is a very good read - but especially interesting to me because I could picture some of the things McPhee was talking about while I was in Alaska. The book is written in "parts" - the first part was about his travels in Northwest Alaska with a group of environmentalists - about the rivers, salmon, bear, flora, etc. The last part is more about the people who move "into the country". Some were born and raised in Alaska, some were escap...more
Despite flaws, this ultimately leaves me with a wonderful picture of Alaska and its people. It was written in 1977, and I am eager to hear how things have changed or not changed and what was the outcomes of some of the events that were current when McPhee did his research.
This book has 3 sections. In the first McPhee describes a trip he took through beautiful backcountry.
It has lovely descriptions of the land but was oddly boring.If I had not been planning a trip to Alaska I might have aborted....more
Ruth Everhart
This book is really 3 pieces under 1 cover. The first piece describes a trip on a remote river in a beautiful section of Alaska, bordering the Yukon territory. The language is poetic and the focus is on the ecological beauty of the area. The second piece is more sociological, describing characters in Alaska's history, and some of the trends of settlement. Interesting stuff. The third piece is the one the book is named for, a collection of stories about people who have "come into the country," me...more
Lisa Vegan
Nov 30, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone going to or interested in Alaska
I know this is practically sacrilegious, but this was my second favorite book I read before I traveled to Alaska in the early 80s. My favorite book was Going to Extremes by Joe McGinniss.
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
John McPhee on bears:
There is an old adage that when a pine needle drops in the forest the eagle will see it fall; the deer will hear it when it hits the ground; the bear will smell it.

Coming Into the Country is a rambling, three part book about Alaska. It doesn't try to be an encyclopedia or a reference work, but simply the story of The Country, as told through the minds and hearts of people who live there. The first part recounted the author's journey via canoe and kayak on the Salmon river in...more
“If anyone could figure out how to steal Italy, Alaska would be the place to hid it." What a vivid way to describe Alaska's immensity. 'There has been a host of excellent books on Alaska. My favorite until recently was Joe McGinnis's Going to Extremes but John McPhee's Coming Into the Country is wonderful, too.
McPhee's book is divided into three parts: first an exploration of wilderness described during the course of a canoe/kayak trip down the Salmon River. Much in the manner of the river, his...more
My family raves about John McPhee, but I wasn't thrilled with this book. I gave it a three star rating, but it was more like a 2 with some bits of 4's and 5's scattered throughout. Oddly, the parts I liked best were not about humans, but about grizzly bears. There's a lot of camping, fishing, airplane and boat jargon that I was too lazy to look up in a dictionary and therefore didn't really understand. The whole middle section is about differing views of where the capital of Alaska should be, an...more
OK, I admit it was the "Cheechakos and Sourdoughs" line that made me pick up this book on Alaska--I realized I knew very little about the state (for example, is it anywhere near Russia?) but was willing to learn, and I also hadn't read a McPhee book in a couple of years. The obvious flaw in this one is that it is very much a product of 1974, so it's difficult to read it without wondering how much is entirely different 35 years later (probably a whole lot). Still, I'm rather enjoying the section...more
This book took a while to finish. The first two sections were very interesting and I read through them quickly. In fact, I wish they were longer - especially since they gave the read more of a historical context for the book. The third section of the book (which account for 1/2-2/3 of the pages in the book) gets somewhat tedious by about the first 50 pages in. McPhee spends a lot of time describing the details of what seems like almost everyone who lives in the small village of Eagle, AK. He des...more
A big country requires a big book, so it's appropriate the McPhee's three-part survey of Alaska and its people weighs in at 400-plus pages. Very few of them are wasted, although the passage in which he ironically transcribes a passage from a Sgt. Preston of the Yukon broadcast is a bit excessive. McPhee travelled in Alaska in the mid-1970s, when the former territory was learning how to become a state and its citizens were contemplating moving the capital, from Juneau to a more central location b...more
Mardel Fehrenbach
I have read this book before, but that neither lessens or increases my enjoyment of the book particularly. Although technically I would call McPhee a journalist, his writing at its best is better than that of most novelists writing today and his turn of phrase and powers of description can have a poetic quality. That said, although I loved reading this book, it is not my favorite book by this author and hence, not in my mind at least, his best, hence the rating of only four stars.

I have never w...more
If you are interested in tagging along with park planners, biologists, and wildlife experts as they scope out the terrain in 1970s Alaska for park designation; helicoptering around the state with city planners, McHargian acetaters (just a few years removed from when Ian McHarg first developed his overlay system), and politicians as they search for a new capitol of the state; or living among "bushmen" near the Yukon River and reveling in their stories of survival and pragmatism; then this is the...more
Very enjoyable book. The version I read from my local library was 438 pages long, a different version than the one listed above. I enjoyed the first part on navigating rivers and encountering salmon and grizzly bears in the Brooks range and the last part which was on what it takes to live life in the rugged Alaskan town of Eagle and surrounding places.

The middle part dealt with politics within the state and was just not as interesting to me. I wonder if there is an update from McPhee on this bo...more
Another good John McPhee collection of essays. I guess they're all pretty much like this, with some truly exceptional stuff mixed in with material that I find less appealing. The writing is always engaging but sometimes veers (usually briefly) into purple prose. Half the book is taken up with one long essay describing the residents of a tiny bush town on the Yukon River and the huge, almost totally unpopulated region surrounding the town. The area is apparently stuffed full of fascinating charac...more
I read this while traveling in Alaska for a month. It is still the baseline by which all other acconts of modern Alaska are measured, but a bit dated now. The chapter on the bush people of the Yukon (a third of the book) is still particularly evocative of the vanishing American frontier. It is sad to know that most of the people described by McPhee have now been pushed off the land by federal agencies that have seized vast swathes of the Alaskan wilderness (which means about 99% of the state); t...more
Rick Naud
Rare are the books that let me disconnect from the urban world to connect with something greater, simple but very natural. The book (mostly part I and III though of the three parts) leaves you with an impression similar to that of a great adventure : “We are at the end of this trip now, and from the moment it began no one has once mentioned anything that did not have to do with Alaska.”
I have read and admired John McPhee's writing in the New Yorker, but this is the first book of his I have ever read. Extremely well-done. I didn't love the middle part about the capital of Alaska but I loved the first and last section. I came away feeling that I knew Alaska and its people. I love a writer who can make me feel as if I have traveled to a place and gotten to know the people who live there.
Jul 25, 2011 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
A wonderful book, only slightly tainted by it's obsolescence. As mentioned in other reviews, each chapter has been made quite out-of-date by events that have happened since publication. The book is broken into three parts. Backcountry paddling with bureaucrats and ecologists, trying to determine how the land should be split up; flying with bureaucrats, trying to decide on a new location for Alaska's capital; and living in Eagle, meeting the locals and describing their livelhoods.

I found the firs...more
This book made me afraid to read any other John McPhee -- and there's apparently a copious amount of McPhee -- because they might not be as perfect as this one. He writes right on the ridgeline between dull and transcendent (and transcendence, without contrast, without a reminder of what is transcended, gets dull again), and I fear that other books might tip off and be gone baby gone.

Also, Drop City was a really good book -- and most of what was good about it was taken pretty much directly from...more
Darren Hawkins
I really enjoy books that give a strong sense of time and place. When the prose involves landscape, rugged country, people and nature living in harmony and tension, then I'm often hooked. Such is the case with this detailed and fascinating picture of Alaska in the 1970s. While now 35 years old and written in a journalistic style, this book provides an enduring and engaging portrait of a vast land and the people who inhabit it. The author excels at describing the peculiarities and frailties of th...more
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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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