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The Pine Barrens

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,817 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
Most people think of New Jersey as a suburban-industrial corridor that runs between New York and Philadelphia. Yet in the low center of the state is a near wilderness, larger than most national parks, which has been known since the seventeenth century as the Pine Barrens.

The term refers to the predominant trees in the vast forests that cover the area and to the quality of
Paperback, 176 pages
Published May 1st 1978 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1967)
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I lived in New Jersey for over a year without anyone mentioning this book. Although I had a long history with Encounters with the Archdruid I was somehow unaware that McPhee had written The Pine Barrens. This book about the Pine Barrens of New Jersey (written in 1967) examines the people and well as the forest. It is a portrait of a community within a diverse pine forest. He explains a history of prejudice against the inhabitants and shows the depth of dignity of a people countering any image of ...more
Jul 16, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing

The Pine Barrens take up about one-quarter of the most dense state in the nation. It is my playground. Rich in life, history, and folklore, there is nothing barren about this gem of a place.

I've been exploring the Pines more fully for the past dozen years now. McPhee's book has been recommended any number of times. I purchased it several years ago but only picked it up yesterday.

Written in 1967, this tells of a different age. Interestingly though, the Pines hadn't changed much over the
May 29, 2012 Lindsay rated it it was amazing
What a great book. I enjoyed it much more than, say, Desert Solitaire -- not sure if that's because I am from the area or because McPhee's writing is engaging and the stories are unusual and interesting. Probably a little bit of both. I also love the way this "man out in the wilderness" book subverts the ego. This book is really not at all about McPhee or his experience...he dedicates himself to listening, and I think that technique works much better for the genre than Thoreau-esque self-centere ...more
May 10, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Stephen by: a botany professor
Read this book years ago. I was in college taking a two-semester Botany class and the professor loved to take us out in the field, like all the time. We went to three places: Valley Green along the Wissahickon Creek, the Barnes Foundation Arboretum in Merion Station and the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. He required that we read this book. It does an excellent job of explaining not only the people who live in this wilderness but about the flora and fauna as well. It is hard to believe you are in Ne ...more
Aug 30, 2014 Velma marked it as tbr-own-yet-to-read  ·  review of another edition
Thanks, Dan - my stop at your new place yielded the best books I've found at a garage sale in quite awhile!
May 03, 2014 RoyalSoulGypsy rated it liked it
Excellent stories about a piece of American geography about which we have be lied to by the mass media. There is no 'Jersey Devil' and the native inhabitants of the Pine Barrens are not inbred and mentally challenged.

John McPhee once again unravels the history behind these sensational defamations and devotes many chapters to describing the uniqueness, beauty and value of this most exceptional area of the U.S.

After reading the book you will have learned about; cranberry and blueberry harvesting,
Scott Hammer
Nov 28, 2008 Scott Hammer rated it it was amazing
I want McPhee's essays about the pine barrens to be true today. Growing up there, but not necessarily being a piney, I suppose I represent a type of person McPhee could not have been writing about in the 60s. But for a nostos I don't entirely have access to, this book does it for me in every way. & since a you can still get lost, temporarily, in the pine barrens or (like I did) become accidentally submerged in a cranberry bog, his writing is relevant enough.
I found this entire book fascinating. Not often am I lured in on this history of my quirky state. So much is to be learned about the Pine Barrens and the people who inhabit it. I am glad I took the time to read this! I have learned so many amazing things!
Kevin A.
Aug 11, 2015 Kevin A. rated it it was amazing
Early John McPhee -- when editors still dared edit the master -- and it's absorbing from beginning to end. He clearly loves the region and its people while fearing for its future. (An enormous supersonic jet airport serving both New York and Philadelphia was once planned with a new city sited next to it!)

McPhee strings yarns, reads the landscape, and illustrates characters, and preserves a vanishing culture while refusing to condescend to either his subjects or his readers.

Fifty years later, it
Mayor McCheese
Jun 18, 2015 Mayor McCheese rated it it was amazing
This book explores a unique set of people living in America in relative isolation more or less off the grid. The ability of people to prosper without the internet and TV is refreshing. It also reminds me of many of my relatives generations ago who were mostly self-sustaining from the land as farmers, and now two or three generations later I can barely grow herbs on my patio. Our degree of interdependence is good and frightening at same time. I also believe that modern society has made it very di ...more
Dec 13, 2014 Sharron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: natural-history
This somewhat dated, but always relevant, tale of the Pine Barrens covers its history- political, cultural, commercial - and most especially, its natural history. McPhee is a most entertaining and informative writer. His account of the Pine Barrens includes references to the American Revolution, unusual birds, devastating forest fires, rare orchids, cranberry bogs, and an immense aquifer - and that is just a smattering of the seemingly disparate topics addressed.
Raymond Rockwell
Mar 15, 2016 Raymond Rockwell rated it it was amazing
Off the grid, undeveloped, sparsely populated--but smack in the midst of the most densely domesticated state in the Union -- lies an inland "island," New Jersey's
Pine Barrens, home of and haven for flora, fauna, and folks increasingly menaced
by megalopolis.

Author McPhee's exploration of nature and human nature educates, enlightens,and
entertains. You'll love the "pineys" and their preferred lifestyle in sync with the
Williams Fulton
Jan 24, 2015 Williams Fulton rated it really liked it
Another John McPhee work well worth the read. I knew where the Pine Barrens geographically existed but I had no idea this "other, removed, world" lay nestled in its' vast wilderness. In addition to the unique, sometimes forbidding, and really spooky physical environment ... there lives a culture frozen in its' tracks simply due to the unforgiving nature of the "Barrens". You don't have to travel abroad to see something so out of the ordinary.
Aug 05, 2009 M rated it liked it
The title character in this book is the Pine Barrens, a forest area in New Jersey. McPhee describes the society in which the "pineys" live as well as the land's ecolological implications and challenges. This book had its positive points, most notably it's interesting depiction of "pineys," who live on the margin of modern society. I found it especially interesting to think that such self-reliant woodsmen live so close to me (I live in New Jersey.) I didn't like the rambling history lessons on th ...more
Betsy D
May 31, 2015 Betsy D rated it liked it
Pretty good. Jack and i camped in the Pine Barrens--our first camping trip together--around the time this book was written.
I was looking for more physical description that would bring back memories of 1969, or more explanation of why it is as it is. I enjoyed the history in it, but the sociology not as much.
I loved his The Control of Nature on foolish attempts to thwart Mother Nature, in L.A., New Orleans, and Iceland.
Mar 11, 2012 J rated it really liked it
Shelves: princeton
I live on the fringes of the Pine Barrens and have driven through the area many times without ever giving it much of a thought. McPhee's accounts of life there through the late 1960s (when the book was published) is introductory but engaging and informative. He presents some information so casually (and without attributions) that it can be difficult at times to differentiate folklore from fact.

Was fascinated to read about the proposed planned community and Concorde jetport mooted in the 1960s,
Dec 13, 2008 James rated it it was amazing
I recently read a review of a new Carolyn Chute book...she's sort of the literary equivalent of an outsider artist - think Basquiat, except a militant, reclusive woman who's big on the second ammendment.

I tried to read one of her books, but as oppose to visual arts, the idea of trudging through the book of an untrained writer can be daunting; and though there are autobiographical aspects, they are mostly fiction.

But I want to read them, and I want to love them: the backwoods towns of New England
Apr 30, 2016 JZ rated it really liked it
I had no idea, and I was informed, beautifully. Essays about a secret world. I lived in a pine forest, of Eastern scrub pine, not dissimilar to the trees of the Barren, so I found this fascinating. I like his writing, too. Then, came the Blair Witch Project, and it was secret no longer. lol I wonder what it's like now, fifty years later.
Mar 05, 2016 Abate rated it it was amazing
A tender but clear-eyed account of life in one of NJ's best, enormous secrets. I sometimes wish they would issue an updated version (this one's about 50 years old), but then I get scared of what horrible facts about development and pollution might make their ways into the descriptions of the Pine Barrens. A great ode to nature and New Jersey.
Oct 15, 2009 Ben rated it it was amazing
In a state bent on replacing all its mystery with badly-named towns, insolvent megaplexes, and middling upscale restaurants, there's still this huge mysterious swath of woods.

Book is non-linear non-fiction, a sequence of organically linked essays that sprawl and cross-pollinate in the manner of forest life. Was written in the 1960s and therefore functions both 1) as a hyper-articulate primer on the value of these woods, and 2) as a time capsule environmental warning about the perils of over-dev
Rebecca Sealfon
Jun 11, 2015 Rebecca Sealfon rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best travel books I've read. It covers everything - human culture, history, ecology, geology, and the Pine Barrens' future. It's amazing the Pine Barrens still exists, so many years after the book was written. And now I want to go.
Michael Kallan
Mar 19, 2012 Michael Kallan rated it liked it
Informative history of the Pine Barrens, at times through the eyes of those who lived there. Even as someone who reads mostly non-fiction, I found McPhee's writing to be dry at times; book would have been improved by one or two general maps of the Pine Barrens area itself (and this is coming from someone who grew up in central NJ) just for frame of reference. Interesting to look back on nearly 50 years later since it was written, especially the plan for a jetport and city of 250,000 people to ha ...more
May 28, 2008 furious rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Pineys, Jerseyans, sons of the soil, history buffs
Shelves: mines, travel, journalism
McPhee explores the landscape & the history of the Pines in an easy-going, if sometimes utilitarian, style. the meandering tone matches the way he seems to wend his way through the woods, stopping at any time or place that has a relevant story to tell. i don't know how it took me so long to find this book, but i'm glad i finally did. for one who grew up & lived on the edge of the Pines for many years, this book is absolutely fascinating. the picture it paints of the Pines, though dated 1 ...more
Oct 09, 2012 kxm rated it really liked it
I downed this book in two days. A wonderfully written account of the Barrens and the people who live within their desolate bounds that is neither romantic nor exploitative. I agree with another reviewer that a map would be helpful & I would love an update from McPhee, though I certainly can do this additional research on my own.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a general curiosity about culture and place, as well as those interested in development and conservation (particularly in
Feb 15, 2016 Allison rated it it was amazing
I read this slim volume over about 24 hours. It's a fascinating work of non fiction about the region's social and ecological history. Let me know , friends, if you want to borrow this book.
This is a little gem of a book. John McPhee is one of the greatest non-fiction writers; why else would I read a book about the United States Merchant Marine (Looking for a Ship)and find it completely fascinating? I have more of a connection with this book: The New Jersey Pine Barrens are right in my back yard. We've been talking about visiting that area since we moved here in 2007 and now that we've read this book we can't wait.

Even if you don't live near New Jersey, you might enjoy this book ab
Aug 29, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nature Lovers
This was my first book of John McPhee's, and I fell in love with it. My appreciation for the mysteries and beauty of nature led me to this book and I plan to read many of his books.
Chris Thorsrud
Mar 30, 2014 Chris Thorsrud rated it really liked it
Roaming the New Jerseys wilds with McPhee, a top-notch writer. His descriptions of people and place, the stories he shares, make this a classic and a keeper.
Aug 06, 2014 Joel rated it really liked it
As typical for McPhee, was interesting and a good read. I do wonder how much has changed in the almost 50 years since he wrote it in ~1967.
Jan 06, 2016 Tycoon rated it really liked it
Anthropology, botany, ecology, geology, and zoology of a funky part of the world. With a sprinkling of jokes and tall tales. This is rock-solid McPhee.
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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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