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Coming into the Country

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  4,992 Ratings  ·  235 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, 448 pages
Published April 1st 1991 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1977)
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Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Many of my favorite childhood memories took place in Alaska. It is the most beautiful country I have yet come across and you cannot beat the fly fishing. I've had my eye on this book by John McPhee for quite a while and finally picked it up before my latest trip up to The Country.

The book is comprised of three parts. The first, titled The Encircled River, is the strongest. It is easy to detect McPhee's awe for the scenery as he describes a canoe trip with several park rangers down the Salmon and
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
May 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-nature
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
Mar 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: salmon
Shelves: own

I was really hoping this would be about geology, along the lines of Basin and Range. It wasn't. It's divided into three sections; in the first, McPhee wanders around unpopulated Alaska with several other men in several canoes/kayaks. I think one was from the Sierra Club, one from the Bureau of Land Management, etc. They fished to supplement their food supplies, and camped along the rivers and streams. The second section was about the attempt to get Alaska's capital moved from Juneau. I now know
Nov 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Clif Brittain
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Rex Fuller
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, nature
“What had struck me most in the isolation of this wilderness was an abiding sense of paradox. In its raw, convincing emphasis on the irrelevance of the visitor, it was forcefully, importantly repellent. It was no less strongly attractive—with a beauty of nowhere else, composed in turning circles. If the wild land was indifferent, it gave a sense of difference. If at moments it was frightening, requiring an effort to put down the conflagrationary imagination, it also augmented the touch of life.
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
“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
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"'The proposals, up here, are for the future,' Kauffmann says, and he adds, after a moment, 'As Yellowstone was. Throughout the history of this country, it's been possible to go to a place where no one has camped before, and now that kind of opportunity is running out. We must protect it, even if artificially. The day will come when people will want to visit such a wilderness—saving everything they have in order to see it, at whatever cost. We're talking fifty and more years hence, when there ma ...more
Jo Deurbrouck
Traveling with John McPhee is always a treat, but this book is particularly dear to my heart because McPhee tries to capture a spirit and a mindset he thinks is quintessentially Alaskan. Can't fault him for that: he's from New Jersey. What he really captures is the Alaskan version of a mindset that is quintessentially Western and, because he's the kind of researcher who doesn't turn over stones without also tasting the bugs beneath, he does a gorgeously thorough, imminently readable job of it.
Margaret Moss
Oct 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
John McPhee has always been my hero and a writing mentor. He helped me form my definition of a good writer -- one who can compel a reader to continue reading something they would otherwise care nothing about.
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book. Tather than focusing on what makes Alaska "wild", McPhee concentrates on the people that are living and working within this colossal landscape and why they've chosen to live here. This makes it a much more rounded and interesting rumination on one of the last frontiers.
Lisa Vegan
Nov 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Josh Edge
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
It took me a long time to really get rolling with this book for some reason, but once I got to the personal stories and narratives surrounding the impacts of TAPS and ANCSA on land rights in Alaska, I binged the last third of the book in a day. It's amazing that this book was published 40 years ago, but the issues it delves into are still at the forefront today. The writing can feel a little dense at times, but ultimately it's a compelling read that I would recommend to anyone interested in how ...more
Cindy Wyatt
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
I went to Alaska 25 years ago and I was reading this book and I remember liking the book very much and enjoying reading about Alaska while I was in Alaska. This year, I went back to Alaska and decided to read the book again. What a difference 25 years makes - this time I did not enjoy the book at all! There are a few interesting stories/observations but the book drones on and on and it was hard to stick with it to the end.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding writing. I looked forward to getting back to reading this book whenever I got the chance. Author was an expert at weaving in multiple story lines and thoughts with the smallest effort. Sublime bits of humor. A terrific book.
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book made me miss Alaska, where I was born and partly raised. Of any books I've read about the state, this does the best job of capturing life there, and the stubborn independence that characterizes the people.
M Sorensen
Jan 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Dark and grim feel. Didn't like it enough to finish it.
Sherri Anderson
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I probably would have liked this book better if I had read it before living in Alaska. It was very redundant in parts and the third section was way too poetic for me.
Eric T. Bergeson
Introduction to Alaska

This book was recommended to me by a friend. She told me the author does a great job of explaining Alaska; it's ecological balance, and the people in the bush and their ways of life. I like the author and book for the 3 distinct areas of discussion, including the attempts to move the Capitol from Juneau to somewhere, anywhere but Anchorage. This was a pleasant read and very educational for me from the lower 48. Excellent read!
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
Part One - At The Northern Tree Line
The Encircled River is about the Salmon River between Brooks Range and Coastal Range in Alaska. McPhee floats down the Salmon River with several companions exploring the region for consideration for inclusion in a national wilderness preserve. He describes the native claims resolution (Native Claims Act) and the vast amount of wilderness left for development. He also describes the days on the river and exploring the country beside it, including encounters with
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
The mysterious wild land of Alaska and its potential transformation as a result of the new Trans Alaska Pipeline drew two accomplished journalist/explorers in the mid-1970s to experience as much of it as they could. John McPhee, New Jersey native, gave us “Coming into the Country,” published in 1977, and Joe McGinniss, Massachussetts man, wrote “Going to Extremes,” after touring Alaska in 1975, though the book wasn’t published until 1980. I’m writing one review to cover both of them.

Coming into
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
Frankly, was not impressed with this book. Have read some of McPhee's other stuff in the past and enjoyed it, but just never got into this one. The book is divided into three sections, though the first two each take up only about a quarter of the book and the third takes up the remaining half.

Chapter one deals with the author's trip down a river in Northwest Alaska, which is somewhat interesting. The second chapter deals with efforts to select a new capital for the state, which gave some insigh
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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