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The Pine Barrens

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,010 ratings  ·  202 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, 157 pages
Published May 1st 1978 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1967)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  3,010 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I drive to the New Jersey shore points as I did this past week - and for the last six years and many others previously - I have to make a right turn, though not a hard right turn, around Philadelphia and then follow a choice of roadways south to the beach of my choice. Regardless of my choice of road, I will travel fifty or so miles with nothing but trees on either side of the road. Pines mostly. And thick enough to prevent seeing beyond. Oh, there are exits, and you'd think you might see t ...more
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
The New Jersey Turnpike is not a highway. It’s a sleight of hand, a confidence trick. I drove it for the first time this past summer on a family vacation. In our rented car we entered the Turnpike at the Delaware River near Wilmington and followed it up the length of the state until we passed under the Hudson, by way of the Lincoln Tunnel, into Manhattan.

The swindle of the Turnpike is that it leads you through the middle of New Jersey while denying you any evidence that New Jersey exists. You do
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 03, 2010 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
Michael Canoeist
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What fantastic fun! To think such a strange place as the Pine Barrens lies just 30-50 miles from Philadelphia and New York City. That we have canoed and orienteered through various parts of the Pine Barrens lent an extra level of pleasure to reading this, but it is still a quirky, fascinating piece of nonfiction that played a big part in catapulting author John McPhee into fame and fortune. Curious characters living alternative kinds of lives carefully and intentionally avoiding the ever-suburba ...more
Peter Landau
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every region has its weirdos. Upstate New York could be the setting for a remake of DELIVERANCE. But, as usual, New Jersey beats them all. THE PINE BARRENS by John McPhee notes the anomaly of a vast wilderness stuck between the megacities of the Eastern Seaboard, inhabited by the mysterious backwoods Pineys and thick with legions. But this in New Jersey, a state where anything is possible. I learned about the Pine Barrens when I dated a girl from Atlantic City and the cheap casino bus that ferri ...more
Bud Smith
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read things about New Jersey all the time written by idiots. John McPhee knows what’s up. I grew up on the edge of the pine barrens, this book rings true.
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is rare that I would pick up a nonfiction book from 1968 and read it. But this book is a quick 155 pages and while there is valuable information on history and botany and geography, the real life characters who populate the book are what drives it and makes it valuable fifty years later. In addition to bringing to life local legends like Carranza, the ghost stories and yes, even the Jersey Devil are great fictional (or are they?) diversions. I taught high school on the eastern and western edg ...more
Kevin Fanning
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Super fun, very quick read. It was written so long ago I wander what's changed about the Pine Barrens since this was first published? Anyways I liked this a lot a lot. ...more
May 24, 2012 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
Scott Hammer
Nov 28, 2008 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. ...more
Dec 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
This book is a fire hose of information about the pine barrens! Pirates? The Jersey Devil? Botanists? Arson? Ill-fated daredevil Mexican pilots? Iron works? Quirky people? Property scams? There is all of that and then some.

This is fascinating to anyone who's been around that area and heard stories (my spouse grew up in the area and still has family in the region).

The book isn't structured in any particular way. It feels like the topics arise randomly in the author's head and then information abo
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
John McPhee has given us a delightful series of essays about the beauty, history and unique world of the NJ Pine Barrens. As a life-long NJ resident, and having spent the summer of '84 living in the land of sandy soil and cedar lakes, I loved this book. It did a good job of explaining the changing and unchanging life of the Pines over the last 150 years, dispelling myths while still retaining the wonder of this one of a kind forest. I only wish it were updated. It was originally written in 1969 ...more
Anna Smith
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I have read in a while. I loved learning about the ecology of the NJ pine barrens as well as the people that inhabit them (or at least inhabited them in the 1960s) as well as the folklore! Fred and bill, as well as the more transient "characters" in the book, are brilliantly described. The author is a wonderful, insightful writer. I would recommend this to everyone! It's very heartwarming but also realistic and eye opening about issues surrounding the pine barrens. It has d ...more
Sharon Rose
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this a lot—it was a quick easy read, and as someone who has lived on the edge of the Pine Barrens almost my entire life, it was cool to see a little deeper into this mysterious world. I’ll need to see if any more recent books have been written and see how things have changed in the past fifty years since this book was written.
Michael Ferrin
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read this book several times and it gets better with each reading. It is a portrait of a unique ecosystem at a precarious moment in its history. Luckily the 50 years since the book was published have shown that McPhee was overly pessimistic.
John Brouwer
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've never thought anything good about New Jersey until now. And now I wouldn't mind going to visit. ...more
Jamie Zaccaria
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great natural history read about a region I love.
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
lol the Pine Barrens were more fucked up than i thought already
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
The recent NYT Magazine profile of McPhee inspired to me to read more of his work. Along with Oranges (next on my list), his study of the people and the flora and fauna of the Pine Barrens region in New Jersey is one of his earliest books (first published in 1968). It is completely fascinating and a perfect example of all the qualities that make McPhee a master of narrative nonfiction. I grew up near the Pine Barrens & hardly knew anything about its social or natural history before reading this ...more
Oct 15, 2009 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
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is about a huge stretch of wilderness in New Jersey, basically between Philadelphia and NYC, that has somehow remained undeveloped. It is a profile of the place and the people ("pineys") that live there. The Pine Barrens originally escaped being cleared for farming due to its sandy, nutrient-poor soil, but it has remained wild due to a combination of government protection, wildfires and luck. The people that live there, mostly in unpainted shacks, subsist by harvesting and selling blueberri ...more
May 10, 2015 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
Mr. Gottshalk
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting book about that great green patch of nothingness in southern New Jersey called the Pine Barrens! Actually, it's a lot of things, as prolific nature writer John McFee taught me. Although it's dated, having been written 50 years ago, the first eight chapters recount the natural and historic background of the Pine Barrens. I did not know that there were plans to develop the area, and we were pretty close to having a Supersonic Jetport in our state. At least New Jersey got something r ...more
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!
Aug 30, 2014 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! ...more
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
1960s perspective of the pine barrens and lore. Very interesting.
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: take-these
McPhee at his best, and covering the best state.
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it

John McPhee is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of non-fiction books. Born and educated in Princeton, NJ, he grew up alongside New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. On an excursion into the heart of the Pine Barrens, McPhee meets a resident named Fred Brown who takes him on an educational journey and tour of his home on the east coast of the state. This little book was written in 1967 so I am not sure if living in the Pine Barrens today is similar to the way it was in 1967...but I hope so. The Pine Barrens
Nathalie (keepreadingbooks)
‘McPhee’s genius is that he can write about anything’
Robert MacFarlane

Despite having read only two books by McPhee, I’m inclined to agree with MacFarlane. I think I could be persuaded to pick up any book on any topic, if you told me McPhee had written it (which is quite probable already - his bibliography is VAST). He writes with such ease about anything and everything. The Pine Barrens, for example, covers topics as diverse as wildfires, flora and fauna, demography and myths and legends. And Mc
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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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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“On his way home, Giberson met the Devil himself at a bridge. The Devil told him to play his violin, and while Giberson played the Devil danced. Then the Devil played the violin while Giberson danced. Giberson was the kind of dancer of whom people said things like “I seen him put a looking glass on the floor and dance on it—he was that light when he danced.” But the Devil danced even more lightly and beautifully than Giberson, and the Devil played the violin more sweetly. Giberson conceded defeat. The Devil then said that he was going to take Giberson to Hell unless he could play a tune that the Devil had never heard. Out of the air, by Giberson’s account, a tune came to him—a beautiful theme that neither Giberson nor the Devil had ever heard. The Devil let him go. That is what Giberson told people on the following day and for the rest of his life. The tune is known in the Pine Barrens as Sammy Giberson’s Air Tune. No one, of course, knows how it goes, but the Air Tune is there, everywhere, just beyond hearing. Giberson drank a lot, like many of the fiddlers of his time. Fred” 1 likes
“They sold box turtles by the gross to people in Philadelphia, who used the turtles to keep cellars free of snails—a market that has declined.” 0 likes
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