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The Pine Barrens

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,477 ratings  ·  149 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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4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,477 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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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
Robert Owens
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
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
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
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.
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
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 t ...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
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.
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!
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: take-these
McPhee at his best, and covering the best state.
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
1960s perspective of the pine barrens and lore. Very interesting.
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!
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'll never think of NJ the same after reading this book. Though the writing is at times stilted and the paragraphs tend to be over-long and meandering, McPhee provides an excellent, thorough history and paints a vivid picture of this fascinating region as it appeared to him in the 1960s. Fortunately, a quick Google search and a "trip" to the Pine Barrens via Google Earth shows that not too much has changed since then. (However, via Zillow, I do see that homes in the areas where the simple backco ...more
Timothy Monahan
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
The desk at which Jefferson wrote the Declaration. Joseph Wharton’s side project. The Jersey Devil. Mexico’s Charles Lindbergh. Supersonic Airports. Massive forest fires. Moonshine. Catch and release Gray foxes. Real estate bubbles. Gangland murders. Cheeseburgers made from poached deer.

Like a few other reviewers, I am a mostly lifelong New Jersey resident who always knew of the Pine Barrens but never really knew anything about the land. This is my first foray into the writing of John McPhee, a
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A reread. Mr. McPhee explores and explains in depth the geography and population of southern New Jersey's extensive Pine Barrens. At the time he wrote (late sixties), the future of this pristine wilderness was unclear. Subsequently--and fortunately-- it has been protected by federal legislation. McPhee spent an amazing amount of time visiting and researching the Barrens for what was originally a series of articles in The New Yorker. Growing up in northern New Jersey and regularly visiting both ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
AN enjoyable read showing the life of those who live in the pine barrens of New Jersey. Here is straight talking tales without looking down the nose at people who may have a different life than yours. Some areas of the pine barrens may have changed since this book was written but not all of it has. here were good honest folk in them there woods and there probably still are today. It is a unique natural area in our country and this is the only way many can visit it without ruining it. The pine ba ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been slowly working my through John McPhee's books ever since reading his wonderful book "Oranges" many, many years ago. I still tell people stuff I learned about citrus fruit since reading that book more than a decade ago, now I can further annoy people with facts about a New Jersey region I'd never heard of before.

In "The Pine Barrens," McPhee travels around the woodsy area of New Jersey, which apparently has a sort of backwoods reputation, and tells the stories of the interesting charact
Michael  Malone
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
McPhee packs a ton into a slim book--both the history and future of the pine barrens, and the people who live in this forested community. It reads like a long New Yorker piece, full of fun details about a vast stretch of New Jersey woods that McPhee notes has somehow sustained itself as the eastern seaboard grew into a region of cities and suburbs.
McPhee details the language and mannerisms of the "piney" people, and I would've liked a wee bit more of that. A fun, informative read though.
Bonus p
Black Spring
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read it in a day. Pretty great but in some ways dated natural history/folklore/sociological treatment of the vast wilderness forest near where I grew up. Prompted one of my exceedingly rare bits of nostalgia for the state of New Jersey since leaving 9 years ago. I'd love to try living in the Pines if it were feasible to do so. If a new introduction were added to this book updating the stats on the dimensions and health of the forest, etc., it would be a pitch perfect read. Following with "Phanto ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Driving through the Pine Barrens to the beach for most of my adult life made this title a no brainer. The deft writing, narrative flow, and never-ending supply of scientific, social, and historical fact make this brief text long on edu-tainment value. There are some real characters spread out on those back roads of sand! Published in the late 60's, it's prompted me to read up on current Pine Barrens news and infrastructure.
Mitch Karunaratne
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Originally written in 1968 - this slim volume celebrates the vast pine forests of New Jersey. I first encountered these in The Sopranos - when Paulie and Chris drive out there to dispose of a body! McPhee takes us past the stereotypes of the area to meet the people, understand the politics and gain deeper appreciation of fragility of this ecosystem and the wider political landscape. It's a beautiful drawing of the area and has cemented by resolve to return soon.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous! John McPhee illuminates a fascinating and little-known part of the most densely populated state in the way only he can: with insight and curiosity and simple (but flowing and fast-paced prose. Originally published in the 60s, the wealth of information makes me want to explore the Pine Barrens now and see how it has changed.
Dan Mutter
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“At the rate of a few hundred yards or even a mile or so each year, the perimeter of the pines contracts.”

A historical, sociological, and botanical journey into New Jersey’s most overlooked and misunderstood asset...from a 1967 perspective.
Amanda Carlucci
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great info on the NJ Pine Barrens and it's ecology, and entertaining stories about the people of this historically unknown region. Though the book is outdated, I still recommend reading it if you're interest is in conservation and/or fascinating cultural geography of the past.
interesting examination of a strange, somewhat hidden land; the fact that this was written in the '60s adds to its intrigue. I did get bored a few times--some sections were rather dry--but there were enough interesting characters and customs to make it worth finishing.
Jennifer Talarico
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why did I wait so long to read this book? I have hiked and paddled in the Pine Barrens over the years and never really knew the history. A gem of a book. I would have given it five stars if maps were included.
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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
“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
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