Some Notes on Reading Rising From the Plains by John McPhee for Week Six

McPhee is perhaps the most prolific, famous, and best practitioners of creative non-fiction writing. We wanted you to see some of his work that deals explicitly with place, in this case the state of Wyoming. Rising From the Plains is one of five books that he has written that deal with the geography of the United States along Interstate 80 from New Jersey to California.

What is striking about McPhee’s writing is his capacity to bring together disparate levels of narrative in this case historical information about white settlement, the life story of a prominent geologist, a complex (very) description of the geologic history of Wyoming, a discussion of the emergence of major theoretical developments in geology (plate tectonics and hotspots), reflections on the problematic nature of development, and his own contemporary travels in Wyoming. We hope you enjoy the reading and that you think about this text both in terms of trying to see if you can visualize and understand the geologic history involved, and in terms of the ways McPhee brings all of these strands together into a story.

The accompanying PDF is the “Narrative Table of Contents” to his 5th and final book in the series, Annals of a Former World. This book includes all of the previous four books and additional material on the interior of the country. Although the PDF is a bit blurry it is useful to take a look at it to see the larger project and to hear something about how a professional writer works to organize a text.