The Loom

I’m sometimes asked who my favorite science writers are. I don’t like science writers per se; I like science writing, or rather some science writing–the passages and chapters and books that remind me just how good science writing can get, just how high above the wasteland of hackery, dishonest simplification, and cliches it can rise. This morning by chance I stumbled across a recording from 1996 of John McPhee reading one of those passages (he reads from one of his geology books at about 6:20). It has the added bonus of an explanation far more clear than I could offer as to why an English major would wind up as a science writer.

John McPhee Audio – Speech at the Farrar Straus & Giroux 50th Anniversay Dinner


  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    October 30, 2007

    John McPhee is a pioneer, and I think you are one of his heirs. He was (as far as I know) the first science writer to use some techniques Tom Wolfe developed, such as making friends with people of interest and just spending time with them, then recording and distilling the resultant conversations.

    David Quammen is another writer I admire who has adopted this approach.

  2. #2 Sven DiMilo
    October 30, 2007

    Larry Ayers (and Carl Zimmer), you have excellent taste in science writing, IMO.

  3. #3 Gregory Buchholz
    October 31, 2007

    I gave one of McPhee’s books, Assembling California, for Christmas last year to my father in law, who majored in Geology in college, and I am still hearing stories from the book. Oddly enough I came across McPhee because one of his daughters writes travel articles.

New comments have been disabled.