John McPhee may seldom accept interviews or photographs, but this doesn’t mean he makes himself unknown. His writing is lively and personal, including detailed character descriptions and in-depth topical analyses. He’s a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and he has published twenty-nine books, covering topics in geology, fish, farmer’s markets, and even basketball. His note-worthy A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Princeton’s Bill Bradley is a classic of non-fiction that admirably profiles the man who would eventually serve on both the NBA and the United States Senate.
McPhee tailored his journalism in the 1960’s as he worked for Time magazine. His writing coincided with the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, but McPhee constructed a softer, literary style by integrating techniques from fiction. His famous Annals of the Former World is a geological history of North America, and it won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.
McPhee now dispenses his knack for writing to his students at Princeton University – where he was both born and raised since his birth in 1931. Several of them have picked up his literary flair. His student David Remnick, for example, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Remnick is also editor of the magazine The New Yorker. McPhee’s students are not the only ones to imitate his success. Amongst his four daughters are two novelists, a photographer, and an architectural historian.