What John McPhee's books all have in common is that they are about real people in real places. Here, at his adventurous best, he is out and about with people who work in freight transportation.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Over the past eight years, John McPhee has spent
considerable time in the company of people who work in
freight transportation. Uncommon Carriers is his sketchbook
of them and of his journeys with them. He rides from Atlanta
to Tacoma alongside Don Ainsworth, owner and operator of a
eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats. McPhee
attends ship-handling school on a pond in the foothills of
the French Alps, where, for a tuition of $15,000 a week,
skippers of the largest ocean ships refine their
capabilities in twenty-foot scale models. He goes up the
â€śtight-assedâ€ť Illinois River on a
â€śtowboatâ€ť pushing a triple string of barges, the overall
vessel being â€śa good deal longer than the Titanic.â€ť And he
travels by canoe up the canal-and-lock commercial waterways
traveled by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John,
in a homemade skiff in 1839.
Uncommon Carriers is classic work by McPhee, in prose
distinguished, as always, by its authorâ€™s warm humor, keen
insight, and rich sense of human character.
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