Giving Good Weight

ISBN: 0374516006
ISBN 13: 9780374516000
By: John McPhee

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About this book

"You people come into the market—the Greenmarket, in the open air under the down pouring sun—and you slit the tomatoes with your fingernails. With your thumbs, you excavate the cheese. You choose your stringbeans one at a time. You pulp the nectarines and rape the sweet corn. You are something wonderful, you are—people of the city—and we, who are almost without exception strangers here, are as absorbed with you as you seem to be with the numbers on our hanging scales." So opens the title piece in this collection of John McPhee's classic essays, grouped here with four others, including "Brigade de Cuisine," a profile of an artistic and extraordinary chef; "The Keel of Lake Dickey," in which a journey down the whitewater of a wild river ends in the shadow of a huge projected dam; a report on plans for the construction of nuclear power plants that would float in the ocean; and a pinball shoot-out between two prizewinning journalists.

Reader's Thoughts

blue-collar mind

It was the first description of the open air farmers market movement that I had read and now that I spend my life in them and thinking about them, I realize now that McPhee described it so perfectly and with enough detail so that it could STILL be used as an introduction to any market across the US.


I read it in high school for a class and it instantly became one of my favorite books of all time - it introduced to the world of essays. The ones here are great - an open-air market in New York City (where the title comes from); a chef; pinball; a proposed floating nuclear power plant; and the damming of a river in Maine. Lovingly tended to, McPhee takes each subject to heart. I've not read his other books, more for lack of time than anything else. However, having read this one is enough for me to recommend him to readers everywhere.

Janet Elsbach

Clear and pure, an offhand-sounding voice which conveys a keen attention. The description of farmer's markets in various neighborhoods of NY seems both dated and timeless, a snapshot of a particular era in NY and the long view of how human nature persists across eras and zipcodes.


A collection of varied essays on subjects as wide ranging as farmer's markets, pinball, the St. John River, and a world class chef (unnamed).


The difference in sophistication between the two later essays (Giving Good Weight and Brigade de Cuisine) and the other three is pretty dramatic. That said, in all of the essays McPhee manages to take subjects that most of us wouldn't even give second thought to and turn them into riveting stories.


McPhee is the maestro.


McPhee may well be the finest (nonfiction) prose stylist alive. Maybe it's my food obsession, but I found this poss. his finest of many I've read.

Tom Doggett

The last story about the chef is exquisite.


Only John McPhee can make everything from cutting wood in the forests of the northeast to green markets in NYC to a floating nuclear reactor into an absorbing read. There's also a memorable description of an extraordinary chef preparing a a fresh octopus for dinner at his restaurant. I'll say no more.


Like many of McPhee's books this is a group of sketches about people or things that under normal circumstances go unexplained. A nuclear power plant to be built on an island, a Maine River, the NY Greenmarket, and a nameless chef. His writing is so crystalline that I often find myself trying to craft sentences in McPhee-esque clarity.


Another great book from McPhee.

Michael Fogleman

Especially liked the first and last essays, about a food market and a chef, respectively. Magical passages in a lot of the essays, though. Having just read some DFW, McPhee's vocabulary is clearly also quite good, but less forward and obstructive.


One of McPhee's best anthologies of essays — an eclectic collection unified by the adventure and exploration of each piece.


John McPhee is a great writer - pure and simple. His style is that of a reporter. One that enmeshes himself in his subject and writes from the heart. This book is diverse and always interesting. From farmer's markets in New York City, to the possibility of creation of a floating nuclear reactor off of New Jersey, to a chef at a small inn in New York. Fabulous writing. (Oh, and from the 1970's...)


It was a mixed bag.As with many McPhee's, this was a collection of shorter writings.We've got McPhee working on farms and at farmer's market's around NYC - entertaining; we've got New Jersey thinking about building floating nuclear power stations - quite fascinating; we've got a story about pinball -which, honestly, was what I was most looking forward to, but turned out to be utterly forgettable; we've got, yet another, story about McPhee canoeing (and I already have a thing about canoing), so I was dreading this one, but it was the most enjoyable canoe writing yet; and we end with an obscure restaurant near NYC - it sounds like a French haute cuisine version of Shopsin's - which makes you want to pack up and leave tonight, and eat there for every meal tomorrow - until you realize the book was written in 1975, and there is no restaurant to go to :(Overall, hooray for McPhee - but it isn't one I would start people with, but I'm considering colored flagging some of the stories to loan out.

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