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Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

John McPhee has been doing basically the same thing for over fifty years, and been doing it so well that there’s now a name for what he helped invent: creative non-fiction. More than simple reportage, his writing is always distinctive and artistic while remaining resolutely truthful. Critic Michael Dirda says of him, “Never as flashy as Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe … McPhee has always relied on prose that is fact-rich, leisurely, requiring a certain readerly patience with scientific and geographical description, and nearly always enthralling.” I might quibble with the use of the word nearly there, but otherwise spot on.

Any McPhee book deserves notice, but the one he’s produced at this late stage in his career is worthy of more than usual. In Draft No. 4, he brings his full arsenal of talents to bear on the subject of his own life and work—catnip for his fans. I count myself among them, and so does the writer Matthew Fleagle, a frequent guest at Message in a Bottle. It was inevitable that we’d have a long conversation about DN4 and want to share it with this audience. Thanks in advance for your certain readerly patience ... continued