An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: One of the great joys of being a book nerd is the rare offer from an accomplished writer to peer inside their head, to probe the process that makes their work, well, work. The best examples (Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, etc.) go beyond the nuts and bolts of prose – how to tell a story in three acts, e.g. – to talk about how they view their craft, however idiosyncratic or replicable. Draft No. 4 falls squarely into this category. With this collection of eight essays, McPhee – the author of Coming into the Country, Encounters with the Archdruid, and countless other celebrated works of longform nonfiction – shares his experiences as a working writer, recalling the methods, tools (mental and otherwise), and relationships that helped him produce some of his most memorable books and articles. It’s less of a how-to than a this-is-how-I-did-it approach, offering plenty of astonishment and inspiration for aspiring writers (and just plain readers), if not easy solutions. An deft blend of art and memoir, Draft No. 4 might seem like the entertaining, amiable reminiscences of a favorite uncle, if it wasn’t also so informative and insightful. –Jon Foro, Amazon Book Review
Draft No. 4 is a master class on the writer’s craft. In a series of playful, expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he has gathered over his career and has refined while teaching at Princeton University, where he has nurtured some of the most esteemed writers of recent decades. McPhee offers definitive guidance in the decisions regarding arrangement, diction, and tone that shape nonfiction pieces, and he presents extracts from his work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. In one essay, he considers the delicate art of getting sources to tell you what they might not otherwise reveal. In another, he discusses how to use flashback to place a bear encounter in a travel narrative, while observing that “readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” The result is a vivid depiction of the writing process, from reporting to drafting to revising—and revising, and revising.
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