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LLL Presents – Tabula Rasa, Vol. 1

John McPhee, Journalism; Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post; Robert Wright, author

October 25, 2023 · 6:00 pm7:30 pm · Labyrinth Books

Labyrinth Books; Princeton Public Library; Humanities Council

The legendary John McPhee looks at the work he never completed, and two of his eminent former students help ask why.

This event is masked and ticketed; info is here. The ticket entitles the holder to one signed copy of Tabula Rasa. Please cancel your ticket if you can’t attend to make room for others. Here’s how. Doors open at 5:30; empty seats will go to folks on the wait list by 5:50.Over seven decades, John McPhee has set a standard for literary nonfiction. Assaying mountain ranges, bark canoes, experimental aircraft, the Swiss Army, geophysical hot spots, ocean shipping, shad fishing, dissident art in the Soviet Union, and an even wider variety of other subjects, he has consistently written narrative pieces of immaculate design.

In Tabula Rasa, Volume 1, McPhee looks back at his career from the vantage point of his desk drawer, reflecting wryly upon projects he once planned to do but never got around to—people to profile, regions he meant to portray. There are so many examples that he plans to go on writing these vignettes, an ideal project for an old man, he says, and a “reminiscent montage” from a writing life. This first volume includes, among other things, glimpses of a frosty encounter with Thornton Wilder, interrogative dinners with Henry Luce, the allure of western Spain, criteria in writing about science, fireworks over the East River as seen from Malcolm Forbes’s yacht, the evolving inclinations of the Tower of Pisa, the islands among the river deltas of central California, teaching in a pandemic, and persuading The New Yorker to publish an entire book on oranges. The result is a fresh survey of McPhee’s singular planet.

John Angus McPhee is considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. He is a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and he won that award for Annals of the Former World. In 2008, he received the Goerge Polk Career Award for his “indelible mark on American journalism during his nearly half-century career.” The most recent of his many, many books is Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. Since 1974, McPhee has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Joel Achenbach writes about science and politics for The Washington Post’s National desk. He has been a regular contributor to National Geographic since 1998, writing on such topics as dinosaurs, particle physics, earthquakes, extraterrestrial life, megafauna extinction and the electrical grid. He has taught journalism at Princeton and at Georgetown University. Robert Wright is the author, most recently, of Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. His other books include The Evolution of GodThe Moral Animal, and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. In 2009, Wright was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 global thinkers. Wright is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University.

This event is co-presented by Labyrinth Books and the Princeton Public Library and co-sponsored by Princeton University’s Humanities Council.

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