Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
Coming into the Country is a work of nonfiction by John McPhee and first published in 1977. The book is written in three parts and is comprised of notes from four trips to Alaska that McPhee took between the years 1975 and 1977. In Coming into the Country, McPhee travels through many parts of the state with Alaskan bush pilots, prospectors, and inhabitants living off of the land. McPhee also writes of businessmen and politicians that inhabit the more urban parts of the state. As John McPhee was living in New Jersey and initially a writer for The New Yorker magazine, the three parts of the book were first published in The New Yorker before being compiled into a finished book. The three parts of the book are entitled “At the Northern Tree Line: The Encircled River," "In Urban Alaska: What They Were Hunting For," and "In the Bush: Coming into the Country."
The book draws portraits of many inhabitants of Alaska in the late 1970s and, through these portraits, draws a larger conclusion as to what Alaska represents as a symbol. McPhee talks with one young prospector in the Yukon toward the end of the book and quotes the prospector as saying,
In the society as a whole, there is an elemental need for a frontier outlet, for a pioneer place to go—important even to those who do not go there. People are mentioning outer space as, in this respect, all we have left. All we have left is Alaska, which on the individual level, and by virtue of its climate, will always screen its own and will not be overrun.
The prospector’s view of Alaska mirrors many other Alaskans’ feelings about the state they live in, which at the book's point in American history was less than twenty years old. Alaska is a state that in many ways represents the last frontier of the Americas. The nature of Alaska’s terrain, its climate and overall ecosystem, make conquering Alaska in a similar way to the continental United States impossible. In a similar way to Thoreau’s Walden and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, John McPhee's Coming into the Country shows the virtue and the difficulty in exploring the last frontiers. It shows the difficulty and grit required to live deliberately off of the land. The book draws a stark contrast between the larger society of the continental United States and the people and environment of Alaska. Coming into the Country is a true portrait of this “last frontier” and the people who decided to be a part of it.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 928
Coming into the Country is divided into three sections, arranged to provide different perspectives on the history of Alaska and on what it was like during the early 1970’s. This was a time of great change for the largest and least populous state of the United States. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971) had brought an end to homesteading, and even in the most thinly populated areas of the state there was little or no land available for potential settlers; the state was in the process of deciding which areas of federal land it would take as part of the statehood agreement, millions of acres were being reserved for possible designation as wilderness areas, and the native entities had yet to delineate the territories which would, in part, settle their claims.
At the same time, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was in the early stages of operation, bringing not only great new wealth to the state but also new cultural and economic problems. There was a strong initiative to move the state capital from Juneau to a site nearer to the population centers of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Finally, there was a continuing struggle between those who would develop Alaska’s resources and those who wished to conserve those resources and preserve much of the state’s...
(The entire section contains 1437 words.)
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