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Last Reviewed on June 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

The Control of Nature by John McPhee is a nonfiction collection of three essays dealing with humanity’s attempts to control natural processes. Originally appearing as separate pieces in The New Yorker magazine, The Control of Nature was published in book form in 1989.

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The idea for the collection began in 1980, when McPhee took his daughter on a canoe trip down the Atchafalaya River, a trip he recounts in the book's first essay, "Atchafalaya." McPhee's daughter was fascinated by the works of Walker Percy, a deeply philosophical novelist who was born in Alabama but spent most of his life in Louisiana. During the trip, McPhee also traveled aboard a towboat with the Army Corps of Engineers and investigated their monitoring of river flow in southern Louisiana—specifically, their attempts to keep the portion of the Atchafalaya flowing into the Mississippi in precarious balance via project Old River Control—and the threat posed by flooding both to the local ecosystem and the cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Morgan City.

The second essay in The Control of Nature , "Cooling the Lava," deals with the threat of volcanic eruptions and lava flows on Heimaey, one of Iceland's tiny Vestmann Islands. When the Eldfell volcano erupted on Heimaey in 1973, a physicist named Thorbjorn Sigurgeirsson initiated an attempt to curb the flow of lava by spraying seawater on it. While the lava eventually stopped flowing, allowing the island's harbor to be saved, no one could be quite sure if this was the result of human effort or natural processes. McPhee also discusses efforts on Hawaii to cool the flow of lava from Mauna Loa, the...

(The entire section contains 422 words.)

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