Books: Elementals

THE CONTROL OF NATURE

by John McPhee

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

272 pages; $17.95

It has been nearly 25 years since John McPhee struck out for areas relatively unknown, to prove by deft reportage that anything can be interesting if it is presented well. He has written arrestingly about subjects as mundane as oranges and as momentous as high-energy physics and the geologic forces that shape our planet. The three pieces that constitute his 20th book, Atchafalaya, Cooling the Lava and Los Angeles Against the Mountains, deal with the power of determined people to tame water, fire and earth.

McPhee's heroes...

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