The Control of Nature Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 51 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Control of Nature.
This section contains 495 words
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The Control of Nature Summary & Study Guide Description

The Control of Nature Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Control of Nature by John McPhee.

The Control of Nature is a historical nonfiction novel published in 1989. Events occur on a backdrop of geological time that spans eons. John McPhee tells stories about the lives and happenings of residents, non-residents, scientists, engineers and government bureaucracies in conflict with various forces of nature. He explores each region as an investigative reporter to meet and interview participants, witnesses and experts. Money, power, conflict and accidental death and destruction pervade the work. Nature and acts of God seem to get in the way of man's plans. McPhee sympathetically reveals that man causes his own disorder and destructive actions on nature and a natural order of things.

John McPhee visits Southern Louisiana, Iceland, Hawaii and Los Angeles during the 1980s. Each region he investigates is created by, set within and driven by ongoing major geological events. Natural flows and man's control are common elements of conflict in each area. Mississippi River water both creates and floods southern Louisiana and the Atchafalaya bayou. Volcanic red-hot lava creates and threatens Iceland and Hawaii. San Gabriel mountain debris flows create and threaten Los Angeles. Native residents in each of these regions recognize and accept the natural order. They simply pick up and move or work around the force of nature. As civilizations develop and spread out people begin to like living down by the riverside, on an island or mountain canyon. Inhabitants want to stay where they are. Governments decide nature should pick up and move or work around them instead. Nature is there first but now man wants control. Organized society declares war on nature and calls on the Corps to enforce its control over nature.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is assigned responsibility to build structures and mechanisms in the war for southern Louisiana. The army is already in charge there since 1812 when they won New Orleans from the British. The Army Air Corps tries to control Hawaii's erupting Mauna Loa volcano by bombing it. Later the Corps considers building a dam to protect Hilo harbor from flowing lava. Los Angeles enlists its own army with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, also known as Flood, and the Sedimentation Section of the Hydraulic Division of Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. The Civil Defense Council of Iceland does not declare war on nature to control it like the other bureaucracies. The Council observes while Thorbjorn, the native Iceland physicist, works with nature's own forces to protect organized society.

Unlike Thorbjorn and Kim, the Civil Defense director in Hawaii, warring parties keep fighting to control nature's water and debris flows. The bureaucracies of the Corps and Flood continue to pour more taxpayer money into unsuccessful actions. Neither the Corps nor Flood accepts nature as the absolute power. Thorbjorn and Kim accept the absolute power of nature. They work with nature to successfully protect society. Neither makes war on nature to control or change the direction of its natural flows.

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