The author: John McPhee ’53 a Ferris Professor of Journalism in residence at Princeton. He has written more than 30 books and has taught students how to write for years.
Opening paragraph: “In the late nineteen-sixties, I was working in rented space on Nassau Street up a flight of stairs and over Nathan Kasrel, Optometrist. Across the street was the main library of Princeton University. Across the hall was the Swedish Massage. Operated by an Austrian couple who were nearing retirement and had been there for decades, it was a legitimate business. They massaged everything from college football players to arthritic ancients, and they didn’t give sex. This, however, was the era when massage became a sexual synonym, and most evenings — avoiding writing, looking down from my window on the passing scene — I would see men in business suits stop, hesitate, and then move toward the glass door at the foot of the stairs. Eventually, the Austrians has to scrape the words “Swedish Massage” off the door, and replace them with a hanging sign they removed when they went home at night. Meanwhile, the men kept arriving at the top of the stairs, where neither door was marked. When they knocked on mine and I opened it, their faces fell dramatically as the busty Swede they expected turned into a short and bearded man.”
Reviews: Michael Dirda of The Washington Post writes “For over half a century, John McPhee — now 86 — has been writing profiles of scientists, eccentrics and specialists of every stripe. All are exceptional at what they do. So, too, is their discerning chronicler.”