Illustrating "The Brandywine: An Intimate Portrait"

It took eleven years to write this book (available at, and I am pleased that readers have praised its appearance and the quality of its many illustrations.  The cover has gotten considerable attention and helps drive sales, which have been very strong.  This scenic area is famous for cultural tourism, and the book provides visitors with an in-depth account of Brandywine history, nature, literature, and art.

It is obvious that books, overall, are in eclipse.  According to the Guardian, adult nonfiction sales from 2009 to 2014 fell 21%.  I pay attention to what people discuss, and they no longer discuss books; it is always their techno-gadgets.  Knowing that this may be the last book I will ever write in this category of adult nonfiction (my seventh), I pushed to have this be as beautiful a physical object as possible.  After all, an e-reader is a chunk of plastic.

"The Brandywine" has cover art that wraps across most of the dust jacket, spanning more than a foot.  Inside, the pages are thick, warm-white paper with a deckled edge, very classic.  This is the first lengthy history of the Brandywine since 1940 and is meant to be passed down.

I had intended to have an Andrew Wyeth painting on the cover.  His estate denied permission.  I have seen Titian paintings on book covers, but Titian's estate is really, really lenient.  

I was able to use some Wyeth art inside, in particular his very early drawings and paintings that show how he belongs to a nineteenth-century cultural tradition on the Brandywine, learned from his father, the painter N. C. Wyeth.  I have tried very hard to put these artists in a larger context.  Here is a 1940 Andy Wyeth (or Andrew, as his estate had me change all references):

This was my first book to have a gallery of color plates at the center, rather than color being interspersed throughout.  To make the point that the Brandywine has long been a haven for artists, I had all the plates be paintings of the river.  Seen below is Cope's Bridge, which I have painted myself many times, though the view seen here is now deeply wooded.

Here is an historic photograph of Cope's Bridge from the same location that the artist George Cope painted it in 1897:

The one exception to my rule that only paintings would be used:  the photograph I took of writer John McPhee visiting his great-grandfather's homestead on the Brandywine.  It cried out to be included, and I was pleased that he did not complain about it when he opened the published book--I knew better than to ask his permission first!

I created an appendix listing every bridge on the lower few miles of the Brandywine, in part to draw attention to their artistry.  I gave an enthusiastic "picturesque" to the better ones and I hope skewered the worst ones:  "characterless modern replacement of an 1857 covered bridge."  The point of this book is to encourage readers to go see the places I mention.

 I exhausted myself making maps for "Walden Pond:  A History," which reviewers then ignored.  I broke my "never again" resolution by deciding at the last minute to include one map in "The Brandywine."  It is almost schematic, to give readers the lay of the land: