Young Men and Fire

( 21 )

Overview

On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned. Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean puts back together the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy.

Young Men and Fire won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

"A ...

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Young Men and Fire

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Overview

On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned. Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean puts back together the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy.

Young Men and Fire won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

"A magnificent drama of writing, a tragedy that pays tribute to the dead and offers rescue to the living.... Maclean's search for the truth, which becomes an exploration of his own mortality, is more compelling even than his journey into the heart of the fire. His description of the conflagration terrifies, but it is his battle with words, his effort to turn the story of the 13 men into tragedy that makes this book a classic."—from New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, Best Books of 1992

"A treasure: part detective story, part western, part tragedy, part elegy and wholly eloquent ghost story in which the dead and the living join ranks cheerfully, if sometimes eerily, in a search for truth and the rest it brings."—Joseph Coates, Chicago Tribune

"An astonishing book. In compelling language, both homely and elegant, Young Men and Fire miraculously combines a fascinating primer on fires and firefighting, a powerful, breathtakingly real reconstruction of a tragedy, and a meditation on writing, grief and human character.... Maclean's last book will stir your heart and haunt your memory."—Timothy Foote, USA Today

"Beautiful.... A dark American idyll of which the language can be proud."—Robert M. Adams, The New York Review of Books

"Young Men and Fire is redolent of Melville. Just as the reader of Moby Dick comes to comprehend the monstrous entirety of the great white whale, so the reader of Young Men and Fire goes into the heart of the great red fire and comes out thoroughly informed. Don't hesitate to take the plunge."—Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World

"Young Men and Fire is a somber and poetic retelling of a tragic event. It is the pinnacle of smokejumping literature and a classic work of 20th-century nonfiction."—John Holkeboer, The Wall Street Journal

"Maclean is always with the brave young dead. . . . They could not have found a storyteller with a better claim to represent their honor. . . . A great book."—James R. Kincaid, New York Times Book Review

On August 5, 1949, a crew of 15 of the U.S. Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Less than an hour later, all but three of these men were dead or fatally burned. This is the story of the Mann Gulch tragedy, of nature's violence and human fallibility.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
A magnificent drama of writing, a tragedy that pays tribute to the dead and offers rescue to the living...
NY Times Book Review
A magnificent drama of writing, a tragedy that pays tribute to the dead and offers rescue to the living...
New York Times Books of the Century
...[The book] has searing power....His description of the conlagration terrifies, but it is his...effort to turn the story of the 13 men into tragedy, that makes the book a classic.
New York Times Books of the Century
...[The book] has searing power....His description of the conlagration terrifies, but it is his...effort to turn the story of the 13 men into tragedy, that makes the book a classic.
Library Journal

The print edition of this title, which tells the true story of the tragic Man Gulch (Montana) Fire of 1949 in which 13 U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers were killed, won the National Book Critics CircleA Award when it was first published in 1992. Author Maclean (A River Runs Through It) was well acquainted with the forests of Montana and made several fascinating discoveries about the tragedy some 45 years after it took place. Here, his journalist son, John, reads his late father's work. While his deep and resonant voice is generally clear, he occasionally swallows his words, and his pacing and rhythm can be disjointed. Still, because this is an audio exclusive, public libraries may wish to consider. [Audio clip available through www.highbridgeaudio.com.-Ed.]
—Michael T. Fein

NY Times Book Review
A magnificent drama of writing, a tragedy that pays tribute to the dead and offers rescue to the living...
New York Times Books of the Century
...[The book] has searing power....His description of the conlagration terrifies, but it is his...effort to turn the story of the 13 men into tragedy, that makes the book a classic.
Joseph Coates
A treasure: part detective story, part Western, part tragedy, part elegy and wholly eloquent ghost story in which the dead and the living join ranks cheerfully, it's sometimes eerily, in a search for truth and the rest it brings.Chicago Tribune
Timothy Foote
An astonishing book. In compelling language, both homely and elegant, Young Men in Fire miraculously combines a fascinating primer on fires and firefighting, a powerful, breathtakingly real reconstruction of a tragedy, and a meditation on writing, grief and human character.…Maclean's last book will stir your heart and haunt your memory.
USA Today
Dennis Drabelle
Young Men and Fire is redolent of Melville. Just as the reader of Moby Dick comes to comprehend the monstrous entirety of the great white whale, so the reader of Young Men and Fire goes into the heart of the great red fire and comes thoroughly informed. Don't hesitate to take the plunge.
Washington Post Book World
Kirkus Reviews
The terrifying story of the worst disaster in the history of the U.S. Forest Service's elite Smokejumpers outfit, by the author of the classic A River Runs Through It (1976). Maclean, who died in 1990 at age 88, began his research for this book—unfinished at his death—in 1976. He brought to it his early experience as a logger and firefighter, and his exceptional literary skills. The first half, which crackles with tension, recounts that awful day, August 3, 1949, when 15 Smokejumpers parachuted into Mann Gulch in Montana to combat a small forest fire. Within two hours, 12 men had died (to this day, the only fire fatalities in the history of the Forest Service), suffocated or incinerated when the conflagration underwent a "blowout" into a flaming wall of death. In the second half, Maclean becomes the protagonist, as he and two survivors return to the gulch in an attempt to piece together exactly what happened, and to determine whether a secondary "escape fire" lit by the crew foreman to save his men had instead snuffed them out. Here, skeletal, mystical prose holds its own: "As you fail, you sink back in the region of strange gases and red and blue darts where there is no oxygen and here you die in your lungs; then you sink in prayer into the main fire that consumes...." The history of parachuting, facts about fires—lightning fires, crown fires, blowups—even the death of Maclean's wife add overtones and undertones to the tale. But the basic song remains a dirge, and also a paean to manhood, bravery, and the mysteries of the spirit. Maclean calls his book "among other things...an exercise for old age." It is also an exercise in age-old wisdom—thelesson that suffering is the surest path to truth—exhaustively researched and lovingly expressed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226500614
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1992
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 301
  • Sales rank: 641,168
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


NORMAN MACLEAN grew up in and around Missoula, Montana, where he worked in logging camps and for the U.S. Forest Service. He attended Dartmouth College and taught English for 46 years at the University of Chicago.

JOHN NORMAN MACLEAN is an award-winning author and journalist who has written about wildland fire for more than 15 years. His first book, Fire on the Mountain, was featured in two documentaries by Dateline NBC and the History Channel. He has also written Fire and Ashes and The Thirtymile Fire, both critically acclaimed. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note
Publisher's Note
Black Ghost
Young Men and Fire
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Maps of Gates of the Mountains and western Montana

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    Young Men and Fire tells the story of an out of control wildfir

    Young Men and Fire tells the story of an out of control wildfire that took the lives of thirteen firefighters in August of 1949. The book recounts the tragic events as they occurred on that day along with the authors investigations into what exactly happened on the mountain. For the most part the book kept me intrigued especially the telling of the fire as it happened. However the writer did tend to drag on with details of fire behavior and the science behind what occurred at Mann Gulch. The author, Norman Mclean, delved deep into the wildfire at Mann gulch, and at times almost too deep. He was obsessed with uncovering the truth of that fire, and his obsessive investigations often times slowed down the book. The investigations, even if they did slow down the book, were also vital to both the reader and the author in order to comprehend that tragic day. The story does pick back up at the end when all the facts come together, and the author is finally able to piece together the events of that day and come to his own personal conclusion. I would have enjoyed the book more if it was more about the day itself rather than the aftermath, yet it was also a very informative read that kept me wanting to read till the end. For somebody wanting to read a fast paced book about a deadly wildfire this might not be the book for you. If the study of wildfires and fire science interests you then this would be the book you should read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2001

    Brilliant intellect and Deeply Emotional

    Norman MacLean writes a masterpiece about a small band of smoke jumpers in Montana. He informs the reader about fire science and the job of the smoke jumper in a manner exemplifying a brilliant intellect that even a novice to the job would enjoy. He then pulls you into the lives of each of the smoke jumpers and leaves you with a deeply emotional lesson about the job and their lives. A must read for those who enjoy a story of the human spirit and the preciousness of life itself. A permanent book in my private collection.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2000

    A MUST READ

    I read this book about 5 years ago. It was loaned to me, and I am now ordering it to read it again. Simply could not put it down. The story of tragedy for many, and triumph for a few.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2013

    Kala to Kato

    T.T great....

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    Worth Reading - At Least the First Half

    Interesting book on the fire but the author was obsessive about it to say the very least and some of the discussion concerning his subsequent investigations were somewhat tedious.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2006

    Too much in between

    Overall this was a fair book about the fire. I felt that the author did too much regarding his personal feelings and spent a lot of time talking about treking up and down the gulch, dehydration, his horse and if he would trip / fall. When he did cover fire science it was very informative. It took too long for him to finally reach the pinnicle of the book - retracing the steps and final minutes of the smoke jumpers. I could not read it in one sitting - much of the middle part of the book lost my interest and I found myself scanning rather than hanging on each word.

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