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Young Men and Fire

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     On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, The Smoke Jumpers, 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 from a "blowup" -- an explosive, 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet deep and 200 feet tall      On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, The Smoke Jumpers, 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 from a "blowup" -- an explosive, 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet deep and 200 feet tall -- a deadly explosion of flame and wind rarely encountered and little understood at the time.  Only seconds ahead of the approaching firestorm, the foreman, R. Wagner Dodge, throws himself into the ashes of an "escape fire " - and survives as most of his confused men run, their last moments obscured by smoke. The parents of the dead cry murder, charging that the foreman's fire killed their boys.  Exactly what happened in Mann Gulch that day has been obscured by years of grief and controversy. Now a master storyteller finally gives the Mann Gulch fire its due as tragedy.      These first deaths among the Forest Service's elite firefighters prompted widespread examination of federal fire policy, of the field of fire science, and of the frailty of young men. For Maclean, who witnessed the fire from the ground in August of 1949,  and even then he knew he would one day become a part of its story.  It is a story of Montana, of the ways of wildfires, firefighters, and fire scientists, and especially of a crew, young and proud, who "hadn't learned to count the odds and to sense they might owe the universe a tragedy." This tale is also Maclean's own, the story of a writer obsessed by a strange and human horror, unable to let the truth die with these young men, searching for the last - and lasting - word. A canvas on which to tell many stories, including the story of his research into the story itself. And finally Nature's violence colliding with human fallibility.       Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean returned to the scene with two of the survivors and pursues the mysteries that Mann Gulch has kept hidden since 1949.  From the words of witnesses, the evidence of history, and the research of fire scientists, Maclean at last assembles the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy; in his last work that consumed 14 years of his life, and earned a 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award.        The excruciating detail of this book makes for a sobering reading experience. Maclean -- a former University of Chicago English professor and avid fisherman -- also wrote A River Runs Through It and Other Stories , which is set along the Missouri River, one gulch downstream from Mann Gulch.        "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 The Men who Perished in the Mann Gulch Fire: Robert J. Bennett
 Eldon E. Diettert
 James O. Harrison 
William J. Heilman
 Phillip R. McVey
 David R. Navon
 Leonard L. Piper
 Stanley J. Reba
 Marvin L. Sherman
 Joseph B. Sylvia 
Henry J. Thol, Jr. 
Newton R. Thompson 
Silas R. Thompson Survivors of the Fire: R. Wagner Dodge, foreman
 Walter B. Rumsey 
Robert W. Sallee


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     On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, The Smoke Jumpers, 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 from a "blowup" -- an explosive, 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet deep and 200 feet tall      On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, The Smoke Jumpers, 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 from a "blowup" -- an explosive, 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet deep and 200 feet tall -- a deadly explosion of flame and wind rarely encountered and little understood at the time.  Only seconds ahead of the approaching firestorm, the foreman, R. Wagner Dodge, throws himself into the ashes of an "escape fire " - and survives as most of his confused men run, their last moments obscured by smoke. The parents of the dead cry murder, charging that the foreman's fire killed their boys.  Exactly what happened in Mann Gulch that day has been obscured by years of grief and controversy. Now a master storyteller finally gives the Mann Gulch fire its due as tragedy.      These first deaths among the Forest Service's elite firefighters prompted widespread examination of federal fire policy, of the field of fire science, and of the frailty of young men. For Maclean, who witnessed the fire from the ground in August of 1949,  and even then he knew he would one day become a part of its story.  It is a story of Montana, of the ways of wildfires, firefighters, and fire scientists, and especially of a crew, young and proud, who "hadn't learned to count the odds and to sense they might owe the universe a tragedy." This tale is also Maclean's own, the story of a writer obsessed by a strange and human horror, unable to let the truth die with these young men, searching for the last - and lasting - word. A canvas on which to tell many stories, including the story of his research into the story itself. And finally Nature's violence colliding with human fallibility.       Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean returned to the scene with two of the survivors and pursues the mysteries that Mann Gulch has kept hidden since 1949.  From the words of witnesses, the evidence of history, and the research of fire scientists, Maclean at last assembles the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy; in his last work that consumed 14 years of his life, and earned a 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award.        The excruciating detail of this book makes for a sobering reading experience. Maclean -- a former University of Chicago English professor and avid fisherman -- also wrote A River Runs Through It and Other Stories , which is set along the Missouri River, one gulch downstream from Mann Gulch.        "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 The Men who Perished in the Mann Gulch Fire: Robert J. Bennett
 Eldon E. Diettert
 James O. Harrison 
William J. Heilman
 Phillip R. McVey
 David R. Navon
 Leonard L. Piper
 Stanley J. Reba
 Marvin L. Sherman
 Joseph B. Sylvia 
Henry J. Thol, Jr. 
Newton R. Thompson 
Silas R. Thompson Survivors of the Fire: R. Wagner Dodge, foreman
 Walter B. Rumsey 
Robert W. Sallee

30 review for Young Men and Fire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “This is a catastrophe that we hope will not end where it began; it might go on and become a story...So this story is a test of its own belief – that in this cockeyed world there are shapes and designs, if only we have some curiosity, training, and compassion and take care not to lie or be sentimental...If we could say something like this and be speaking both accurately and somewhat like Shelley when he spoke of clouds and winds, then what we would be talking about would start to change from cat “This is a catastrophe that we hope will not end where it began; it might go on and become a story...So this story is a test of its own belief – that in this cockeyed world there are shapes and designs, if only we have some curiosity, training, and compassion and take care not to lie or be sentimental...If we could say something like this and be speaking both accurately and somewhat like Shelley when he spoke of clouds and winds, then what we would be talking about would start to change from catastrophe without a filled-in story to what could be called the story of a tragedy, but tragedy would be only a part of it, as it is of life…” - Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire Superficially, Young Men and Fire is the story of fifteen elite Smokejumpers who died in Mann Gulch, Montana, in 1949. The Smokejumpers were all young men, the best of the best in their chosen profession: leaping from planes to fight forest fires. Yet, in Mann Gulch, they'd been overtaken by fire and died clawing at the steep grassy slopes. It was a disaster and a mystery at the same time, and soon became part of western lore, a Battle of the Little Big Horn for the firefighting community. Really, though, this is a book about living and dying and getting old and looking back. It was written by Norman Maclean, a man who had lived a long life, lost his wife, and then, in his twilight days, after a lengthy career in academia, discovered a startlingly keen ability to write. His collection of short stories, A River Runs Through It, has become a classic. His last effort, published posthumously, deserves that appellation as well. On August 5, 1949, a team of Smokejumpers parachuted into the Mann Gulch area, in what is now known as the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. As the fifteen men, under their foreman, Wagner “Wag” Dodge, approached the fire to begin an attack, it blew up on them, whipped by ferocious winds. The fire cut off their escape route, forcing the men to make an uphill run for a rocky ridgeline. But fire burns faster going uphill, and it was a race that only three men would win. Maclean’s takes a hybrid approach to telling this story. In parts, it is a straightforward forensic analysis, with topographical maps, discussions of wind patterns, and even some equations for good measure. Maclean reconstructs the last moment of the Smokejumpers, explaining how the fire blew up along their front and forced them to run. How the wind coming down the river valley entered the gulch and became a funnel, drawing in the fire. How Foreman Wag Dodge lit a backfire in front of the oncoming firestorm, then lay down in its still warm ashes as the fire washed over him – and survived. Maclean does the whole investigative journalism bit – walking the site, taking measurements, conversing with experts. In other parts, though, Young Men and Fire is more a meditation or a prayer, in which the sudden death of these confident, competent firefighters stands in for the larger questions about how we grow, how we learn, how we die, and how we struggle for wisdom right up till the end, even as it seems ever so elusive. Maclean, who worked with the United States Forest Service around the time of the First World War, so he had real life experience with forest fires. It is clear from his words that he saw in the men who died a path that he might have taken himself, if the wind had blown a different way, on a different afternoon. His quest for answers is unabashedly personal, and that’s what makes Young Men and Fire so different from any other disaster book you’ll ever read. There is a palpable sense of grief in Maclean’s inability to travel with these ghosts, right to the end: This is as far as we are able to accompany them. When the fire struck their bodies, it blew their watches away. The two hands of a recovered watch had melted together at about four minutes to six. For them, that may be taken as the end of time. Because Young Men and Fire was unfinished when Maclean passed away at the age of eighty-seven, it lacks seamlessness and polish. Indeed, the opening of the book is a separate short story called Black Ghost that was appended as a sort of prologue. It is difficult to know how Maclean would have arranged everything, if given that opportunity. Nevertheless, it is clear what Maclean was trying to do, because he at least got around to explaining it: I, an old man, have written this fire report. Among other things, it was important to me, as an exercise for old age, to enlarge my knowledge and spirit so I could accompany young men whose lives I might have lived on their way to death. I have climbed where they climbed, and in my time I have fought fire and inquired into its nature. In addition, I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death. Conscious of the shortness of life as compared to the number of worthy books, I seldom read anything more than once. Young Men and Fire has been an exception. I first read it when I was the age of those Smokejumpers, and I’ve probably returned to it once every five years since. Trying to put into words what it means to me is difficult. Perhaps it will have to suffice to say that Young Men and Fire gains much of its power because of its seams, its points of friction, its ultimate inability to give us the closure we desire. There is an unfinishedness to Young Men and Fire that seems almost intentional, mimicking the unfinishedness of life itself, when despite our best efforts, we are always running out of time to finish our projects. When we get to the end, whenever that is, there will still be so much to do.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This book was not published until after the author’s death. I think this shows. What is provided here is a manuscript not properly finished. It is repetitive. The writing is in sections unclear. This is a book of non-fiction. Many details about the Mann Gulch Fire of August 5, 1949 are documented. At the same time, the author states that he seeks to tell of the event as a story because a story should capture the souls of the men fighting and portray the events with compassion, compassion for tho This book was not published until after the author’s death. I think this shows. What is provided here is a manuscript not properly finished. It is repetitive. The writing is in sections unclear. This is a book of non-fiction. Many details about the Mann Gulch Fire of August 5, 1949 are documented. At the same time, the author states that he seeks to tell of the event as a story because a story should capture the souls of the men fighting and portray the events with compassion, compassion for those who took part in combating the fire. The result is a mix—an attempt to both relate events coherently and draw a story through lyrical prose. The result is a disturbing, confusing mess. I don’t believe the author would have accepted publication of the text as it stands now. Only minor changes were made in the text before publication. I loved A River Runs Through it and Other Stories. Reading Young Men and Fire has upset me because it has neither the coherence nor the quality of writing I expected. For a clear understanding of the events of the Mann Gulch Fire, I recommend you read this: https://www.fs.fed.us/science-technol... The first half of the book relates the events of the fire. There is a detailed discussion of the cause of the “blowup”. The second half deals with the legal proceedings regarding negligence charges claimed by families of those who died. To fully understand the events described, a map would have been helpful. This could have been provided via a PDF file accompanying the audiobook! The audiobook is narrated by Carey M. Snow. His reading is clear but too rapid, making the performance only OK. I struggled to complete this. I finally gave up two thirds of the way through. **************** A River Runs Through it and Other Stories 5 stars Young Men and Fire 1 star

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    A beautifully written and haunting book that dissects the tragedy that befell the Montana Smokejumpers in Mann Gulch Montana in 1949. About as perfect a non fiction book that I have ever read. McLean deserved a Pulitzer for this book that he wrote as a very old man. It was published posthumously in 1992, he died at 88 two years earlier. Not surprisingly, the River Runs Through It is also one of my favorite books. Young Men and Fire, was the ultimate tribute to those who died. The forensic analys A beautifully written and haunting book that dissects the tragedy that befell the Montana Smokejumpers in Mann Gulch Montana in 1949. About as perfect a non fiction book that I have ever read. McLean deserved a Pulitzer for this book that he wrote as a very old man. It was published posthumously in 1992, he died at 88 two years earlier. Not surprisingly, the River Runs Through It is also one of my favorite books. Young Men and Fire, was the ultimate tribute to those who died. The forensic analysis laid out by MacLean and his good friend leads to a shocking conclusion some thirty years after the fire. I must admit that fire scares me quite a bit. I saw our neighbor’s house burn down one winter evening as a child and we also witnessed our restaurant burn after a lightning strike met with a faulty electrical transformer. These vivid memories are etched in my mind and in combination with MacLean’s writing, I felt a visceral reaction from the first page. This book, if it has a fault, presents the science and eyewitness accounts in a way that leads the reader down a very long path with no happy outcome. Combined with MacLean’s masterful and empathic prose, the book provides answers for all those young men who died in a flare up that lasted less than thirty minutes on that very hot August 5th 1949 afternoon in the Montana backcountry. The story is also a fitting memorial to MacLean himself as he repeatedly returns to the scene of the fire, climbing the steep ridge littered with charred and fallen pines looking for clues and hoping to avoid the fate of a previous investigator who died of a heart attack at this very spot. MacLean, a former SmokeJumper himself, shrugged off concerns for his health as he pointed to a nearby mountain where he had buried his wife a few years earlier and said that if he died here on this slope it would be fitting. Of course he did not die there and in a span of many years was able to piece together the story of what transpired. I recently read that MacLean’s son wrote his own well received book about the tragic Storm King Fire that happened in Colorado in the late 1990’s.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Milo King

    A powerful, emotional and compelling story, this book probably deserves better than the two stars I am giving it. Frankly, I was not so engaged with it as I had hoped to be - and found it quite a slog to get to the end. The writing tends toward the poetical in many places - which I appreciate - while sticking to what facts Maclean was able to unearth in his 20-plus years of research on this forest fire tragedy that killed so many young men in a very few minutes. The problem for me as a reader wa A powerful, emotional and compelling story, this book probably deserves better than the two stars I am giving it. Frankly, I was not so engaged with it as I had hoped to be - and found it quite a slog to get to the end. The writing tends toward the poetical in many places - which I appreciate - while sticking to what facts Maclean was able to unearth in his 20-plus years of research on this forest fire tragedy that killed so many young men in a very few minutes. The problem for me as a reader was not that the research was exhaustive, but that the process of describing the research was exhausting and many sections seemed repetitive. Of course this was an unfinished manuscript that was found among the author's papers after his death. It was minimally edited into its current form, according to the introduction. I think it could have used more extensive editing and condensation - but I know many readers are huge admirers of the book as-is.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven Brown

    4.5 rounded up

  6. 4 out of 5

    William2

    History has a hard job. Such books have to focus on how the event happened. The reader sees in the loose accumulation of facts the vague certainty of what is to come. Everyone on the scene is heartbreakingly oblivious. Before we open Norman Maclean’s remarkable Young Men and Fire we know that on August 5, 1949, a fire in Mann Gulch, Montana, killed a dozen young firefighters. Maclean, who was nearby that day, was haunted by the tragedy all his life, since so much was unknown about specifically w History has a hard job. Such books have to focus on how the event happened. The reader sees in the loose accumulation of facts the vague certainty of what is to come. Everyone on the scene is heartbreakingly oblivious. Before we open Norman Maclean’s remarkable Young Men and Fire we know that on August 5, 1949, a fire in Mann Gulch, Montana, killed a dozen young firefighters. Maclean, who was nearby that day, was haunted by the tragedy all his life, since so much was unknown about specifically what happened on the mountain. He spent 14 years researching and writing his book, which is a thoughtful consideration of every conceivable element that might have precipitated the fire and the men’s strategy for fighting it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    What led me to search for this story was the song Cold Missouri Waters by James Keelaghan. The lyrics follow: My name is Dodge, but then you know that It's written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed They think I'm blind, I can't read it I've read it every word, and every word it says is death So, Confession - is that the reason that you came Get it off my chest before I check out of the game Since you mention it, well there's thirteen things I'll name Thirteen crosses high above the cold Miss What led me to search for this story was the song Cold Missouri Waters by James Keelaghan. The lyrics follow: My name is Dodge, but then you know that It's written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed They think I'm blind, I can't read it I've read it every word, and every word it says is death So, Confession - is that the reason that you came Get it off my chest before I check out of the game Since you mention it, well there's thirteen things I'll name Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters August 'Forty-Nine, north Montana The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry Lightning strikes in the mountains I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go See the circle of the fire down below Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters Gauged the fire, I'd seen bigger So I ordered them to sidehill and we'd fight it from below We'd have our backs to the river We'd have it licked by morning even if we took it slow But the fire crowned, jumped the valley just ahead Too big to fight it, we'd have to fight that slope instead Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind I don't know why I just thought it I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set We can't make it, this is the only chance you'll get But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters And when I rose, like the phoenix In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived I stayed that night and one day after Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall I've had my say, I'll confess to nothing more I'll join them now, because they left me long before Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

  8. 5 out of 5

    Megan Pursell

    I LOVE THIS BOOK! I read it almost annually. My husband was a fire fighter for the Forest Service, but not a smokejumper, which is why we originally purchased the book. However, I fell in love with this tale that covers a tragedy in almost classic epic style, combined with the mystery story of the science of how this event happened.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    I read this twice, once again after a period of years. I had remembered it as something that changed the way I thought about fire. To me now, I remember it as a sort of war memoir...it had that horrifying inevitability and those devastating consequences that are the stuff of war. It explained the vocabulary and choreography of fire fighting in remote areas and told of blow-overs and the terrifically searing heat, wind, and weather created in a firestorm. I have an awe of those men and women will I read this twice, once again after a period of years. I had remembered it as something that changed the way I thought about fire. To me now, I remember it as a sort of war memoir...it had that horrifying inevitability and those devastating consequences that are the stuff of war. It explained the vocabulary and choreography of fire fighting in remote areas and told of blow-overs and the terrifically searing heat, wind, and weather created in a firestorm. I have an awe of those men and women willing to brave such conditions fighting fire, and fear for them. I will never willingly or knowing place myself or them in danger by trying to outwit or outguess a wildfire. I feel great sadness for those whose families, homes, and livelihoods are threatened by fire, flood, or wind. But I would prefer to lose all and begin again than face the unholy rage with which there is no argument.

  10. 5 out of 5

    JD

    A book I really looked forward to reading, but was a little disappointed in the end. The book is very well written, but is written a little bit too poetic for my liking and that is why I struggled through it at times. It is also a bit repetitive and not enough is written about the Young Men on the crew and too much time in the book is spent on the authors research and the science of fire behavior.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    Young Men And Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire by Norman Maclean (University of Chicago Press 1992) (634.9618) (3676).Young Men and Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire is the autopsy of a disaster. I don’t know whether a name for this nonfiction genre has been coined. “Adventure - disaster” perhaps?Young Men and Fire proceeds on exactly the same course as other accounts in which disaster overtook the protagonist (The Perfect Storm (sword fishing boats in a gale), Into Thin Air (mo Young Men And Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire by Norman Maclean (University of Chicago Press 1992) (634.9618) (3676).Young Men and Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire is the autopsy of a disaster. I don’t know whether a name for this nonfiction genre has been coined. “Adventure - disaster” perhaps?Young Men and Fire proceeds on exactly the same course as other accounts in which disaster overtook the protagonist (The Perfect Storm (sword fishing boats in a gale), Into Thin Air (mountaineering deaths on Mount Everest), and Into the Wild (starvation in the wilderness)). In these books, with the benefit of hindsight, the author reflects upon the known facts of a disaster to search for the error or errors when the victim chose the wrong option and set in motion the event(s) that killed him or got him killed. Sometimes through a diligent search an author can deconstruct a catastrophe and tease out innocuous-appearing but critical clues as to what went wrong. If one can parse out and isolate the factors that led to disaster, it may be possible to find out exactly how and why a disaster occurred, what mistakes (if any) were made in response, and what steps or measures might be taken to mitigate or to prevent such a catastrophe the next time.Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire is one such book. It deconstructs the catastrophic Mann Gulch fire in Montana in August 1949. Fifteen United States Forest Service “Smokejumpers” - the forest service’s crack airborne firefighters - parachuted into extremely remote Mann Gulch to put out an unremarkable brushfire which had been sparked by a lightning strike. In 1949, the science and the techniques of modern fire control and prevention were primitive by today’s standards. At the time of the incident, the dangers of this type of fire in this specific terrain were poorly understood. The resulting conflagration in Mann Gulch was what firefighters call a “blowup.” Under the right conditions, a blowup, which is more or less an exponentially-explosive increase in a fire’s intensity, volume, and perimeter, can occur. The blowup in Mann Gulch in 1949 killed twelve of those fifteen smokejumpers over the course of about five minutes. Young Men and Fire thoroughly deconstructs the catastrophe in the fashion of the best “Adventure-Disaster” stories.I like this genre (whatever it’s called), and I really enjoyed Young Men and Fire.Firefighters are a tough bunch. I just wish that the scope of the title was broader though, for it doesn’t reflect the gender identity of many of today’s firefighter-heroes.Just sayin’.My rating: 7.25/10, finished 8/28/22 (3676).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Fred Shaw

    "Young Men and Fire" is the true story of the tragic Mann Gulch forest fire on Aug 5, 1949, and the 13 Forest Service "Smoke Jumpers" who perished. These men were mostly young, some just teenagers who had experience parachuting and fighting forest fires. The author Norman MacLean of "A River Runs Through It", wrote this "report", as an old man near the end of his life, partly because he had been a forester early in his life and knew what it is like to be fighting forest fires, and because he gri "Young Men and Fire" is the true story of the tragic Mann Gulch forest fire on Aug 5, 1949, and the 13 Forest Service "Smoke Jumpers" who perished. These men were mostly young, some just teenagers who had experience parachuting and fighting forest fires. The author Norman MacLean of "A River Runs Through It", wrote this "report", as an old man near the end of his life, partly because he had been a forester early in his life and knew what it is like to be fighting forest fires, and because he grieved for the men who lost their lives so young with so much ahead of them that would never be realized; he grieved for their families as well. Mann Gulch is part of the Helena National Forest in Montana. As is always the case, whenever there is a tragedy like this, folks want someone to blame. MacLean's story, which he called a report, came after the experts and committees had thoroughly reviewed the facts, but he wanted to know for himself, what happened. There were 3 survivors, the foreman, and 2 other smoke jumpers. Here is the conclusion that I, having read the book and Mr. Maclean's: no one is to blame. Because Mother Nature has her own ideas, and the changing conditions of winds and the change in fuel, from timber to grass, high temperatures and extremely dry fire conditions, a 74 out of 100 on the forest fire likelyhood scale, they had a low to no percentage for escape. I highly recommend this book. I was fortunate to have an audio copy, read by John Maclean after his father's death. I thought I could hear a catch is his voice from time to time as he read his father's words.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    Having grown up about 30 miles from Mann Gulch, in Helena, I think I'm probably more interested in the subject matter than most people. However, I thought this book was still really interesting even without having been to the Missouri River at Mann Gulch. During the school year, we would take field trips out to the Gates of the Mountains and take the tour boat, which turns around pretty much at Mann Gulch. When Maclean describes the change in mountain cliffs to prairie, I can see it so vividly. Having grown up about 30 miles from Mann Gulch, in Helena, I think I'm probably more interested in the subject matter than most people. However, I thought this book was still really interesting even without having been to the Missouri River at Mann Gulch. During the school year, we would take field trips out to the Gates of the Mountains and take the tour boat, which turns around pretty much at Mann Gulch. When Maclean describes the change in mountain cliffs to prairie, I can see it so vividly. Besides taking the tour boat many times, my family or friends would go boating out at the Gates. I probably would have never have read this book, though, except I saw it on my brother-in-law's bookshelf. He's a firefighter and has fought many a wildfire in the West. He said it was really good, so I finally picked it up from the library about 6 months later. I think it's really interesting how Maclean portrays the Forest Service, so I'm looking forward to someday talking to my brother in law about it. It's really sad that so many of the details about the fire has been lost to time, negligence and death. But it still gave me a more complete picture of the fire and the boys that died (and survived) there.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cardyn Brooks

    In Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean's background as woodsman, scholar, and storyteller blends the perfect mix of wry pragmatism, scientific research, and compassionate narration. Having read The Big Burn first provided a deeper understanding of the context in which N.M. examines the Mann Gulch fire, the reach of its legacy, and the lives and deaths of the Smokejumpers sent to kill it in 1949. The last section of Young Men and Fire refers to convergence multiple times and this term accurately d In Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean's background as woodsman, scholar, and storyteller blends the perfect mix of wry pragmatism, scientific research, and compassionate narration. Having read The Big Burn first provided a deeper understanding of the context in which N.M. examines the Mann Gulch fire, the reach of its legacy, and the lives and deaths of the Smokejumpers sent to kill it in 1949. The last section of Young Men and Fire refers to convergence multiple times and this term accurately describes the entire book as well as the Mann Gulch fire. The convergence of good intentions with bad circumstances; of man's tunnel vision with nature's fury; of tenacious historians with scientific mysteries; of survivors' imperfect memories with empirical facts. Norman Maclean writes with an enchanting balance of no-nonsense compassion and empathy for human foibles. It's easy to believe that he was a very popular and wise professor with long wait lists for his classes. As a result of my infatuation with his style and substance, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories has been added to my TBR list (which is why it never ever shrinks no matter how fast my reading pace).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    Not long ago, as I wrote, I was listening to a playlist on Spotify (I listen to music when I write, but never when I read). It was Spotify’s weekly list of suggested songs based on listening history—for me, a mix of genres, heavy on thumping EDM (electronic dance music), my preferred writing music, but also indie folk. One song caught my attention—“Cold Missouri Waters,” a haunting song about thirteen smokejumpers dying while fighting a forest fire. I was interested enough to look up the song, a Not long ago, as I wrote, I was listening to a playlist on Spotify (I listen to music when I write, but never when I read). It was Spotify’s weekly list of suggested songs based on listening history—for me, a mix of genres, heavy on thumping EDM (electronic dance music), my preferred writing music, but also indie folk. One song caught my attention—“Cold Missouri Waters,” a haunting song about thirteen smokejumpers dying while fighting a forest fire. I was interested enough to look up the song, and found it relates a true story, equally haunting—the Mann Gulch Fire, in 1949. And from there I found this classic work, now thirty years old. Norman Maclean, who died in 1990 before he finished this book, was a famous professor of Shakespeare at the University of Chicago (back when Shakespeare was still honored and taught). He wasn’t famous for teaching, though; he was famous for his book, and later movie starring Brad Pitt, A River Runs Through It, a fictionalized account of his family in 1920s and 1930s Montana. Maclean vacationed every summer back West, and he had fought wildfires himself, in the 1920s. For no very apparent reason, he became keenly interested in the events at Mann Gulch, ultimately visiting the difficult-to-reach site several times during the 1970s, and locating the two still-living survivors, convincing them to return to the site with him. His aim, or his surface aim, in this project was to understand a fire that had been largely forgotten and he thought never received the attention it deserved. Much of what we know about the fire seems to come from his research, painstakingly collected and detailed in this book. The short version of the story is that lightning started a fire on the south side of Mann Gulch, which empties into the Missouri River, some ways north from Helena. Sixteen young men, the youngest seventeen (Robert Sallee, who survived), the oldest, other than the foreman, twenty-eight (David Navon, who had fought at Bastogne) were dropped by parachute to deal with it, before it could get larger, and in particular before it threatened an adjoining area that was a popular tourist destination. Most of them were dead an hour after they touched the earth. Parachute firefighting was a relatively new activity; it had begun before the war, gone largely dormant as the fit young men necessary to the activity went to war, and then been reborn as those same young men returned. Smokejumping, like many physically grueling and dangerous jobs, from timbering to commercial fishing, is a seasonal business. Many of those who signed up had fought in the Army and were going to college; this was a summer job to raise money. Others just wanted the pay and then to go to warmer climes, such as Hawaii, for the winter, to raise hell and spend their money. Training was minimal and no attempt was made to weld the men into a cohesive military-type force. Equipment was limited to handsaws, shovels, and the Pulaski, a still-used tool similar to a mattock, with an axe on one side and a hoe on the other. The basic aim of wildfire fighting at this time, before air-dropped fire retardants and the like, was for the men to quickly use these tools to channel a fire to an area of little fuel, where it would burn itself out. The sixteen were led by their foreman, Wagner Dodge, thirty-three, a very experienced woodsman who was known for saying little, even to his wife. The men barely knew Dodge, because he was a mechanical genius who had been assigned that summer to work with fixing Forest Service machines, rather than waiting each day with the other men for a fire call. The men assembled their gear and prepared to fight the fire. Dodge sensed the fire was turning and changing; as Maclean later determined, this was because the pattern of winds created a “blowup,” an explosive expansion of the fire. The fire, driven by wind, cut off retreat downgulch, toward the river. Dodge therefore ordered his men to cross over to the north slope, which was covered with tall grass, not trees. Almost immediately, he then ordered them to drop their tools and head as fast as possible for the top of the slope, where it was rocky and, if they reached the other side, the fire would not chase them with the same ferocity and speed. It was only a few hundred yards up the slope; Mann Gulch is not large. But it was a 76-percent slope (meaning not the angle, but the ratio of rise to run—here, for every ten feet forward, they had to climb 7.6 feet; the angle was about 38 degrees). Maclean calculates that the men were running an average of six miles an hour; some a bit more, some a bit less, so as they ran, they became strung out. Dodge, leading, decided they could not outrun the fire. He was a decisive man. Apparently acting purely on instinct, for this technique was not then known or taught, he took out a book of matches, lit a fire in the grass, and lay down in the freshly burned area, what is now called an “escape fire.” He urged the men to enter this fire—but as the song, narrated by Dodge as he lies dying of cancer five years later, says: “But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead / I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters.” Those who ran mostly didn’t make it. Three did. Sallee and Walter Rumsey, two of the fittest, made it to the top—which was barred by a jutting-out rock formation just below the ridge, impossible to climb over. But they found, and made the snap decision to enter, a blind crevice—and emerged alive on the other side. The third, Eldon Diettert, on this his nineteenth birthday, made a different decision, tried to find another crevice, and died. As Maclean, the professor, says, “Diettert, the studious one, had seen something in the opening he did not like, had rejected it, and had gone looking for something he did not find. It is sometimes hard to understand fine students. Be sure, though, he had a theory, as fine students nearly always have.” As to the thirteen who died, men came and took away their bodies, and white stone crosses were erected where each fell. There was a kerfuffle. The Forest Service tried to avoid blame. Some argued that Dodge’s escape fire itself blocked the other men from reaching the top (Maclean , after much analysis, rejects this theory.) Life magazine took pictures. Hearings were held, then a report quickly issued and the matter closed. Unsurprisingly, in the masculine, durable America of 1949, with the memory still fresh of hundreds of thousands of other young men dead, the fire was not an occasion for sustained national reflection, just another sad consequence of man’s finitude relative to nature, and the price sometimes paid for doing what was needed. The title of this book is a reminder hidden in plain sight of what we have lost—by that more virtuous society, all those in Mann Gulch were considered men, not boys, and expected to act as men. Nobody asked why they were there and bemoan that they had been put in harm’s way; they were there because they were men doing men’s work (nor did anyone call them heroes, among the most abused words in the English language today). We can contrast the reaction in 1949 to the decayed and unnatural reaction today, even on the Right, to the seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse heroically defending his town and people, where almost everyone falsely and foolishly recites that “he had no business being there.” In fact he most certainly did, and the only tragedy is that we didn’t have a few score similar young men raining lead down on the evil goblins destroying Kenosha, and then moving on to help other towns under attack. Maybe next time. Maclean never finished the book (it was completed by others recruited by the University of Chicago Press), which is perhaps why the tone and style vary—sometimes dry and analytical, sometimes excessively melodramatic. But I think it is more that he never decided for himself what this book was meant to be. It is about the young men, but although it only comes out occasionally, in his own mind he closely tied the deaths of these young men to the death, from strangling esophageal cancer in 1968, of his own beloved wife. He was reaching for something, some consummation, some understanding of death, he could not find, so he could not complete the book. The very last words of the book show this. “I, an old man, have written this fire report. . . . Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death.” It also occurred to me, musing on the freight of death, that Young Men and Fire has much in common with another, more recent book—The 21, about the 2015 martyrdom of twenty-one young Egyptian Copts at the hands of Sunni Muslims. Those young men had also traveled to a dangerous place to make money for themselves and their families, and they were also straightforward, unwavering men focused on what men had to do. Competent masculinity, like Tolstoy’s happy families, is always essentially the same, whatever seething complaints the soyboys and harpies of today may make about it. Related to this, one of the more surprising things about Mann Gulch is the reaction of the smokejumpers to looming catastrophe. As outlined in Amanda Ripley’s The Unthinkable, and also in Laurence Gonzales’s Deep Survival, in all disasters, and in fact in all life-threatening situations in which freedom of action is possible, most people take no action at all. They either make excuses for why they should wait to decide, or they freeze (and some panic, though fewer than one might expect). None of those things happened here, even for a second. The survivors reported that they were enveloped by a singleness of purpose; most likely so were the others, but they simply lacked the physical ability to outrun the fire. (Similarly, the Copts did not panic; their singleness of purpose was to witness to Christ, not escape, but they did it, to a man, on video no less.) Again, this is largely, though not exclusively, a function of masculinity (as Ripley details explicitly), but I doubt if any randomly-selected group of young men in America today, feminized since kindergarten, would exhibit even a fraction of the fortitude of these exemplars. Much of the latter portion of the book is taken up with Maclean’s rambling attempts to quantify the uphill speed of those who sought and failed to reach the top, combined with probing into the increasingly scientific approach taken to the spread of forest fires, in particular mathematical modeling. I can’t say how much scientific progress has been made; the impression the reader gets is that at least in part, forest fires are so complex that their behavior is an emergent property—like weather, theoretically possible to accurately model, but practically difficult, if not impossible. Maclean makes much of that since 1949, no smokejumper had died fighting a fire, but several have died since 1990, so perhaps he was too optimistic about science obviating fate. Maybe forest fires are, or should be, treated as a phenomenon known to exist, but not really understood, and therefore the best we can do is reduce, not eliminate, risk. No women appear at all in the action of this book. They appear as bereaved wives and mothers after the fire, shouldering the burden of raising fatherless children or suffering the grief of a son’s life cut short. Back in 1949, everyone realized that having women wilderness firefighters is nearly as insane as allowing women anywhere near the military. It is obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that no woman can competently fight wildfires—among many reasons, it is extremely physically grueling, even in normal conditions, as Maclean makes clear. And when the physical requirements escalate to racing a fast-moving fire uphill, the insanity becomes even more obvious. Naturally, therefore, although much propaganda today is pushed about women wilderness firefighters, they remain rare—around ten percent of the total, it appears, and that’s probably padded with administrative positions. We can be certain the previously-required high physical standards have been relaxed or are nonexistent for them, just as in our military, or otherwise it would be zero percent. We can also be certain that they make the overall performance of firefighting worse, by hindering the men in their work. This is not academic. The ideological forced admission of women to firefighting crews, dangerous to themselves and others, is yet another way feminism kills. Two fires since Mann Gulch have claimed more firefighter lives—the Storm King Fire, in Colorado in 1994, which killed fourteen, and the Yarnell Hill Fire, in Arizona in 2013, which killed nineteen. In the Storm King Fire, twenty Hotshots (non-parachute Forest Service firefighters) were sent in to fight the fire. Nine of the dead were from among them. Of the twenty, four were women; they all died. Only a quarter of the men died, however—because they could run uphill. The women could not. Not that this is detailed as a separate topic, or even mentioned, anywhere I can find—you have to deduce it from watching videos and examining the statistics. What those can’t tell us, of course, is if any of the men died trying to save the women who should not have been there at all, or were fatally slowed by their indecision—such a fact, if known, would never see the light of day. (No women died at Yarnell Hill; there were no women in the crew, which was trapped by fire with nowhere to run, and their modern emergency shelters could not protect them, so they died to the last man.) They are all dead now, everyone who is featured in this book. The last, Rumsey, died in 2014; Sallee died in 1981, in a plane crash. When, only a few years after the fire, Dodge went to the hospital for what he knew was the last time, he did not speak of the end to his wife. He merely left his pocketknife, which never left his side, on his bedroom table, signaling to them both he knew death had arrived. Idiosyncratically and against interest, perhaps, I have always said that I do not want to die without seeing my doom approaching, though I would prefer it not be drawn out. It seems to me that this is the proper way to die, without a blindfold, facing the bullet, metaphorically speaking (or not, perhaps). It does not ultimately matter for the one dying, of course; your Particular Judgment will be conducted the same, no matter how you arrive before the judgment seat. But it matters as an example to those left behind. And that example is, most of all, what those who died at Mann Gulch left us—they took risks, the dice fell against them, yet they never stopped until the fire overran them.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    I think this is the first unabridged recording of Maclean's classic investigation of the tragic Mann Gulch fire in 1949 in Montana. This summer I've been reading novels of the West with a group of friends, and we had already discussed Maclean's A River Runs Through It. At the same time I listened to this, I had just listened to Ivan Doig's English Creek, also set in Montana but earlier, and there's also a fire but not such a tragic one. Maclean tries to make sense of the deaths of the trained fi I think this is the first unabridged recording of Maclean's classic investigation of the tragic Mann Gulch fire in 1949 in Montana. This summer I've been reading novels of the West with a group of friends, and we had already discussed Maclean's A River Runs Through It. At the same time I listened to this, I had just listened to Ivan Doig's English Creek, also set in Montana but earlier, and there's also a fire but not such a tragic one. Maclean tries to make sense of the deaths of the trained firefighting paratroopers who died in this fire, and he goes to great lengths to examine the data and to try to recreate events that day. I confess the science became a little tedious, but no one beats Maclean's luminous prose and descriptions.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Young Men and Fire recounts the Mann Gulch Fire, a forest fire fought in the 1940's by one of the first teams of Smokejumpers to actually parachute to a fire. The basic story has been laid out in the synopsis and its details have by now been told in various reviews. What potential readers may not have learned, though, is what sets this book apart. Why read it when the plot is already out of the bag? For one thing, the fire itself forms such an antagonistic element of the story. The author, Norma Young Men and Fire recounts the Mann Gulch Fire, a forest fire fought in the 1940's by one of the first teams of Smokejumpers to actually parachute to a fire. The basic story has been laid out in the synopsis and its details have by now been told in various reviews. What potential readers may not have learned, though, is what sets this book apart. Why read it when the plot is already out of the bag? For one thing, the fire itself forms such an antagonistic element of the story. The author, Norman Maclean, succeeds in conjuring it into a living specter, and this tells us a lot about his literary strength. It will be pointed out, too, that the Smokejumpers themselves are the apparent subject. But maybe, to state it better, it’s Maclean’s awe of the Smokejumpers that drives the telling; he himself had fought forest fires professionally before smokejumping was even invented. His interest borrows as well from the same fascination so many of us mortals indulge for physically elite units – SWAT detachments, Navy Seals or pro sports teams, to name a few. The author’s connection to firefighting gives his point of view an authentic, even a spiritual, tang. In fact, I would have been delighted if he had developed this further. But what we discover in Young Men and Fire also entails an unsolved mystery: The mystique of the Mann Gulch Fire starts when one of the Smokejumpers, as the fire closes in, does something so startling that firefighters were still talking about it decades later. This act sparked interest in the unknown dynamics of forest fires, so on top of the human drama we soon find ourselves on a quest. A gnawing need drives the book, a need to find out exactly what unfolded in Mann Gulch, and how the strange behavior of a team member changed it. Could the one act of a single Smokejumper actually have thrown a gigantic fire off course? And to what effect? The poignant loss at Mann Gulch takes Maclean into the emerging science of forest fires. A couple of small matters detract from the book. While lionizing the Smokejumpers, Maclean doesn't fail to denigrate the other 2300 firefighters who fought at Mann Gulch, depicting them as drunks and useless idiots. And for someone so enthralled with the Smokejumpers, his book is too thin on the human interest details that naturally suggest themselves. The author could easily have corrected both faults. Yet the prose that describes the fated Smokejumpers can’t be beat. The combination of exquisite elegiac and unsolved mystery drives this book along an inviting trajectory. It even has a section of photos in the middle, plus topographical maps and annotated photos of the Mann Gulch region, which let readers follow every detail of the action. The Smokejumpers and the fire are the subjects here, but Maclean’s obsessed passion for both give this book a vitality that can’t be counterfeited.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    My summer book club's theme this year is Western male contemporary writers, and we just read A River Runs Through It. It seemed time to read Young Men and Fire, also by Norman Maclean, whose writing style and sense of morality and meaning in life resonate with me. Young Men and Fire was first published in the 1990's. At that time, I heard several commentaries on NPR about Maclean, this book and firefighting in general, and it has long been on my reading list. The story of the Mann Gulch, Montana My summer book club's theme this year is Western male contemporary writers, and we just read A River Runs Through It. It seemed time to read Young Men and Fire, also by Norman Maclean, whose writing style and sense of morality and meaning in life resonate with me. Young Men and Fire was first published in the 1990's. At that time, I heard several commentaries on NPR about Maclean, this book and firefighting in general, and it has long been on my reading list. The story of the Mann Gulch, Montana, fire in 1949 that killed 13 young male smokejumper firefighters haunted Maclean, a less technical firefighter when he was a very young man, from the time he visited the site in late 1949 (and it was still smoking) through the 1970's when he began doing formal research on it. Was it inevitable that all these young men die or was the foreman's behavior somewhat to blame? That was one question. And then, since Maclean was in his 70's when he began researching the fire and his wife had already died, he was also facing his own mortality and the fact that it could have been him in the fire as a young man if circumstances had been different. So the book become a tale of gathering the facts of the fire, telling the facts as they were known and stated in public records, and about trying to uncover facts that were not readily available because they had been somewhat covered up by a bureaucracy which did not want to be seen as negligent or guilty in its training or the resultant death of these young men. By the time Maclean wrote the book, fire science had advanced greatly and included computer programming, of which Maclean availed himself through others. Some of the science was a bit of a slog, although things such as the extreme slope of the hill where the fire was impacting the rate of the spread of the fire made absolute sense to me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    I actually read this book about 15 years ago, but it's stayed with me powerfully enough to earn its 5 stars retroactively. The other night, looking for something else, I came across what I wrote about it at the time, so this is a retroactive review as well, but it still feels accurate to the experience I remember. Young Men and Fire is Norman Maclean's posthumous book about the 1949 Mann Gulch forest fire in Montana. Sixteen young flame-jumpers were dropped on what was supposed to be a routine jo I actually read this book about 15 years ago, but it's stayed with me powerfully enough to earn its 5 stars retroactively. The other night, looking for something else, I came across what I wrote about it at the time, so this is a retroactive review as well, but it still feels accurate to the experience I remember. Young Men and Fire is Norman Maclean's posthumous book about the 1949 Mann Gulch forest fire in Montana. Sixteen young flame-jumpers were dropped on what was supposed to be a routine job, but the wind changed, the fire jumped the ravine ahead of them, and they ended up in a race for their lives to the top of the ridge. The book ambles along at a deceptively leisurely pace considering the dramatic subject matter, and it does tell you considerably more than you want to know about the science of wildfire, but it's layered like Peer Gynt's onion with tangential meditations on the impassive brutality of nature and the tragic bravado of youth, on history and science and literature, and the peculiar sense of obligation Maclean began to feel towards the young men whose story he was trying to tell and who seemed to be asking him to find in their fragmented and incomplete history an adequate explanation for what happened to them. He doesn't go on and on about anything, he just sets it down gently in the light of his lucid prose and leaves you to consider it on your own time, and I found that the book stayed with me for many days after I finished reading it. In retrospect it has begun to seem to me to be somewhat about the nature of faith, along with everything else. Maclean's clean, direct style is peculiarly compelling, and although you do have to whack your way through a lot of stuff about relative wind velocity and fire science, you can treat it like the names in Russian novels - you don't actually read them, you just kind of register the information so you'll recognize it the next time it comes up!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book is more than the account of the infamous 1949 Mann Gulch fire that took the lives of 13 U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers and left 3 survivors, all young men, to provide clues but no answers as to how and why; Norman Maclean has transformed the account into an accounting. Maclean had been a firefighter in the same forests where the Mann Gulch disaster happened and spent years of his life tracking down people and documents involved in the Forest Service investigation and revisiting the s This book is more than the account of the infamous 1949 Mann Gulch fire that took the lives of 13 U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers and left 3 survivors, all young men, to provide clues but no answers as to how and why; Norman Maclean has transformed the account into an accounting. Maclean had been a firefighter in the same forests where the Mann Gulch disaster happened and spent years of his life tracking down people and documents involved in the Forest Service investigation and revisiting the scene of the fire to find answers to his own questions, the universal questions. Maclean poured a lifetime of writing experience into this book; his most well-known work is *A River Runs Through It* which was made into a 1992 movie. *Young Men and Fire* was his last work and was unfinished at his death according to the publisher's note, although you wouldn't know it to read it. Nothing I could say would add to the praise heaped upon his head but the man can capture subtle and formless thoughts about what it means to be a human on this earth and pin them to the page with straightforward and plainspoken words. He explicitly refuses to resort to maudlin imaginings about the internal lives of the men before and during the fire and yet the book was deeply moving. He slows down the motion of what must have taken only about 60 minutes to turn from a "routine" (if smokejumping can ever be routine, which it can't) job to literal hellfire. He examines the action frame by frame, yard by yard, stretches it out in time and space and dissects it with the utmost care and tenderness. This book is a truly moving tribute to those lost at Mann Gulch and a work of poetry and philosophy disguised as non-fiction.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cherie

    My book is full of highlights and bookmarks of all the things I wanted to remember to try to add to my review. Wonderful observations and passages, written so beautifully by Norman Maclean, that I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye reading them. Were the tears for the words or the subject matter? Both. This story is not easy. What happened was terrible. It was unbelievable. It had never happened before. That was the beginning. What happened? There was a wildfire and and lots of young m My book is full of highlights and bookmarks of all the things I wanted to remember to try to add to my review. Wonderful observations and passages, written so beautifully by Norman Maclean, that I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye reading them. Were the tears for the words or the subject matter? Both. This story is not easy. What happened was terrible. It was unbelievable. It had never happened before. That was the beginning. What happened? There was a wildfire and and lots of young men died. I am not giving anything away. This happend in 1949 in Mann Gulch, Montana. Part of this story is a memoir, and part of it is a mystery investigation. It is simply an amazing story of one man's dedication to chronicle the events, and to look into the how and why of what happened. That he started it at the age of 74, and that he went back to that place 4 times in the last years of his life, is only a part of the story. He had written most of it, but it was not published until 1992, two years after he had passed away. The editors, who published the book, note that YMaF was a story in search of a story. "It followed where Maclean's compassion led it." His part in the story ended in 1987, when he became too ill to work. I think the Press editors did a great job putting it all together, mostly from Macleans notes and the manuscript that he had already generated. It is a story well worth spending the time to read!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    My actual rating for this book is 10 stars out of 5.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    They were young. They liked beer. Now they're dead. The end. But remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires. They were young. They liked beer. Now they're dead. The end. But remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan K

    The Wall Street Journal described the book as “a haunting work”. I cannot think of a better word to describe it. Norman Maclean’s younger brother cannot be far from his thoughts are he searches for answers around the tragedy that was the Mann Gulch fire, now over 70 years ago.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    Wow.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    It is a great thing that this book has been given to the world, considering how much of his life and energy Norman Maclean devoted to it. A shame, also, that he wasn't able to finish it himself. I wonder how much additional polish and editing he would have done to make it a spectacular read. In "Young Men and Fire" Maclean takes the reader to the disastrous Mann Gulch blowup and examines it through testimony of the survivors, all of the photographs and documents that exist, personal interviews a It is a great thing that this book has been given to the world, considering how much of his life and energy Norman Maclean devoted to it. A shame, also, that he wasn't able to finish it himself. I wonder how much additional polish and editing he would have done to make it a spectacular read. In "Young Men and Fire" Maclean takes the reader to the disastrous Mann Gulch blowup and examines it through testimony of the survivors, all of the photographs and documents that exist, personal interviews and visits to the scene, and modern computer analysis of fire behavior. Along the way he also looks at the ramifications of the events from grief and lawsuits to it's importance in the history of the forest service and the development of fire science as a whole. The book is *also* his personal story...a quest to gather all of the information, expose it with as much truth and perspective as possible, and finally bring closure to questions and controversy that were never completely dealt with. Accomplishing all of this is a lot to do in one work, of course, especially when it's unfolding simultaneously. Because of this it can seem like Maclean is jumping around and repeating himself a lot. Also, he likes to wax poetic (literally) quite a bit about the nature of life and death, fire, youth, and old age (his own). He links these and poetic thoughts to the story often...which is sometimes beautifully poignant but other times fairly jarring as it comes in the midst of technical examination of facts and theories. The last chapter, for example, as he tries to sum up everything into something meaningful for all of humanity...I found pretty unreadable for about 5 pages. It was just over the top with soliloquies and poetic recablings. But then it returns in clarity and again offers well formed thoughts that romanticize all of it quite nicely. Another challenge I encountered (which seems rather trivial but was quite annoying) is that for much of the book I had a hard time picturing what Mann Gulch and the physical locations where the fire and the deaths occurred looked like. The terms used may be familiar to Maclean and those he referred to as "experienced woodsmen" but for me they were obscure. Ridge, reef, sidehill, gulch, fingergulch, canyon, mouth of the gulch, upgulch, upslope, crevice, saddle. Coming across the maps and photographs included helped some, but unfortunately they were poorly reproduced in the Kindle version I purchased. As Maclean attempted to recreate the events with timelines, yardage, speed, and space he included references to points on the map, for example. Too bad for me these were impossible to see on the poor quality jpegs in my version. It's a shame the publisher didn't do a better job on the ebook. Formatting errors were also found in abundance. If I were unbiased I would have to rate the book on it's own 3/5 stars. It's very hard to be unbiased, though, after going along on the journey with him and knowing it is essentially 30+ years of his hard work and possibly his greatest passion. All in all it definitely accomplishes what it attempts to do and I imagine the need to rework and polish the book into something more digestible (publishable) is what prevented him from doing so. I think if he had had time and ability it could have been polished to an easy 4-5 star creation...a classic, a bestseller. It has the content and legworth to deserve that, I think. Because of this I'm rating it 4 stars. After reading it I will never see some things the same. A fire danger rating, for example. A short news blurb that firefighters got a grass fire in steep terrain contained. The very real risk of wildland fires and amazing power of nature. The fascinating nature of fire science and computer modeling. The terror of being unable to outrun a 30-40 foot wall of flame. Beyond the occasional tedium I am glad I read this book and would highly recommend it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This is a thoughtful rumination on the terrible 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana that resulted in the deaths of 13 smoke jumpers. It circles around and around on the event, which for me got more and more interesting and intense and vivid; by the end I felt I understood the place and the people and their impossible choices. It was written in the 1980s, and was a fascinating glimpse into the then-cutting-edge use of computers and "science" to better understand fire behavior. It also made me more in This is a thoughtful rumination on the terrible 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana that resulted in the deaths of 13 smoke jumpers. It circles around and around on the event, which for me got more and more interesting and intense and vivid; by the end I felt I understood the place and the people and their impossible choices. It was written in the 1980s, and was a fascinating glimpse into the then-cutting-edge use of computers and "science" to better understand fire behavior. It also made me more interested in the tragic 1994 South Canyon fire that killed 14 fire fighters just miles from where I live now; the son of Norman Maclean wrote a book about that fire that I might read. I felt like the ending few sentences recast the entire book in a different and more moving light, the idea that his decades long obsession with the fire was really his obsession with his wife's battle with cancer and her desperate and unsuccessful quest to outrun its flames.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian Angle

    Disappointing. Expected some deep thoughts about manliness, dying young, tragedy, courage, etc. But this was really just a procedural about how the author tried to figure out EXACTLY what happened when a dozen firefighters got caught by a fire. The actual incident was very simple: big fire blew up and caught most of them before they could escape. All the painstaking detail to figure out exactly who was where and when every second was all meaningless (to me). This felt like it was written by an e Disappointing. Expected some deep thoughts about manliness, dying young, tragedy, courage, etc. But this was really just a procedural about how the author tried to figure out EXACTLY what happened when a dozen firefighters got caught by a fire. The actual incident was very simple: big fire blew up and caught most of them before they could escape. All the painstaking detail to figure out exactly who was where and when every second was all meaningless (to me). This felt like it was written by an engineer, spending years trying to connect all the dots. All of the focus was on the logistics, with no focus on the victims as people. Just a pet project that Maclean was obsessed with figuring out. Story went nowhere, and the ride was boring. I can't figure out all the positive reviews.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Israel

    What begins as an investigation into the Mann Gulch Fire—its causes, costs, and emotional fallout—becomes a meditation on time, memory, and the act of narration itself. As he says, "a storyteller, unlike a historian, must follow compassion wherever it leds him." And in this book, Maclean uses the alchemy of narration to transform a disaster into a tragedy and, ultimately, into a sort of grace. Whether he succeeds depends upon the reader. What begins as an investigation into the Mann Gulch Fire—its causes, costs, and emotional fallout—becomes a meditation on time, memory, and the act of narration itself. As he says, "a storyteller, unlike a historian, must follow compassion wherever it leds him." And in this book, Maclean uses the alchemy of narration to transform a disaster into a tragedy and, ultimately, into a sort of grace. Whether he succeeds depends upon the reader.

  30. 4 out of 5

    MaryCatherine

    Please see Matt Kraemer’s excellent review on Goodreads, and my own comments.

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