Blog Home FAQ Random quotes Contact

Young Men & Fire

ISBN13: 9781598875935
ISBN: 1598875930
List Price: $24.95
Publisher: HighBridge Classics
Published Date:
Average Goodreads rating: 4.08/5 (10 ratings)

     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