To Build A Fire
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To Build A Fire

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  7,435 ratings  ·  215 reviews
To Build a Fire is one of Jack London's most beloved short stories. A heartbreaking tale set in the vast wintry landscape of the North, it endures as one of the greatest adventures ever written.
Paperback, 32 pages
Published March 1st 2003 by Wolf Creek Books (first published 1908)
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Best Survival Stories
78th out of 582 books — 1,043 voters
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Endurance in Fact and Fiction
1st out of 75 books — 16 voters

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To Build a Fire is one of the stories that made me want to be a writer.

I remember hearing a radio version of this when I was young, long before I ever read it. My Dad and I were on a camping trip in one of the provincial parks, and he'd brought along a little transistor radio. In the dark of our tent we picked up a radio station that played old radio shows, and that night the story was To Build a Fire. It was wonderful to listen to it in that setting. The old crackly radio hummed, the static mi...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
In "The Trial" Franz Kafka says men die like dogs.

Here, Jack London shows how a man can die worse than a dog.

In a snow-covered wilderness such a man trudges alone with his dog, hoping to reach a safe place with the boys somewhere. Quick and alert, they both are, but Mr. London is careful to point out that this man can only repeat to himself that "it is certainly cold" and no further. He has no awareness of his frailty, nor is he capable of leading himself "to the conjectural field of immortality...more
C.J. Cato
Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is a haunting story about the divide between some men’s intelligence and their sometimes buried instincts, otherwise known as common sense. The story opens with “the man” hiking through the absurdly cold Klondike in the dead of winter with little experience, few supplies and only his dog as a companion. He has been warned about travelling alone in such harsh conditions but feels he is intelligent enough to overcome any problem that nature may sling his way. Probl...more
This is an excellent short-story. Lots of thematic substance about naturalism, the fate of man, etc. Oh, and man vs. nature. Definitely. I loved the juxtaposition of the dog's instinct vs. the man's ignorance/inexperience when dealing with the harsh elements. Some may infer an existential/agnostic view of God from this story (we are just subject to the fates/weather). But I don't. I am not familiar with Jack London's beliefs on that stuff, but I really don't know that's the point.

Take away less...more
Kathleen Valentine
One of the scariest stories I have ever read. I read it on a cold night before I went to sleep and I was searching for matches all night long. This is a flawless story--excellent descriptions and yet no wasted words. Just brilliant.
May 28, 2008 Nikki rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nikki by: G/T teacher
I learned that I should probably live as close to the equator as possible
Hailee Gorges
"To Build a Fire" was a great short story. It is about this man that is traveling through the Yukon to find this old claim. The Yukon is not a good place for him to be traveling alone. The temperature gets to below 50 degrees. Along the way he faces horrible weather, freezing water, and the thought of failing. While walking across the wide river, he breaks through the ice and falls in water up to his knees. He builds a fire to keep his feet from freezing, and to warm up his hands and face. The h...more
This story aches silent cold and gray, and finally, black. I can't help but think of it as I look across my yard (where it is not, incidentally, 50 degrees below zero) to see 4 foot drifts that I never want to have to trudge through. How I hated this story for making me feel and see things I never wanted to! And hoping that all the work in reading it, all the vicarious pain, would amount to a reward, and finding that I - as I found I became the man while I read - made irrevocable, and deadly cri...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Wonderfully written story...though I wonder about it's being one of London's "most beloved" as it fits right in the middle of the "struggling to survive up north" genre. It is as the synopsis says "a heart rending" tale, and if you're like me, it'll stick with you. It has for many years.
I think I read To Build A Fire for the first time in junior high. I loved it then. Maybe because I was young and unjaded. Back then this story was horrifying. To so badly need to do something as simple as build a fire and to not be able to do so, and then to have to pay the ultimate price for that?! Well, that was just so unfair and so horrifying! In junior high the moral that I took away from this short story was, people are so frail and fragile, and we are no match for Mother Nature.

Now I'm ol...more
its a quick read and i really enjoyed it , i never thought that short stories could get into you and make you feel them , but surprisingly this one had the ability to dig deep inside of me and it made me so angry and miserable about it.
it's the story of a really stupid man who thinks himself to be wiser then other people , what on earth was he thinking , traveling alone in the middle of nowhere , with a temperature so low that your whole body could freeze completely within seconds ? well i have...more
I really liked this short story. The details were chilling as London described a man and his dog's journey through the Klondike. The author managed to captivate me - I was fully and emotionally engaged. Even after finishing, I continued to think about the horror of the man's senseless death. The story left me very unsettled and with many unanswered questions. I wanted answers. Why did the man decide to travel on foot alone in 170 degree weather without any survival supplies? What was so compelli...more
Emily Togstad
Emily Togstad
Good Reads
“To Build a Fire”

“To Build a Fire” is a short story written by Jack London. I've only read a select few of Jack London's books, or stories. This one was not one of my favorites. The story took place on the Yukon trail and near the Henderson creek. The weather ranged from -50 degrees to -107 degrees. It was very cold and dark. It made the story dreary. The main character, the man, was trying to get to the camp to meet the boys. From Henderson creek he was 10 miles away....more
London is at his best in this foreboding account of a sole venturer and his dog who travel from one desolate location to another on the Yukon, near Dawson, Alaska in the bleak dead of winter. The temperature had only been about 50 degrees below, not so cold that he couldn't make the trek. But others, wiser, told him the temperature would drop colder and that no man should venture out alone when it reached 70 degrees below. He counted himself capable of the journey. The temperature dropped to 75...more
Eric Birk
I always loved this short. Most people loved Jack London because of his ability to write in animals as characters and keep it realistic. I always loved how descriptive his prose is. When he describes pain, you feel pain. When he describes hot or cold, beautiful or ugly, it always amazed me how he could draw vivid pictures within my mind; so much so, that I can't read a description of numbing cold without thinking of this story. Or any time I feel hopeless dispair I think about this story again.....more
Jim Peterson
I read this short story yesterday and it was beautiful. It's short, realistic and terrifying. It's about a man and his dog alone in the open at -70 Fahrenheit. The man must build a fire, or die.
Zach Volz
I thought that the book "To Build a Fire" was a good short story. It is about a man that is traveling through the Yukon to find this old claim. The temperature gets down negative 50 degrees. Along the way he faces bad weather, freezing water, and the thought of failing. While walking across the wide river, he breaks through the ice and falls in water up to his knees. He builds a fire to keep his feet from freezing, and to warm up his hands and face. The heat from the fire causes snow to fall fro...more
Jennifer Hoffman
This was fabulous. I read it as a short story in an English class in unior high, while the class was slooooowwwwwlllllly reading aloud another story in our text. I raced through the pages, and was shocked when the man died at the end, freezing to death. I could feel his desperation, as the wind puffed out a match, then the clump of snow, as his fingers got too cold to hold it properly. Brrrrrr! I still get the chills and feel it.
Jeff Yoak
This short story felt more like a writing exercise than a story, briefly detailing the experience of freezing to death for a traveler in the Klondike. That said, it is extremely successful for an exercise. The imagery is incredibly stark and remarkably for a story where so little happens, you come to care about the outcome. I'd like to read something more substantial written in similar form by the author.
Sumit Singla
I am currently reading 'Into the Wild' and I decided to re-read this story, which I had last read while being in Mongolia in -45 degrees Celsius temperatures.

The weather was definitely hostile, and I was thankful that I didn't really have to build a fire to keep warm.

It would be absolutely horrifying to be stuck in a situation like the one described in the story. Chilling and disturbing!
To build a fire transmite mucha angustia en pocas páginas, también transmite la soledad de sus protagonistas, la ominosa presencia de lo salvaje, el egoísmo humano ante el peligro de muerte y la lealtad de un perro que sobresale entre la inmensa blancura de este relato invernal.
A cautionary tale for all who are a little too overly confident in their abilities. You feel both sadness and frustration for the main character who feels like he know it all about survival in the cold but unfortunately learns that he does not. A classic must read.
This is my all time favorite Jack London story. Short and sweet. A consuming 20 minutes that will take you years and miles away to a frozen land that is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. The characters are real, and the end result is even more real. Very, very good.
Link to the story!

Loved this! London writes like a dream. He is fast on his way to becoming one of my favorite authors.
Adriana Alarcon
In the book "To Build A Fire" by Jack London talks about a man in the Yukon trail, where there is no sun and barley any amount of cloud. He is on a very harsh and miserable journey in the freezing cold, on his way to meet the boys in Henderson Creek. On his way he was fortunate to meet with a dog that had seemed almost frozen, he knew it would've died, so he took the dog with him. Despite all the challenges that he had to face, he could not just turn back, it was his only way of surviving the w...more
A man fights against the fury of the Yukon wilderness, but ultimately against his own hubris in disregarding the advice of an “old-timer” to never travel alone when temperatures fall beneath fifty degrees below zero. A good theme, but, for me at least, it was made trite by London’s rather bland characterization of the man in the opening paragraphs as unthinkingly reliant on his own powers rather than stopping to consider the strength of nature. For some reason, the overtness of this characteriza...more
Raül De Tena
Cualquiera podría preguntarse dónde está la gracia de leer dos versiones de un mismo relato escritas por un mismo autor. De entrada, lo normal sería pensar que la segunda inhabilita a la primera, puesto que si un escritor se toma la molestia de retomar uno de sus escritos y entregar una nueva versión, ha de ser porque el original le parece imperfecto o, cuando menos, pulible. Al fin y al cabo, este es el proceso habitual de creación literaria: escritura, rescritura y más rescritura. Lo más norma...more
Rachel Gatti
In To Build a Fire a man who is a newcomer in the Canadian Yukon, a chechaquo, heads out on an all-day trek into the frozen landscape with his dog. Underestimating the cold, the man battles the elements in order to meet up with his friends at Henderson Creek. As his carefully laid plans unravel, the man must come face to face with a frightening possibility -- will this perilous journey be his last?

There are probably fifty different lessons you could learn from To Build a Fire, and none of them a...more
No Books
Klondike, pieno inverno, nove di mattina. Un uomo segue un sentiero che costeggia e in parte si sovrappone al corso gelato del fiume Yukon. Sul sentiero fa freddo, molto freddo (esattamente quanto freddo lo vedremo fra poco). Ma il problema dell’uomo non è questo. “Il problema era la sua totale mancanza di immaginazione. Era pronto e sveglio nel fare le cose della vita, ma non nel coglierne i significati”. Mastica tabacco nonostante il gelo, incurante del fatto che gli sputi si condensino sulla...more
Bill S.
The edition I had ended with activities for students and there I ran across Edgar Allen Poe's criteria for a good short story. To Poe, a short story should create "a single unifying effect on the reader...All elements of a short story - characterization, plot, theme, language -- must be directed toward the creation of that one single effect." This classic short story clearly satisfies this requirement.
Early in the story, London reveals his point. The trouble with the man was that he was withou...more
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Jack London was an American novelist, journalist, social-activist and short-story writer whose works deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. At his peak, he was the highest paid and the most popular of all living writers. Because of early financial difficulties, he was largely self educated past grammar school.

London drew heavily on his life experiences in his writing. He spent ti...more
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“The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe.” 9 likes
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” 3 likes
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