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Young Men & Fire

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,880 ratings  ·  265 reviews
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 -- ...more
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Published July 1st 2008 by HighBridge Classics (first published 1992)
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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: fighting forest fires. Yet, in Mann Gulch, they'd been overtaken by fire and died clawing at the steep grassy slopes.

Really, though, this is a book about dying, and the important lessons about life that death provides. For it is death that gives life its value; it is death, or rather, the know
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
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 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 ...more
Megan Pursell
Oct 14, 2007 Megan Pursell rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fire fighters, western historians
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.
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. ...more
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
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
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 ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Mark is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2010 Tyler rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Tyler by: National Book Critics Circle Award
Shelves: non-fiction, unusual
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
Mark Stevens
Published 22 years ago, “Young Men & Fire” still crackles today. Norman MacLean’s account of the Mann Gulch fire, which claimed the lives of 13 firefighters in 1949, is a powerful piece of narrative journalism. But MacLean warps the form—fearlessly. He practically instructs us how to react and think about the tragedy, yanking us up steep canyon walls to ponder the series of easily-made mistakes in the tragedy, where “young men died like squirrels.”

The lightning-sparked fire was a “catastrop
Marian Deegan
After years of "meaning to get around to this book", I finally tracked down Norman Maclean's last book, Young Men and Fire, which I assumed was another series of short stories about strapping lads living in tents, playing cards, beating out the occasional fire, and dealing with the rattlesnakes and other critters they encountered along the way ... all recounted with Maclean's laconic wit and thoughtfulness, naturally.

But this isn't that sort of book at all. It is the true story of what had appea
A terribly tragic story, but not very well constructed.

The author does an excellent job in the first part of the book covering what was thought to have happened. The terminology can be a little bit difficult to follow (the firefighters will alternately travel up river, up hill and up gulch- which are 3 distinct and somewhat opposing directions), although he goes do an excellent job of explaining firefighting terminology.

He looses me in the second part of the book- where he decides to try and d
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
While this kind of book is not normally my cup of tea, Young Men and Fire went down all right--a spoon full of sugar, etc., etc. The book (nonfiction) is about sixteen smokejumpers who were killed in the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. Maclean pieces the story together bit by bit, teasing at its threads from all different angles to try to figure out exactly what went wrong. Maclean is a strong presence throughout the book--in fact, I would say that the book is even more about Maclean's obsession with t ...more
Aaron Smith
Maclean can really write. Midway through, I knew that he was not just giving a moment to moment account of his search for information on the Mann Gulch fire, but rather guiding the reader through the information in the way that would infect his readers with his own obsession with this event. He knew what he was doing. There's so much pathos begging for context in this story but Maclean was very restrained with drawing conclusions or applying symbolism to soothe the reader. When he breaks down an ...more
Mary Soderstrom
Nineteen young firefighters were burned to death over the weekend in Arizona, and this morning we smell smoke from forest fires 900 kilometers from Montreal near James Bay in Northern Quebec. Both disquieting, an evidence again of the uneasy relation between fire and humans.

Norman Maclean, William Rainey Harper Professor of English at the University of Chicago and author of one of the best novels ever about Montana and the West, was marked by another forest fire disaster.

In 1949 when Maclean wa
Norman Maclean, perhaps best known as the author of A River Runs Through It, began researching the famous Mann Gulch (in Montana) forest fire of 1949 late in his life, and worked on the project until the time of his death at age 88 in 1990. Thirteen young men, twelve of them Smokejumpers, died when this fire "blew up" and they couldn't outrun it. The tragedy evidently haunted Maclean, himself a woodsman, and he returned again and again to the site, trying to understand what had happened, and wh ...more
Norman MacLean inadvertently gave me one of my formative views on writing. I was in high school when "A River Runs Through It" came out. I don't remember much about it, fly-fishing not being my passion, but I remember a crusty newspaper editor saying to a young writer, "Good. Now half."

Good. Now half.

I carried that piece of wisdom around from that day on. So it seems interestingly circular that Young Men and Fire is really two books, and if halved, either could stand alone.

The first half is the
The narrator has a slightly nasally voice so it took me a bit to get used to. However the narrative is engrossing and I was soon lost in it. As others have pointed out the attention to detail is quite good. The fact that I began to apply my own skills to what was being revealed should speak to that. Not only does it cover the original event, it reconstructs and reveal the subsequent events after it - including the handling of it by the Forest Service and the Government. Maclean also discusses th ...more
Kirsten Elson
This is one of my favorite non-fiction books. It very accurately details the day that 13 smokejumpers perished in a blow-up in the Mann Gulch.

I learned of the Mann Gulch when I lived in Helena, MT. I learned of the mann Gulch fire when I took the boat tour to the Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River. It has fascinated me ever since. The boat tour slips right by the head of the Mann Gulch where the fire of 1949 started, but the boat doesn't stop there. It remained tantalizing elusive for

"My name is Dodge, but you know that. It's written there on the footend of the bed. " - That's the opening lines of the song "Cold Missouri Waters" which I first heard performed by Cry Cry Cry (made up of Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky). Shindell's haunting take on this song backed with the heart-wrenching harmonies by Williams and Kaplansky made me research the story behind the song.

The Mann Gulch fire was a tragedy, no doubt about it. It haunted the survivors, particularl
Roger Huder
As a firefighter for twenty-six years I have few books by non-firefighters who understands fire and the men and women who fight it for a living. Norman Maclean does understand and brings real insights into the story. To tell the firefighters story you also had to tell the story of the land and fuel on that land that made that day so dangerous. Maclean sets the stage and when the fire occurs you truly understand and can almost feel their fear as they realize what is happening. This is a classic o ...more
In central Montana, the land feature known as The Gates of the Mountains leads from the headwaters portion of the Missouri River to the larger, more intense river that carves down through the plains. From the actual feature downstream for several miles (as a crow flies, but not as a river flows), however, the landscape is more intense than any other area. The hillsides are steeper, the gulches deeper, and the rocks harder. The only access is through hiking, horses, perhaps an ATV, or by parachut ...more
Karin Mckercher
This was an interesting book to read following on The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, which I read about a year ago. The Big Burn is about the fire of 1910 that burned 3 million acres and 5 towns throughout Montana, Washington and Idaho.

Young Men and Fire is about the Mann Gulch fire almost 40 years later and the Smokejumpers who leapt to their deaths. Maclean tells the story in much the same way you'd expect a grandfatherly type to tell the story, complete with oft-r
Tracy St Claire
This man's poetry and genius made a fire tragedy -- accident --manslaughter travesty into a journey of dedication and hope. Norm is looking to set things right, literally, the crosses, and the story, the reputations of the Mann Gulch 1949 Montana incident. In this book, you can see the man as he ages and sees his own mortality approaching as he ponders what we wants for those men and boys.

When I think of forest fire tragedy, I only have known of one -- the Yarnell Hill tragedy that claimed the l
This book has literally been on my "to read" list for years, probably close to 10. For whatever reason, I never started it. It has been pretty hyped in the circles I run in, and I feel like a know a decent amount about the main event the book is written about..the Man Gulch Fire 60+ years ago. This book was pretty good, but my expectations may have been too high for my total enjoyment. The book is read by the son of the author, who reads very monotone and is hard to do as an audio book. The stor ...more
Steven Hull

Norman Maclean’s final words at the end say much about why he wrote this book and who he wrote it for, “I, an old man, have written this fire 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.”

Young Men and Fire is a h
Pat Cummings
When Norman MacLean set out to write (in Young Men and Fire) the story of the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire, he was haunted by one thing about it: fifteen elite Smokejumpers had dropped to fight the fire, and scarcely an hour later, ten of them were dead.

Three men who survived to return from the mountain would bear the scars for the rest of their lives. For two more, life was over even as they described their escape to rescuers; they were mortally burned, and both were dead within a day.

MacLean could a
Carl Nelson
4.5 stars. Young Men and Fire is equal parts the tragic recounting of the deaths of twelve firemen in 1949 in Montana's Mann Gulch Fire, scientific detective story, and elegiac story of life and death. The down-to-the-minute recreation of the fire is harrowing, with palpable sense of danger and keen feelings of loss as the firemen lost their race against the fast-approaching flames. Maclean evaluates the decisions made by the crew on the day of their fire, presenting evidence and testimony fairl ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Born in Clarinda, Iowa, on December 23, 1902, Maclean was the son of Clara Davidson (1873-1952) and the Rev. John Maclean (1862-1941), a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who managed much of the education of the young Norman and his brother Paul (1906-1938) until 1913. The fam
More about Norman Maclean...
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories The Norman Maclean Reader Usfs 1919: Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky Norman MacLean Collection: River Runs Through It, Young Men, Big Blackfoot Montana, 1919

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“As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth's crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.” 18 likes
“Unless we are willing to escape into sentimentality or fantasy, often the best we can do with catastrophes, even our own, is to find out exactly what happened and restore some of the missing parts.” 17 likes
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