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Young Men and Fire

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  3,964 Ratings  ·  359 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
Paperback, 301 pages
Published November 5th 1993 by University Of Chicago Press (first published September 1st 1992)
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Matt
Sep 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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
...more
Megan Pursell
Oct 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mark
Jan 24, 2010 is currently reading it
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
...more
Fred Shaw
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 ...more
Jess
Sep 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fours-and-fives
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
Cardyn Brooks
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
...more
Trish
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 ...more
Susan
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Margaret
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Michelle
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Cherie
Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Aaron
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Tyler
Nov 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Tyler by: National Book Critics Circle Award
Shelves: non-fiction
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
...more
Gina
Mar 23, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Kosie
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-life
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.
Marian Deegan
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Brian Angle
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
...more
heidi
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook, reviewed
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
...more
Mark Stevens
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Israel
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Mary Soderstrom
Jul 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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
...more
Erica
Mar 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Paula
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Aaron Smith
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Al
Mar 29, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Dara Salley
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Norman Maclean’s prose is a little overstated at times. It can verge into melodrama and is VERY heavy on Catholic imagery. That being said, I thought this was a wonderful book. I read an article about the Man Gulch Fire that referenced “Young Men and Fire”. I was so intrigued by the sudden tragedy and the concept of a “rescue fire” that I had to read more about it. The closest I’ve ever been to a wildfire was seeing one in the distance as I drove along a Montana highway. I can’t even begin to im ...more
Kiri
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, reviewed
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
Denise
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing


"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
...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
More about Norman Maclean...
“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.” 24 likes
“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.” 21 likes
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