Young Men and Fire

By Norman MacLean,

Book cover of Young Men and Fire

Book description

When Norman Maclean sent the manuscript of A River Runs through It to New York publishers, he received a slew of rejections. One editor, so the story goes, replied, "It has trees in it." Forty years later, the title novella is widely recognized as one of the great American tales…

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Why read it?

5 authors picked Young Men and Fire as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book concerns a group of young firefighters known as smokejumpers and the catastrophic Mann Gulch Forest Fire in Montana in 1949. 

Maclean was from the community and worked in the US Forest Service before he became a professor and eventually an author who spent years researching the event. You learn about the physics of forest fires, the invention of the first "escape fire," how multiple and cascading errors can lead to a disastrous outcome, and about the lives and heroics of a group of firefighters.

Interestingly, it is all seen through the journey of a man trying to understand…

A fascinating and compelling history of the Mann Gulch Fire that killed several firefighters in Montana in the late 1940s, coupled with the author’s own journey to heal humself.

MacLean was a beloved University of Chicago Shakespeare professor, and a former Montana firefighter, who only began writing after he retired. His first book was an instant classic, A River Runs Through It, playing with the border between nonficiton and ficiton, love and anger. Young Men and Fire picks up where that book left off. You have to read to the final line to learn exactly what the book is…

Covering the 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana, Maclean’s narrative explores that age-old human question of what one does with tragedy.

I find this book fascinating as the author is consumed with the happenings of the book, and he uses a range of tools, including religion, philosophy, and mathematics, to explore the conundrum of why some people survive events and some to not.

While best known for his work A River Runs Through It, Maclean’s work is the gift that keeps on giving for any budding authors seeking to write about, and on making sense of, the loss of young…

I came across Young Men and Fire when researching for a project of my own, and it immediately became one of my favorite books of all time. It's a meticulous work of investigative journalism, carefully uncovering the circumstances of the deadly 1949 Mann Gulch forest fire, and recounting Maclean's findings in heartbreaking clarity and detail. It's also a book of philosophy and poetry, full of breathtakingly gorgeous reflections on nature, and our place in and relationship to it.

From Jess' list on climate disaster.

The elements of earth, fire, air, and young men come together in this tragic tale of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. Told with Maclean’s unflinching and distinctive voice, it is a study in the ways a talented storyteller can completely engross readers.

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