Young Men and Fire

Narrated by: John MacLean
Length: 6 hrs and 6 mins
Categories: History, American
4 out of 5 stars (206 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle, Nonfiction, 1993

On August 5, 1949, a crew of 15 of the U.S. Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Less than one hour later, all but three were dead or fatally burned in a "blowup," an explosive 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet tall. Norman MacLean spent the last 14 years of his life determined to sift through grief and controversy in search of the truth behind the Mann Gulch tragedy, one of the worst disasters in the history of the Forest Service. Young Men and Fire is the culmination of his investigations. It is a story about honor, death, compassion, and the human spirit.

©1992 The University of Chicago (P)16 9; 2000 HighBridge Company; 1993 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"[MacLean]...remains true to the power of his own language and his own heart." (New York Times Book Review)
"A sort of pilgrimage - sometimes poetic, often earthy, and full of asides that connect the fire to experiences we all share." (Audubon)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
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    102
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    35
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    11
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Performance

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    28
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Story

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Facinating story of tragedy and detective work

I found this book by way of the song "Cold Missouri Waters" by James Keelaghan. This is a ballad told in the voice of Dodge, the foreman. It brings tears to my eyes each time. I recommend this as well.

Young Men and Fire is a story of tregedy in the Greek sense. MacLean tells a great story and shows he is a master of words as well. He is a stickler for details and pacing. His son reads clearly and effectively - and the sound quality of the recording is superb. My only gripe is that I felt the last 45 minutes could have been condensed. Otherwise, an excellent read/listen!

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great read, very good listen!!

Would you listen to Young Men and Fire again? Why?

Yes, this is a beautiful book about firefighting, smokejumpers, and the tragedy of the Mann Gulch fire. The recording does a good job of bringing out the highest quality of nonfictional "story" telling done by the author Norman Maclean.

What other book might you compare Young Men and Fire to and why?

A River Runs Through It, is by the same author and about the same time period and of growing up in Montana.

Which character – as performed by John MacLean – was your favorite?

I don't think that the book was looking to portray any of the characters as favorites. The book was looking to tell of what happened when a group of the nations elite firefighters encountered the Mann Gulch fire in 1949, and to show the strength of character of these brave young men.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, it is a book that should be read first. After reading the book, then listening to the audio version helps to recall the harsh, rugged beauty of the story.

Any additional comments?

Robert Redford did a great job in making A River Runs Through It into a movie. This story and the men that lost their life on Mann Gulch deserve the same.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Warning! This recording is abridged.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I own and have read this book. This recording is abridged. The performance is fine and the essential story is present, but it is not the entire, unabridged story.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A stunning (and true) tale!

I read the book, and found it to be beautiful and compelling. It's also a very informative tale. You'll learn how fires are fought, and how men are lost fighting them. Norm Maclean wrote two books, and in my opinion, this one is better than "A River Runs Through It."

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Could have been great

I've never written a book. I've never spent 14 years gather information for a book.

But if I did and people as renowned as Frank Delaney thought it was good, I sure as heck would be picky about who narrated the audio version.

The narrator's voice never gets out of the back of his nose. Terribly irritating.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

In dire need of a remake

The subject and story is interesting but the narrator brings the audiobook down. It was clearly recorded a long time ago due to the poor audio quality and the hiss of white noise. What does not help is that the book can be a bit technical and dry. Which is fine but I've listened to books along the same lines and they have been elevated by the enthusiasm of the person reading it. Nelson Runger is a good example of what I'm talking about. Instead John MacLean, the authors son and who has written books on forest fires himself, does best but comes off like one passionately reading an insurance policy.

Despite this, I was able to appreciate and learn from the book. Highlights were when the author goes with the survivors back to the scene of the fire, years later. Knowing what a Blow Up is and recreating the sense of chaos once the smoke jumpers landed in the middle of the fire. Essentially a "Fog of War" scenario. I'm looking forward to listening and reading more from the author but not if it is read by this gentleman.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting story, but not what I expected

I saw this book as one recommended to talk about how critical it is at work to get consensus among the group you are in charge of.. This is mostly a story about forest fire, a sad one.. It's great from a fire perspective and of what can happen without trust of the leader, or mixed messages... But not what I was expecting

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Another masterpiece!

The Maclean’s have teamed up to write and read a magnificent tribute to smokejumper’s that crackles!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A thorough reconstruction of a devastating event

First off, this book reads almost like a textbook and can be quite dry. But for those interested in fire fighting, especially those with first hand experience fighting fires or, that are at very least familiar with the area, will find this an extremely thorough, detailed, and definitive narration of the events that unfolded at the Mann Gulch fire. There is bravery and sadness to be found and the book does have its moments of thrill and adventure, enough to keep the reader entertained. I think most people would be easily bored by this book but Maclean fans will be very familiar with his writing which can be both extremely descriptive and factual, but also extremely beautiful and poetic. Overall, I really enjoyed the story as someone who knew nothing about it prior to reading this book. If you have even the slightest interest in firefighting tales, this book should be at or near the top of your list.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Dense, but engrossing

The narrator has a droning voice that can make the dense material and author's frequent bouts of philosophical self-indulgence a bit hard to get through, but overall the book is the result of a great investigation.
If you like stories about piecing together a mystery from disparate clues and want a break from the murders of young women which dominate the true crime genre, or if you're drawn to investigations of disasters and their chain of events, you can do a lot worse than this book. I learned about an entire field of study I'd never thought much about, and I really enjoyed being drawn into this thoughtful exploration of an event which forever changed how the forest service fights fires.