Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 5, 2009

Young Men and Fire

Poking around in a used-book shop, I came across a copy of Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire. I was glad to rediscover this gem and I immediately started rereading it.

As a reader of thoughtful, carefully-crafted books, you owe it to yourself to discover Mr. Maclean’s writing. Although you may not think you’re familiar with his work, you almost certainly are.  He wrote A River Runs Through It, on which the movie of the same title was based. (That story is also worth your attention.)

“Young Men” is Maclean’s extraordinary exploration of actual events from 1949: a forest fire in the mountains of Montana above the Missouri River. What makes this work so exceptional is the almost religious zeal that Maclean, who was writing late in life, applied to his attempt to bring clarity and vision to the confusing and tragic events that took the lives of young smokejumpers in a remote tract of wilderness. In fact, it is the very nature of “tragedy” that compels him: What is it that we find tragic in the death of young people, and how does tragedy encompasses us?

It’s is an adventure story researched by a skilled academician who was also a lifelong outdoorsman, seeking at the end of his own life to pierce the veil that separates each of us from the truth of our lives.

Check your library. If they do not have this book, encourage them to add it to their collection. There are a number of editions that couple it with A River Runs Through It, and you can read that epic of western life after Young Men and Fire.

© Brad Nixon 2009, 2018


  1. The old and alive mourning the young and dead; or, perhaps, mourning the dead young within the living old. Why do men face the same fate differently? What determines who survives, and who is consumed? Mr. Maclean searches for evidence that we are not completely at the mercy of the random and the unknown.

    Thanks for the reminder.


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