Harcourt, Inc., 2000
ISBN: 0-15-100589-3
In Jumping Fire, Murry A. Taylor, the oldest smokejumper in the service’s sixty year history, describes the world of fighting wildfires. Its action encompasses the entire Alaska season of 1991 from refresher training in early May to the leave for home in late September. The work is a fascinating inside-out story of unbowed spirits and the stamina of people who have chosen the thrilling, perilous, and nearly legendary occupation.  
     Always close to death, smokejumpers claim that not everybody gets as close to life as they do. The uncertainties of the jump, a fair share of aviation and landing mishaps, chronic sleep deprivation, hard work next to a blazing inferno, and food shortages are the "prerequisites" of the profession. At the same time, some of their heroic efforts turn out to be pitifully inadequate; many young men and women are burned and killed and "no amount of land or trees could possibly be worth the sacrifice." All these extremes raise the value of warmth and security, exacerbate the sense of "transitory domesticity," and increase the pleasures of simple things like an occasional nap, clean jeans, combed hair, and a temporary respite from danger.  
      Mr. Taylor reflects on the trade-offs these people make in a life imbibed with fatigue, sorrow, and loneliness; an average smokejumper's marriage lasts only about two years and the rate of suicide is high among wildfire fighters. Nevertheless, he depicts a triumph of the spirit over the body. Medical records chronicle that many firefighters remain in incredibly good physical condition.  
      The book offers a breathtaking account of a jumper's emotional experience during a season — the elation and dread of the jump, comradeship and melancholy of the nomadic life, excitement of the first firefight, and grief over the loss of a friend. The author paints a portrait of the human mind in the extreme situation when a detached observer from within says that you are finished. The fire fighter then faces a horrible recognition: one can no longer spare concern for anyone's safety but one’s own. Mr. Taylor describes his emotions amid the busy fire season interspersed with reminiscences of a loving past relationship and the boredom, monotony, and difficulty of handling downtime.  
      Mr. Taylor details a spate of smokejumper's lore, tactics, and safety instructions to be followed with religious dedication. The rules must be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature; failure to remember one detail can be a fatality.  
      The book describes both the atrocity that natural forces can create and the picturesque scenery of the majestic and lofty northern terrain. The quiet of that country and the bird's-eye views of the mighty Alaska rivers contrast with the apocalyptic canvas of burning woods and smoky sunrises.  
      Carrying some elements of a day-to-day diary and a record of personal reflections, the book is essentially autobiographical. It provides the reader with a pleasure of the vicarious consumer; someone had already lived this incredible life for you. Interspersed with a number of humorous notes, anecdotes and jokes, it is an easy read. Although slightly overloaded with technical information and terminology, Jumping Fire is a candid storytelling and gripping narrative, literary evidence that faith may work miracles not only in jumping and catching fires but also in passionate and captivating writing.