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On the Fireline: Living And Dying With Wildland Firefighters (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) Paperback – 30 Oct 2007


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Review

?On the Fireline is a riveting account of firemen of the U.S. Forest Service tackling wildland fires, as well as a detailed chronicle of the training, preparation, and bonhomie of depot life. By exploring how joining a firecrew matches, confirms, and extends the values of the rural culture within which the recruits grew up, Desmond offers a unique perspective on the social and psychological motivations for firefighting. The richness of the data he uncovers and his arresting style of presentation make this a distinctive and evocative work. Paul Willis, author of Learning to Labor -- Paul Willis (08/20/2007)

?In recent years, ethnographers have tried to face up to the Bourdieuian challenge of showing how aspects of culture are rooted in daily practices and bodies. In this beautifully written work of participant observation, Matthew Desmond takes us into the world of wildland firefighters to help us better understand the dynamics of dangerous organizations and the workers who hold the line. At the same time, he moves ethnography forward: rather than following the all too common procedure of asserting the existence of knowledges that ?go without saying? for his subjects, Desmond shows in detail how habitus actually operates in everyday life. Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk and Slim's Table -- Mitchell Duneier (08/20/2007)

?Rich in gritty detail, Matthew Desmond's sociological study of a firecrew is a welcome addition to the literature of wildfire. His four years on a backcountry Forest Service crew provide authentic material?sometimes startlingly so?for his observations. If you want a look behind the flames to see what drives these people to come back year after blistering year then read this book. John N. Maclean, author of Fire on the Mountain -- John N. Maclean (08/20/2007)

"[The book is] a highly readable, at times funny, very insightful, Bourdieu-inspired ethnography of country masculinity, and as such very useful for courses on masculinity. It is a fine example of how to apply structuration theory and, therefore, a good resource for classes in social theory. It also offers a penetrating examination of the logic of bureaucratic organization and the way it creates a common sense world in which blame is always individualized. . . . A thick and rich take on a particular version of rural, masculine, working-class culture in the United States and how it fits with an institutional setting that requires young men to do dangerous work."--Thomas Dunk "Canadian Journal of Sociology "

"This is an important book because it illustrates a set of practices that are sufficient to maintain social order in a dangerous world. . . . Desmond deploys this complex argument with persuasive grounding and enviable control. We are in a stronger position to think about risk because of his efforts."--Karl E. Wieck "Administrative Science Quarterly "

""On the Fireline" is a riveting account of firemen of the U.S. Forest Service tackling wildland fires, as well as a detailed chronicle of the training, preparation, and bonhomie of depot life. By exploring how joining a firecrew matches, confirms, and extends the values of the rural culture within which the recruits grew up, Desmond offers a unique perspective on the social and psychological motivations for firefighting. The richness of the data he uncovers and his arresting style of presentation make this a distinctive and evocative work."--Paul Willis, author of Learning to Labor (08/20/2007)

"Rich in gritty detail, Matthew Desmond's sociological study of a firecrew is a welcome addition to the literature of wildfire. His four years on a backcountry Forest Service crew provide authentic material--sometimes startlingly so--for his observations. If you want a look behind the flames to see what drives these people to come back year after blistering year then read this book."--John N. Maclean, author of Fire on the Mountain (08/20/2007)

"The book is beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated with truly surprising findings. . . . "On the Fireline" illustrates the unique questions, methods, and findings made possible by the sociological imagination and is, thus, an excellent text with which to solidify a semester's worth of sociological training. Further, because Desmond interweaves compelling narratives, complex theory, and a discussion of methodological rigor, it solidifies students' understanding of exactly how useful, and fascinating, the sociological lens can be."--Lisa Wade "Teaching Sociology "

"In recent years, ethnographers have tried to face up to the Bourdieuian challenge of showing how aspects of culture are rooted in daily practices and bodies. In this beautifully written work of participant observation, Matthew Desmond takes us into the world of wildland firefighters to help us better understand the dynamics of dangerous organizations and the workers who hold the line. At the same time, he moves ethnography forward: rather than following the all too common procedure of asserting the existence of knowledges that 'go without saying' for his subjects, Desmond shows in detail how habitus actually operates in everyday life."--Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk and Slim s Table (08/20/2007)"

Rich in gritty detail, Matthew Desmond s sociological study of a firecrew is a welcome addition to the literature of wildfire. His four years on a backcountry Forest Service crew provide authentic material sometimes startlingly so for his observations. If you want a look behind the flames to see what drives these people to come back year after blistering year then read this book. --John N. Maclean, author of Fire on the Mountain (08/20/2007)"

"On the Fireline" is a riveting account of firemen of the U.S. Forest Service tackling wildland fires, as well as a detailed chronicle of the training, preparation, and bonhomie of depot life. By exploring how joining a firecrew matches, confirms, and extends the values of the rural culture within which the recruits grew up, Desmond offers a unique perspective on the social and psychological motivations for firefighting. The richness of the data he uncovers and his arresting style of presentation make this a distinctive and evocative work. --Paul Willis, author of Learning to Labor (08/20/2007)"

In recent years, ethnographers have tried to face up to the Bourdieuian challenge of showing how aspects of culture are rooted in daily practices and bodies. In this beautifully written work of participant observation, Matthew Desmond takes us into the world of wildland firefighters to help us better understand the dynamics of dangerous organizations and the workers who hold the line.At the same time, he moves ethnography forward: rather than following the all too common procedure of asserting the existence of knowledges that go without saying for his subjects, Desmond shows in detail how habitus actually operates in everyday life. --Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk and Slim s Table (08/20/2007)"

About the Author

Matthew Desmond is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars 18 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating! 26 Oct. 2007
By Dr. Michael Lindsay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Desmond's work crackles with rich detail, careful analysis, and helpful insights that not only teach us a great deal about the life of a firecrew but also the social meaning of risk, discipline, and place. Beautifully written, On the Fireline helps us understand the challenges and opportunities wildland firefighters face and what draws them to lead lives of the brink of danger. Many ethnographies generate more heat than light, but Desmond strikes the right balance, for this is a story that both captivates and educates.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag...firefighting and psychology 15 Nov. 2009
By Mary G. Longorio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
On the Fireline is Matthew Desmond's sociological study of his time serving on wildland firefighting crews over several summers. Desmond was a college student and seasonal firefighter who recorded his observations of life on a fire crew. That is the one problem with his writing, there is a detached and a tiny feeling of poor less educated coworkers throughout the book. His details of what wildland firefighting entails is raw and gritty and some of the best writing about the actual work I have read. What throws this book off course are his observations and suppositions of the psychological and sociological forces driving his coworkers. He does a good job of exposing the deeply entrenched macho attitude within the firefighting community, but throws some of his coworkers under the bus to illustrate his point. Mixed in the observations are some thoughtful comments about the way the firefighting culture helps extend the rural culture that is disappearing in the US today. Desmond also throws in some observations on the necessity of conservation and land management and the constant struggle between the two. This book has some really wonderful writing but there are some portions that read more like a dissertation which muddle the message.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wildfire 3 Dec. 2009
By Chris N. Goodman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an enjoyable read since I am a 31 year firefighter. Some of my best memories are fighting wildfire as a hand crew member, an engine compary firefighter, and a helitack crew member. This book describes the best and worst of firefighting in ways that puts you into the action and you know what the author is talking about. Mars and Venus readers should be required to read this.
1.0 out of 5 stars Torch it 5 Mar. 2016
By Philip S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book outlines the true stereotypical, "what it takes to be a firefighter" attitude, and trust me it addresses the stereotype well. But Desmond, having only worked for one fire crew, seems to know what it took for that crew to be cohesive. However, having worked for a couple different crews I can confidently say they are all different. I got about 40 pages in and stopped reading. Firefighters come from all different walks of life and serve many purposes on and off the line. Desmond does a great job at judging his inferior crew mates. The nation needs more Firefighters, that comes with encouragement of fellow crew mates, not judgement based on their backgrounds. We are all here to make the same difference.
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating! 16 July 2016
By George M. Bernier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Desmond's "participant-observer" sociological approach to studying the wild land firefighters was fascinating. A well written, interesting and thoughtful book.
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