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The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska Hardcover – November 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"I know that the first two letters of 'memoir' spell 'me,' but the kind of memoir I like best is one that goes beyond being simply a personal account and instead tells a larger story. The Map of My Dead Pilots by Colleen Mondor does exactly that. . . . This isn't a neatly narrated, chronological account with a clean beginning and a clear end. Rather, in lyrical, impressionistic prose she relates the stories she tells of the pilots she knew—some still living and some now dead—to the myth and the reality of Alaska.

It's a story of danger, of loss, of courage, of unsavory landing strips and forbidding mountains, of delivering mail and making mercy flights, of adrenaline and prayer, of unpredictably changeable winds and oncoming storms, of snow, of difficult decisions, of good fortune and bad luck, and, always, of the unbelievable cold. But it's also about why we choose the lives we do, how we rewrite our pasts to make sense of ourselves to the person we've become, what we choose to remember, and how and why we forget what we do: It's about myth-making, storytelling and memory. . . ." --Nancy Pearl, NPR's Morning Edition

"Strap yourselves in. Map of My Dead Pilots is one hell of a ride, one of the best Alaska books ever. In gorgeous, literary prose that nails the rhythms of a barroom conversation and plumbs the depth of the human soul, Colleen Mondor writes a one-way ticket into the world of Alaska aviation. If Shakespeare and Hemingway teamed up to write an Alaska reality show, it might go something like this." —Nick Jans, twenty-year resident of arctic bush Alaska and author of The Last Light Breaking and The Grizzly Maze
"The Map of My Dead Pilots is that other kind of memoir—galvanizing, exhilarating, fresh.  The ridiculously daring pilots of the Alaskan frontier are here, of course—meticulously rendered, artfully arranged.  But undergirding it all is Mondor’s own tremendous passion for a particular place and time, her enormous skills as a storyteller, and her brave (let’s call it sublime) commitment to writing down what cannot be forgotten. Don’t miss this book.  Please don’t."
—Beth Kephart, National Book Award finalist and author, most recently, of You Are My Only
“If it’s said that dead men tell no tales, then, thank goodness, Mondor is around to do so. . . . Mondor, who walks the tightrope between admiration and detachment with a deft and agile balance, presents an equitable yet passionate memoir that virtually flies off the page.” —Booklist starred review
"In The Map of My Dead Pilots, Mondor does a great job of giving readers a well-documented, frank, and clear idea of the harrowing nature of flying in Alaska. It’s not “Northern Exposure meets Air America” as the flap copy reads—it’s actually something much more interesting. Highly recommended." —

From the Back Cover

The Map of My Dead Pilots is about flying, pilots, and Alaska, a place where aviation has come to be synonymous with the myths and legends of the Last Frontier. Colleen Mondor spent four years running dispatch operations for a Fairbanks-based commuter and charter airline—and she knows all too well the gap between the romance and reality of small plane piloting in the wildest territory of the United States. From overloaded aircraft and wings covered in ice to flying sled dogs and dead bodies, commercial piloting in Alaska is about living hard and working harder.

Ultimately, it is the pilots themselves—drawn to the career for reasons ranging from desperation to cool-handed professionalism—who capture her imagination. From the cockpit to the bar to long hours spent at the “Company,” Mondor brings to light the camaraderie it takes to stay sane at a job that demands all your heart and soul and never truly lets you go. In fine detail, Mondor reveals the all-too-casual nature of aircraft accidents, the tragic history of Alaskan flying, and a world that demands a close communion with extreme physical danger and emotional toughness.

The Map of My Dead Pilots is an engrossing narrative whose gritty, no-holds-barred style is reminiscent of the works of Ken Kesey and Tim O’Brien.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762773618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762773619
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have no standing to remark on a book about flying in Alaska. I have not endured the awful cold, withstood the cutting wind, peered into the frozen fog. Like everyone else, I've seen the photos - watched the films - read the stories. But of course, there are stories and there are stories.

Early in the 1990's, with a degree in Aviation Management and a need to expand the boundaries of her life, Florida-girl Colleen Mondor went to Alaska and took a job as a Dispatcher for an air-charter company (what aviators refer to as a Part 135 operation) in Fairbanks. For seven years she scheduled aircraft, typed manifests, wrangled customers, pitched in on the ramp and soaked up the reality of Alaskan aviation. And she befriended pilots and got to know them, and watched as they departed in ragged, challenging Alaska weather. And dined and drank with them when they returned. And drank with their friends when they didn't.

She earned a graduate degree in History while she worked in Alaska, studying the origins of Aviation in the Far North. She learned about Eielson and Merrill and the Wiens and other legendary names, not just accepting the stories that sustain the legends, but delving into contemporaneous sources from the 1920's.

She's blended this historical knowledge with the perceptions derived from her personal experience, allowing it all to simmer for a decade, and has now given us something more than a mémoire. "The Map of My Dead Pilots" has a tremendous immediacy and the ring of truth. It's for people who have shivered in Alaskan cold to comment on the accuracy of Ms. Mondor's details, but she gets the airplane stuff spot on. And, oh yes, the lady can write. This is a hard book to put down.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. Hill on July 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read this book upon the recommendation of Nancy Pearl, who was on NPR in May recommending good summer reads, this book being one of them. Normally Nancy doesn't steer me wrong, but this time she did. The stories told in this book were interesting; there are tales of crashes, interesting and bizarre cargo, difficult passengers, bad weather, and dangerous flying. But the writing is weak and the stories end up falling flat as a result. Sometimes the amateur writing actually made me cringe. It's really too bad, because the source material is strong. But it's just not executed well. This book would have benefited from a stronger editor and another few revisions. If you want to read a GOOD story about flying in Alaska, get your hands on "Eiger Dreams" by Jon Krakauer and read the essay "The Flyboys of Talkeetna."
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joni Sensel on January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book; it's very well written, so conversational you feel like you're listening to the author over coffee, and it's chock full of anecdotes that make us "Outsiders" shake our heads -- especially when remembering that this story is contemporary, essentially, not reflecting on experiences fifty years ago or more. The structure of the book is a little surprising at first, but the reason for that structure soon falls into place as it becomes clear that it's not just a collection of stories but an exploration, one trying to understand human behavior, human motivations, and our own senses of mortality, futility, purpose, self-knowledge, and the definitions of heroism. A fabulous combination of entertainment and thought-provoking (and you can skip the thought-provoking if you prefer sheer entertainment).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alison Gresik on January 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This memoir is deceptively simple at first, but through a lyrical, searching voice, circling at various heights over the same themes and events, Mondor builds to a powerful impact. You think this book is about the dangers of Alaskan flying when it's actually about story-telling and the elusive nature of truth and memories. The structure and tone of the book feel refreshingly original, and I'm grateful for Mondor's reverent observation of herself and the world of the pilots she came to know.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By K. Sowa on November 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I live in a world that revolves around aviation, so I was very excited to read this memoir. Piloting a charter plane in Alaska means you are flying in what can be harsh conditions. It also means flying by sight, unusual cargo (everything from dogs to dead bodies) and it can mean some pretty risky situations for the pilot and the crew. I was immediately drawn into the book by Colleen Mondor's writing style; it is straightforward but the feelings she had for the people and the place really came through. You get an opportunity to look into a unique way of life and see all that is beautiful and awful about the pilots, what brought them to Alaska, and how they ended up flying these planes.

One aspect that I find very appealing is that you don't have to be an aviation buff to enjoy this book. The experiences of the pilots go beyond simply flying and are full of adventure, sorrow, laughter and even death. It is a way of life for them. Many of the stories stayed with me, but one in particular, about a young girl who was overdosing, left me shaking my head. (I won't spoil the story, but it wasn't what I expected at all.) When I finished reading this book, I had to remind myself that this was actually about real people and that these people, or those like them, are still flying and some are still not making it back. It is a world that is very different from my comfortable suburban existence, which made it all the more fascinating to me. This is a wonderful book and I can think of several people on my list who will find it in their stocking this Christmas.
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