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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting page turner with theme: "Don't Be Stupid", August 29, 1999
This review is from: Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park (Paperback)
At first glance, it sounds like a morbid book. Two hundred seventy six pages about people who have died in various ways in Yellowstone National Park. In reality, it is a fascinating book with an underlying message of safety and caution in National Parks. You might expect a book which is written by an historian to have an academic tone and be full of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. "Death in Yellowstone" by Yellowstone National Park Historian, Lee H. Whittlesey, does have the footnotes and bibliography. It also reads like a Stephen King novel, drawing the reader to the next page. Whittlesey even used a King technique of quoting song lyrics or some other source to introduce his chapters. Even many of the footnotes and bibliography entries are annotated with additional, interesting information.
The book's subtitle, "Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park", sets the tone. Nearly every chronicled death in the book really is due to carelessness on the part of the deceased; or on the part of someone else.
The historian's perspective gives Whittlesey the opportunity to dig into the archives of Yellowstone as well as newspaper accounts in cities in the area taking him (and the readers) back to the 1800's and the park's earliest deaths. For recent events he often spoke with "primary sources", witnesses and family members.
Each of the 25 chapters takes the reader to a different and bizarre way that death has occurred in Yellowstone National Park. The chapter titles, themselves, often give a light hearted and much needed break from the serious nature of the overall work. Chapter titles include: "I Think I Shall Never See --Yellowstone's Deaths from Falling Trees"; "Malice in Wonderland --Yellowstone Murders"; and "The Gloom of Earthquakes --Shaky Breaky Park".
The opening chapter deals with deaths by falling (or jumping) into hot springs and geysers. The first incident in the book sets the tone and the overall theme....."Don't do stupid things in Yellowstone". It is the 1981 account of David Allen Kirwan, who dove head first into the 202 degree water of Celestine Pool of the Lower Geyser Basin to save a friend's dog that had also jumped into the boiling water <---YOU DID read that correctly --a witness described Kirwan's dive as a flying, swimming pool type dive. Among his final words after his friends were able to pull him from the water....."That was a stupid thing I did".
In most instances, it was s "stupid thing" that caused a death in Yellowstone. Usually, it was because a visitor did not heed a warning, or made a conscious decision to ignore the warning. In "Death in Yellowstone", Whittlesey repeats those warnings...over and over again. He also explains in fairly graphic terms the consequences of ignoring them.
"Death in Yellowstone" may save lives. There are few history books, so entertaining and so engrossing that can claim that.
The Wyoming Companion
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 24, 2009 7:11:07 PM PDT
L. Shedd says:
I too read this little book several years ago and it changed my way of thinking about our 1st National Park. It opens your eyes and can save your life. Very interesting.

Posted on Mar 28, 2013 2:07:51 PM PDT
Mike in SF says:
If people are *that* stupid, the book won't do much to prevent more loss of life.
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Location: Cody, Wyoming

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