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Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park Paperback – June 1, 1995

4.4 out of 5 stars 128 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Whittlesey believes that far too many people enter our national parks with "a false sense of security." He then goes on to chronicle the deaths in Yellowstone National Park of more than 250 people. Most of the deaths, Whittlesey argues, occurred because of human mistakes and "negligence." In this sense, the book is meant to teach and warn about the many dangers that exist in Yellowstone itself, and wild areas in general. The catalog of deaths includes all manner of dying at the hands of nature (hot springs, bears, bison, avalanches, exposure, and forest fires top the list), as well as deaths strictly caused by human actions (murders, suicides, carbon monoxide poisoning, car and plane accidents, and so forth). A little morbid, but strangely fascinating. Brian McCombie


...one thing is certain: it is the most fascinating book ever written about Yellowstone Park and its environs. (Journal of the West)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Roberts Rinehart; 1st edition (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570980217
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570980213
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Whenever I mention this book to anyone, they are horrified by the title. It is not a "Faces of Death" book of gore. Obviously, the book chronicles deaths within the Park and is therefore not exactly light reading. But, Mr. Whittlesley (the official NPS Yellowstone archivist) tells the stories of the deaths with a historian's tact. There are few - if any - people on earth that know as much about the park as Whittlesley. One version of his "Yellowstone Place Names" (the longer version of the one sold in tourist stores and on Amazon.com)is so comprehensive it is (only?) available on microfiche!
Having lived in the Park, I know it's a very different world. (The story noted by Rhonda, another reviewer, about the bison goring a car - a Lake Lodge employee's Geo Metro in 1991 - is actually quite true.) Many of the deaths are from things you might think of - like climbing falls, eating poisonous plants, and hot pot incidents. Even as I am writing this, another Old Faithful employee died yesterday (8/22/00) in the Park after falling into Cavern Spring in Lower Geyser basin (see Idaho Statesman, 8/23/00, p.2A). But, the book is also full of deaths of the kind you find everywhere else in the world - like heart attacks, suicide, murders (yes, several!), car accidents, plane crashes (six of them - one site of which I've visited - with 20 deaths!), etc. The earliest chronicled deaths are in 1839 and continue through 1994.
Some of the over 300 incidents are briefly related as the facts are slim. Others are told in great detail with quotes, newspaper stories, cemetery inscriptions and exact place names. The simple chronology takes up 5 pages, while the meat of the text takes 198 pages!
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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback
Having visited the park i can see how foolhardy accidents happen but don't understand why they happen since all kind of warnings are given out by rangers when entering the park and sign posted with same messages. This book goes into as much detail as could be found about various deaths in the park, geyeser, drowning, bear, bison, hiking, murder, plane accidents etc.. Its strange to be looking at a particular geyeser or steaming pool to know someone died there and how and when it happened. To see a bison walking closely by and giving proper respect for the animal only to see a father trying to put their child on the bison for a picture (saw this myself). This book will give you a different perspective about the park and help to identifiy potential dangers for foolhardy behavior.
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Growing up in southeast Alaska, I've heard stories of tourists chasing a bear cub down the road near the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau as well as a tourist getting bitten while trying to feed a sandwich to a bear. I've been yelled at by a tourist for clapping and making noise to alert bears to my presence while hiking because they were concerned they would not see a bear with all the noise I was making (well, that is the point). With my experience with how dumb tourists can be in Alaska, I was interested to find out stories of tourists and others in Yellowstone.

This was a book that I had mixed feelings about. The first three chapters were the best. These chapters were on deaths from hot springs, death by park animals (except bears), and death by bears. The remaining 22 chapters range from death by poison gasses to death by vehicles. I felt these chapters while factual, were not very exciting.

Overall, I found the book decently researched, but overall I found it kind of depressing. I found the first chapter on the hot springs quite horrific (especially when some of the victims were young kids like my children and a couple involved dogs that just wanted to go swimming). As I read the book, I kept thinking the victims were someone's children, spouse, SO, friends, or other loved one. With this being said, I did find the book respectful and tasteful.

This is a book I think people can take a lesson from. Nature is real and while it should be enjoyed, people need to be reminded that it can be dangerous.
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