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A River Runs Through It Hardcover – May 15, 1989

4.6 out of 5 stars 375 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

One of the best-selling audiotapes ever, this title became hard to find recently, as it fell victim to a series of buyouts of various publishers. HighBridge is putting a new cover on this classic reading by Ivan Doig, Montana native and author of This House of Sky.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Exquisite . . . this recording joins the ranks of the few near-perfect matches of reader and author.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 161 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1st edition (May 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226500608
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226500607
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (375 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George G. Kiefer on April 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Norman Maclean began writing late in life, passing away not long after penning this extraordinary piece, depriving us of his gift just as he arrived. The book is actually three short stories but the focus is clearly on the novella "A River Runs Through It". On the surface, the title story is his recollections of his father, a Presbyterian minister, and his troubled but talented brother, with whom he fished. Set in the Montana of Maclean's youth, he paints exquisitely vivid and beautiful word pictures of a land and water and family now gone. At the core is the frustration of the often-futile attempt of trying to help another or trying to save a loved one from their self-destruction. There are passages here which are as wonderfully written as anything in English. Not a page passes without discovering a superbly crafted gem. "So it is...that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don't know what part to give or maybe we don't like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed." "It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us." Throughout the tale, his life, his religion, his family, his fly-fishing are metaphors, each for the other. And the words of each are heard in the waters and stone of the rivers. He is haunted, he tells us, by waters. I am haunted by his words which approach poetry.
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Format: Hardcover
A River Runs Through It is quite simply the single greatest book I have ever read. Maclean's language is as terse and economical as any in Hemingway, but Maclean imparts the type of true feeling and emotion into his simple words that Hemingway himself was incapable of producing. A River Runs Through It is not a story about fishing, but rather a tale of family. The family just happens to share a love of fishing, and Maclean's love of waters has more to do with its close association with his family than with the actual fishing that takes place there. It is the family's tragic loss of Paul, the true master fly-fisherman of the clan, that ties Maclean to waters and inspires the closing lines of the novella. A River Runs Through It delves into interpersonal relationships in a manner which grips the reader and makes him/her reflect on his/her own family. Although I am myself an avid fisherman, I am a more avid reader and I can say that for my part, the fishing element of the story is unimportant except for its association with Maclean's family. Maclean's prose is beautiful to point that his description of a common object or occurence could bring the reader to tears. A River Runs Through It is quite simply the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Period.
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Format: Hardcover
When, several years ago, I started reading a lot of fishing books, one title kept cropping up in other books. Every author seemed to defer to A River Runs Through It; it was universally acknowledged to be the greatest fishing story ever written. I dutifully sought it out and read it. I'm sure everyone has seen the movie by now, so I won't be giving anything away when I confess that Paul's death upset me so much that, on that first reading, I hated the book. It was like Old Yeller and the MASH where Henry died and Brian's Song all rolled into one. Returning to it better prepared, I simply enjoyed it for the language and for the bittersweet family story it relates and I learned to love it. Then, in 1992, Robert Redford brought the story to the screen and the beauty of the scenery and some terrific performances, combined with the large chunks of narrative taken directly from the book, resulted in one of the better movies of recent years and cemented the book's place in the pantheon of great American stories.
Amazingly, Norman MacLean, who taught English at the University of Chicago for 43 years, did not publish this book until 1976, after retiring from his teaching job in 1973. I don't know whether he had worked on the story throughout his whole life, as was the case with the posthumous book
Young Men and Fire, but the final product has such beautifully sculpted language, that it would not be hard to believe that it is the end result of four decades of effort. Here is the famous opening:
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others.
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Format: Paperback
"A River Runs Through It" is a remarkable work of art, and, to borrow a turn of phrase from Maclean himself, one of the best examples of "the pure and the good" of American literaturen there is to be fouundn. Maclean's prose is sparse, and in this it is easilly comparable to Hemmingway's. But there is something more, I think, in Maclean's story than is to be found in most of Hemmingway's works. Part of this arises from Maclean's uncanny sense of rhythm; he writes of the rhythm of fly-casting, and his prose has a rhythm just as meticulous as that of the proper casting a rod. The style and sound of Maclean's work is unparalleled.

This allows "A River Runs Through It" to reveal a story of surprising depth and meaning while still remaining, as Maclean writes in his introduction, "Western." There is no mistaking the story as anything but a western piece of literature; the sparse and rhythmical style Maclean uses mirrors the themes and content of his work; the careful simplicity of the prose mirrors and emphasizes the careful simplicity of the story, in a similar fashion to how Fitzgerald's decadent style mirrors and emphasizes his own Jazz-age tales.

But what of the story itself? It is, as others say, more than a 'fly-fishing' story, and it expresses truths so simple and fundamental that they remain elusive despite their qualities. The story has humor and poignancy, and is undeniably powerful.

It is a shame Maclean didn't write complete more writing between the publication of "River" and his death ("Young Men and Fire" being published posthumously and in a somewhat ramshackle shape), but it is also perhaps fitting. A long list of titles does not a great author make. Maclean writes of simple truth with such humanity that even taken alone, "A River Runs Through It" forces one to include Maclean among the great American authors, and stands as a testament to both its truths and its author.
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