Wilderness is impersonal. It does not care whether you live or die. It does not care how much you love it.
So while we are loving the Yellowstone wilderness, while we play in it, indeed revel in it, taking it on its own terms and helping to protect it, we foolish mortals must always remember to respect it. For not only can it bite us, but, indeed, it can devour us.
While reading this my first thought was he could have just subtitled it, “People are stupid”. Indeed, most of the deaths in this book are the direct result of people being “foolhardy”. There are a few genuine accidents and some deaths by others actions, negligent acts and even homicides. Lee Whittlesey covers them all. What is not included in this book are deaths from auto, motorcycle, or snowmobile wrecks or deaths from heart attacks or illness.
The book is divided into two sections: Death by Nature which covers hot springs, wild animals, poisonous plants and gas, lightning, falling rocks and trees (although these could also be in next section), avalanche, freezing, cave-in, falls, smoke, earthquakes, and drowning. Part II is Death by Man which covers Indian battles, fights, horse and wagon and stagecoach incidents, accidental and deliberate shootings, murder, suicide, missing and presumed dead, gas stove explosions, structural fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, death on road (bus accidents) and airplane crashes (military and private planes).
While this could have been a dry recitation of names and manor of death, Lee Whittlesey has provided a narrative with the deaths, how it happened and how he came by the information. He also gives a little bit of the history of his life and also why he wrote the book. This is actually the second edition, the first being published in 1995, and has more deaths. Some are older ones, the information sent to him by people who know about them. Some are deaths that occurred between 1995 and the publishing of this book.
While this is not an exciting, page turning book, I found it to be very interesting and informative. It made me glad that my parents were of the mindset that when in Yellowstone National Park, you obeyed the rules the Rangers stated because, “The rules are there for a reason!”, and we left Yellowstone the same way we came in, with our limbs and lives intact. I did try to get a bear to eat my sister, but as is brought out in this book, they are wild animals and uncooperative.
The book ends with Whittlesey reinforcing the safety rules we should all follow because wilderness is after all wild and can devour us. A word of caution from me, while not gory, some of the descriptions of injuries in this book are graphic, for instance, he describes what happens to the human body when immersed in boiling hot water.