Monday, November 28, 2011

The Map of My Dead Pilots

The Map of My Dead Pilots is about aviation in Alaska, and it cuts through myths and misconceptions in a most refreshing manner. The pilots in this book are, for the most part, not movie-style heroes defying dangerous weather to rush people to hospitals. They are human beings who come to Alaska for a variety of reasons. They compare themselves to bus drivers; their cargo often consists of potato chips and sodapop and kids' sports teams. Which isn't to say that their work isn't dangerous. Some of them make amazing landings, and some of them make stupid mistakes. The biggest risks they take are often for the money, or because they want to keep their jobs. The author, Colleen Mondor, acknowledges the glamorous myths even as she dispels them; she knows the stories would sound better if the pilots were always rescuing sick babies, rather than delivering the mail or flying passengers who simply could not stand spending one more night where they were.

But a lack of glamor actually makes the book more interesting. It's about how people really work, and why they really go where they go and take the chances they take. It's a series of true stories about flying in Alaska--some funny, some tragic, some incredible. They're the stories these pilots lived through and told and retold among themselves, their own oral tradition: the crashes, the strange cargo, the unbelievable cold.

If you want to be high-brow, you could say that Mondor acts here in the role of an anthropologist, collecting the folk histories of a subculture that most people never get to see firsthand. Or you could just say she's collected a set of stories that show people doing a job in difficult conditions: how they cope with it and how they rationalize it, and how they live and how they (sometimes) die.

The Map of My Dead Pilots, by Colleen Mondor, is nonfiction (adult, but I see no reason why young adults couldn't read it also).

source of recommended read: bought


  1. This sounds like a fascinating book. I love taking a break from my novels to read informative nonfiction. Great title, too.

  2. Yes, Cynthia, it was. I read very little nonfiction when I was younger, but now it's a substantial part of my reading. (Still have a soft spot for novels, though!)