Reviews for Working Fire







“The book works on two levels: as an inside view of firefighting that vividly re-creates the excitement and fear intrinsic to it, and as an account of how a son of the flower-power class turned into the real thing, a passionately dedicated firefighter. It doesn’t hurt that Unger is a lucid writer whose prose almost always is set at just the right pitch, something that all too many professional writers often fail to achieve.”

Read the entire Washington Post review…

Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

Firing line: the accidental hero
In a new memoir, East Bay writer Zac Unger combines the literary life with saving burning buildings. (this link opens in a new browser window)

Read the entire San Francisco Chronicle article…

Annie Nakao, Chronicle Staff Writer

“All the critical stuff Hollywood never had time to tell you in special-effects epics like Backdraft…Full of rare insights on one of the toughest jobs anyone has to do.”

Read the full Kirkus review…

Agent: Sloan Harris. Kirkus Review

“Unger’s sweaty-palmed memoir, “Working Fire” tells of his switch from Ivy Leaguer destined for a life sentence in academia to hard-baked Oakland firefighter. The book…sucks you in. And like the best adventure tales–from Jon Krakauer’s to Sebastian Junger’s–it steps out of the way and lets you go through the adventure yourself.”

Esquire Magazine

“Unger offers a finely detailed insider’s look at big-city firefighting in Oakland, California. He’s a likable narrator and has a natural wit; he has a keen awareness of issues of class, race and culture, but he doesn’t attempt to tackle them by delivering a Message. For all his welcome subtlety, the book reveals much of firefighters’ everyday world, garnering an even deeper appreciation for their ordinary contributions and sacrifices.”

Elle Magazine

“WORKING FIRE is a five alarm memoir. Unger puts the firefighter’s boots on your feet and the oxygen mask over your mouth. When busting down a door to fight flames, visiting a nursing home, and checking the trunk of a burnt car for a corpse, he does so with equal compassion, verve, and love for the work that might someday kill him or his friends as they protect you. Also, the book is often very funny–humor keeps the firefighter sane–and offers a keen view of a specialized and dangerous lifestlye.”

Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

“We often associate big-city firefighting with the older, eastern cities, but you will learn from “Working Fire” that the firefighters of the west climb as many ladders as their brothers in other parts of America, and with the same attitude of getting the job done no matter the danger. After reading this book you will tell your neighbors about the night twelve houses burned, the poignancy of a firefighter’s funeral, and dozens of other memorable events told above the roar of a responding fire engine. I hope Zac Unger becomes an important new voice in the national fire service, for with this book he has become one in its literature.”

Dennis Smith, author of Report From Engine Co. 82

“Firefighters are a different breed of man, yet somehow they are all alike, whether they ride trucks in El Paso or Cambridge. Zac Unger is one of those men, and his tales of life and death and survival in the smoky hells of Oakland are gripping ones indeed. Working Fire comes from the hands of that rarest of beings, a truly gifted young writer.”

Larry Brown, author of Joe, author of The Rabbit Factory

“Zac Unger knows fire, but far more interestingly, he knows human nature. It’s an exceedingly rare combination. In hard, beautiful prose, he demythologizes his storied profession while never diminishing our fascination for fire’s strange and powerful caprices.”

Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers

“This book is too short; I wanted to follow Zac Unger into more burning buildings, more troubled streets, more firehouses. It’s a thrilling story, not just because it’s a rookie fireman’s but because of Unger’s bravery and his brain: he is an outsider-turned-insider, a preppie who heard the call. I’d like to read about Zac Unger doing almost anything.”

Ted Conover, author of NewJack, the National Book Critics Award winner for Nonfiction

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