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Holding Fire: A Reckoning with the American West

“Beautifully observed. . . This jewel of a book belongs on the shelf with our best Western writers—Norman MacLean, Pam Houston, and Annie Proulx.”—John Vaillant, bestselling author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce

From the award-winning author of Down from the Mountain, a memoir of inheritance, history, and one gun’s role in the violence that shaped the American West—and an impassioned call to forge a new way forward

Bryce Andrews was raised to do no harm. The son of a pacifist and conscientious objector, he moved from Seattle to Montana to tend livestock and the land as a cowboy. For a decade, he was happy. Yet, when Andrews inherited his grandfather’s Smith & Wesson revolver, he felt the weight of the violence braided into his chosen life. Other white men who’d come before him had turned firearms like this one against wildlife, wilderness, and the Indigenous peoples who had lived in these landscapes for millennia. This was how the West was “won.” Now, the losses were all around him and a weapon was in his hand.

In precise, elegiac prose, Andrews chronicles his journey to forge a new path for himself, and to reshape one handgun into a tool for good work. As waves of gun violence swept the country and wildfires burned across his beloved valley, he began asking questions—of ranchers, his Native neighbors, his family, and a blacksmith who taught him to shape steel—in search of a new way to live with the land and with one another. In laying down his arms, he transformed an inherited weapon, his ranch, and the arc of his life.

Holding Fire is a deeply felt memoir of one Western heart’s wild growth, and a personal testament to how things that seem permanent—inheritance, legacies of violence, forged steel—can change.

Bryce Andrews is the author of Down from the Mountain, which won the Banff Mountain Book Competition and was a Montana Book Award Honor Title and an Amazon Best Science Title of 2019. His first book was Badluck Way, which won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, the Reading the West Book Award for nonfiction, and the High Plains Book Award for both nonfiction and debut book. Andrews grew up in Seattle, Washington, and spent a decade working on ranches in the high valleys of Montana. He lives near Missoula with his family.