How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew

How to Build a Fire cover

Author Erin Bried knew only one of her grandfathers and still wonders what he might have taught her if only she’d asked. This experience inspired her to interview ten other grandfathers, all members of the Greatest Generation, and share their wisdom in her new book, How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew.

I found her book sweet, touching, funny and filled with truly practical advice that both men and women will find useful. Nine of the ten men she interviewed served in World War II and shared some poignant stories about living through the Great Depression. All of them are grandfathers many times over and six are great-grandfathers.

The book contains over 100 “how-tos” from the practical (How to assemble a good tool kit) to the personal (How to write a love letter.) There are lofty topics on how to support your family and lighter ones that include how to get the perfect shave. The book is divided into 11 sections that encompass all areas of life from leading to bonding to playing to entertaining to loving to fixing.

All of the tips have one thing in common: Mastering them (or at least giving them a try) will save you money, grow your confidence, make your life easier and help you have fun. Some of the tips are things that we all could always use refreshers on, like how to be brave or how to make love last.

Erin said she wanted the titles to be not only informative, but also fun and funny, as in the section on Cooking titled Be Butch: How to buy meat. Angel Rodriguez, one of the grandfathers she interviewed, told her the secret to telling a clean joke is “Always use double entrendre. That way you’re always safe.” She took his advice to heart.

Erin found the men she interviewed through their children and grandchildren, many of whom had read her first book, How to Sew a Button And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew. She sought out some herself too, for example, Chuck Tatum, who starred in HBO’s The Pacific. After watching the miniseries, she knew she wanted to talk to him. She watched a video of Philip Spooner giving a speech at a marriage equality hearing in Maine a couple of years ago, and was so impressed and moved by him that she looked him up in the phonebook. She called him at 11am, and they didn’t get off the phone until dinnertime. “It was as if he’d been waiting his whole life for someone to call him and write a book about him.”

Erin introduces the “ten incredible grandfathers” at the beginning of the book with short biographies and captures their voices so authentically in each of their “how to steps.” I envy their offspring who’ve been privy to their storytelling and sage advice.

How to Build a Fire would make a great wedding gift for a young couple or grandparents who want to reminisce about the good old days.


  1. says

    I read about this book and thought that it sounded neat. It’s cool that the younger generation is developing an appreciation of the older generation and the knowledge they have accumulated.