Population: 485 (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

In this memoir, Perry recounts how he moved back to his very small Wisconsin hometown and reintegrated himself into the community by becoming a volunteer firefighter and first responder. The stories he tells contain dozens of moments that are both hilarious and heart-wrenching -- often within sentences of each other. The details about firefighting and working as an EMT are fascinating, as are the portraits Perry draws of various figures in the community -- and of the community itself. Perry's writing revives in me a sort of innocent belief in American communities, although there's nothing naïve or whitewashed about his portrayal of his town and its people. Infrastructure crumbles; petty cruelties persist; bad things happen, often to good people. But Perry, it seems, has found whatever secret thing it is that makes it worth it to go on. And there's a taste of it here between these pages. -- Anna Kaufman

— From May 2011


Mike Perry’s extraordinary and thoughtful account of meeting the people of his small hometown by joining the fire and rescue team was a breakout hit that “swells with unadorned heroism” (USA Today)

Welcome to New Auburn, Wisconsin (population: 485) where the local vigilante is a farmer’s wife armed with a pistol and a Bible, the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives (both of whom work at the only gas station in town), and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Michael Perry loves this place. He grew up here, and now-after a decade away-he has returned.

Unable to polka or repair his own pickup, his farm-boy hands gone soft after years of writing, Mike figures the best way to regain his credibility is to join the volunteer fire department. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, he tells a frequently comic tale leavened with moments of heartbreaking delicacy and searing tragedy.

Tracing his calls on a map in the little firehouse, he sees “a dense, benevolent web, spun one frantic zigzag at a time” from which the story of a tiny town emerges.

About the Author

Michael Perry is a humorist, radio host, songwriter, and the New York Times bestselling author of several nonfiction books, including Visiting Tom and Population: 485, as well as a novel, The Jesus Cow. He lives in northern Wisconsin with his family and can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com.

Praise For…

“Swells with unadorned heroism. He’s the real thing .”
— USA Today

“This is a quietly devastating book--intimate and disarming and lovely.”
— Adrienne Miller, Esquire
Product Details
ISBN: 9780061363504
ISBN-10: 0061363502
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Pages: 280
Language: English
Series: P.S.