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Fire Weather

On sale

23rd May 2023

Price: £25

National Book Awards for Non-Fiction, 2023

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Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9781399720212

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* A Pulitzer Prize Finalist * A National Book Award Finalist * A Writers’ Trust Award Finalist *

No book feels timelier than John Vaillant’s Fire Weather . . . an adrenaline-soaked nightmare that is impossible to put down’ Cal Flyn, The Times

Superb and terrifying . . . it reads with pace and flair and a rich, furious clarity’ Katherine Rundell, author of Super-Infinite

A gripping account of this century’s most intense urban fire, and a panoramic exploration of the rapidly changing relationship between humanity and fire’s fierce energy.

In May 2016, Fort McMurray, Alberta, the hub of Canada’s oil industry, was overrun by wildfire. The multi-billion-dollar disaster turned entire neighbourhoods into firebombs and drove 90,000 people from their homes in a single afternoon. Through the story of this apocalyptic conflagration, John Vaillant explores the past and the future of our ever-hotter, more flammable world.

For hundreds of millennia, fire has been a partner in our evolution, shaping culture and civilization. Yet in our age of intensifying climate change, we are seeing its destructive power unleashed in ways never before witnessed by human beings. With masterly prose and cinematic style, Vaillant delves into the intertwined histories of the oil industry and climate science, the unprecedented devastation wrought by modern wildfires, and the lives forever changed by these disasters. Fire Weather is urgent reading for our new century of fire.

A towering achievement; an immense work of research, reflection and imagination’ Robert Macfarlane

‘Astounding on every page. John Vaillant is one of the great poetic chroniclers of the natural world’ David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth

‘It reads like a thriller . . . I could not put it down’ Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature


Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast
Fire Weather is a compulsively readable journey into our fiery times - by turns a propulsive account of the Fort McMurray Fire burning an oil town to ash; an investigation into the gas-guzzling economic systems that make wildfires so hot they melt steel (and so large they form their own weather); and a meditation on the human relationship with combustion. At the centre, Vaillant gives us fire itself as a character - fast, hungry, and evolving to shape the warming decades to come
Robert Macfarlane
A towering achievement; an immense work of research, reflection and imagination . . . Fire Weather is extraordinary in terms of its scope and range; it also sings and surprises at the level of the sentence. It grips like a philosophical thriller, warns like a beacon, and shocks to the core
Philip Gourevitch
In John Vaillant's vivid anatomy of the apocalyptic Fort McMurray inferno, the histories of humankind's ever-accelerating consumption of fossil fuel, and of our ever-increasing vulnerability to extreme wildfire, converge with the relentlessness of fate - and the urgency of prophecy
David Wallace-Wells
Riveting, spellbinding, astounding on every page. John Vaillant is one of the great poetic chroniclers of the natural world, and here he captures the majesty and horror of one of its great disasters - and what made it tragically possible
Stephen Pyne, author of The Pyrocene
The Fort McMurray fire was a vortex of people, ideas, institutions, forest, oil, city, and wind, the quirky and the existential, all mutating under the wanton impress of the Anthropocene Age. Fire Weather offers a compelling account of that tragedy, and a reimagining of a pyric infection that threatens to remake the planet
Ben Rawlence, author of The Treeline
A forensic account of the contradictions and costs of Canada's ill-fated tar sands adventure. Explosive reportage at its best
Searing . . . Vaillant's exploration of fire draws on physics and chemistry, philosophy and symbolism . . . His robust and vivid writing, detailed reporting, and urgent concern for the environment make for sizzling reading
Jay Griffiths, author of <i>Wild: An Elemental Journey</i>
This book is fuelled by Vaillant's genius for storytelling, ignited by intelligence both virtuosic and profound, and burns with the hell of a world on fire
Publishers Weekly
Gripping . . . Vaillant's exploration of this material is rich and illuminating, and his prose punchy and cinematic . . . The result is an engrossing disaster tale with a potent message
There's a lot of good Elizabeth Kolbert-level popular science writing here along with grittier portraits of the lives of the people who make their living among the tar sands and scrub . . . A timely, well-written work of climate change reportage
The Bookseller
A riveting exploration of fire and humankind. While for millennia, fire has been a partner in our evolution, Vaillant shows to devastating effect that in our age of climate change, we are seeing its destructive power unleashed in ways never before witnessed
Robert J. Wiersema, Toronto Star
Stunning and powerful ... Scrupulously and thoroughly researched ... one of the finest books of the year. Despite its density and the disturbing nature of many of its scenes, Fire Weather is an absolutely compelling read
Scientific American
Dramatic . . . Captivating . . . a fascinating history of regional exploitation and illustrative absurdities
David Wallace-Wells, New York Times
Mesmerizing . . . meticulous and meditative
Robert Moor, New York Magazine
Provides a refreshingly clear explanation of this hazy, uncanny moment in the earth's history . . . Vaillant is the type of journalist who picks a single narrative and monomaniacally researches it, plunging himself deeper and deeper into the murky details, and then emerges, many years later, with a small universe cupped in his hands . . . by turns heart-racing and horrifying
James Dinneen, New Scientist
Riveting . . . Fire Weather is notable for its vivid descriptions of the destructive power of a wildfire so big it creates its own weather . . . Using the drama of the wildfire as a way in, Vaillant gives a damning history of the Canadian oil sands industry and the environmental damage it has wrought on Alberta's forests and waters . . . The book's descriptions of the scale of the industry required to distil something usable from such a material are nearly as astonishing as its renderings of the fire
Paul Nuki, Daily Telegraph
Page-turning and pacy
Cal Flyn, The Times
No book feels timelier than John Vaillant's Fire Weather, a deeply reported narrative of one of Canada's most destructive recent wildfires . . . an adrenaline-soaked nightmare that is impossible to put down . . . The drama of the unfolding action and the righteous anger of the polemic concealed within are engrossing
Mark Cocker, Spectator
What makes Fire Weather so good is its in-depth analysis of the moral, political, environmental and even anthropological background to both the climate crisis and our relationship with fire in all its forms . . . We all need to heed this powerful book
Tim Adams, Observer
'All-consuming . . . Vaillant's urgent disaster story [is] meticulous in its detail, both human and geological in its scale, and often shocking in its conclusions
Nick Rennison, Daily Mail
Could not be a more timely work . . . Eloquent . . . his powerful book is a must read for anyone interested in our collective future
Derek Brower, Financial Times
A tale of terror from a climate change frontline . . . Fire Weather includes a lot about the science of fire and weather. But it is also a book about the cognitive dissonance in climate change discourse . . . Epic
Nigel Andrew, Literary Review
Impressive . . . a great piece of storytelling, well paced and relentlessly gripping . . . a remarkable, often thrilling book
Andrea Wulf, author <i>The Invention of Nature</i>
It reads like a thriller. It's a page turner. I could not put it down . . . This is an important book, serious in its focus but utterly compelling in its narrative pace, and it's beautifully written
*The 10 Best Books of 2023*, New York Times
All-too-timely . . . This book is both a real-life thriller and a moment-by-moment account of what happened [in the Fort McMurray fire] - and why, as the climate changes and humans don't, it will continue to happen again and again
Katherine Rundell, Guardian
Superb and terrifying . . . it reads with pace and flair and a rich, furious clarity
Steven Poole, Books of the Year, Guardian
Riveting . . . A deserved winner of this year's Baillie Gifford nonfiction prize
Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury
John Vaillant's Fire Weather reveals to readers a character as ruthless, creative, and destructive as any in modern literature: fire itself. Through dynamic prose, deep research, and a profound sense of the stakes on a planet beset by climate change, Vaillant traces how Canada's geological and economic history have converged to transform fire from a useful tool into an existential threat to our way of life. In the process, he crafts a narrative pulsing with beauty and annihilation, hubris and desire, and the unsettling revelation that what humanity has long considered its most important tool is no longer under our control.
John Washington, New York Review of Books
Few books on climate change have so viscerally captured the destruction we've wrought . . . This is all captivating, terrifying stuff, especially through Vaillant's excellent storytelling . . . You almost feel as if the paroxysmal blazes will burn to the last page
New Yorker
This alarming account tracks the destruction, the role of fire in industry in the past hundred and fifty years, and the disregarded alarms about the environment raised by scientists
Kate Knibbs, WIRED
A tortuously timely examination of the effects of climate change . . . Vaillant's book offers vital context for how the world's forests became more flammable'