Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World

Finalist, National Book Awards 2023 for Nonfiction

ISBN 9781524732851
Knopf / Penguin Random House
Author photo of John Vaillant. (Photo credit: John Sinal)
John Vaillant

John Vaillant’s acclaimed, award-winning nonfiction books, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed and The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, were national bestsellers. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

In May 2016, Fort McMurray, the hub of Canada’s oil industry and America’s biggest foreign supplier, was overrun by wildfire. The multi-billion-dollar disaster melted vehicles, turned entire neighborhoods into firebombs, and drove 88,000 people from their homes in a single afternoon. Through the lens of this apocalyptic conflagration—the wildfire equivalent of Hurricane Katrina—John Vaillant warns that this was not a unique event, but a shocking preview of what we must prepare for in a hotter, more flammable world.

Fire has been a partner in our evolution for hundreds of millennia, shaping culture, civilization, and, very likely, our brains. Fire has enabled us to cook our food, defend and heat our homes, and power the machines that drive our titanic economy. Yet this volatile energy source has always threatened to elude our control, and in our new age of intensifying climate change, we are seeing its destructive power unleashed in previously unimaginable ways.

With masterly prose and a cinematic eye, Vaillant takes us on a riveting journey through the intertwined histories of North America’s oil industry and the birth of climate science, to the unprecedented devastation wrought by modern forest fires, and into lives forever changed by these disasters. John Vaillant’s urgent work is a book for—and from—our new century of fire, which has only just begun.

Judges Citation

Fire Weather is an expansive book that is at once a gripping tale of calamity, a deft primer on the science of fire, a historical account of the rise of the fossil fuel industry, and a profoundly humane examination of the biological and political drivers of the climate crisis. Through its central story—an intimately told account of the catastrophic 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, a booming oil town in Alberta, Canada—John Vaillant offers a haunting and deeply-researched vision of our combustible future.


John Vaillant at the 2023 National Book Awards Finalist Reading