When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution

Finalist, National Book Awards 2002 for Nonfiction

When Smoke Ran Like Water, by Devra Davis, book cover
ISBN 9780465015221
Basic Books |
Dr. Devra Davis author photo
Devra Davis

Devra Davis is an American epidemiologist and writer. Her book When Smoke Ran Like Water, which begins with the tale of the Donora Smog of 1948, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002. More about this author >

Award Years

Award Status

Award Categories

In When Smoke Ran Like Water, the world-renowned epidemiologist Devra Davis confronts the public triumphs and private failures of her lifelong battle against environmental pollution. She documents the shocking toll of a public-health disaster-300,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and Europe from the effects of pollution-and asks why we remain silent. For Davis, the issue is personal: Pollution is what killed many in her family and forced some of the others, survivors of the 1948 smog emergency in Donora, Pennsylvania, to live out their lives with impaired health. She describes that episode and also makes startling revelations about how the deaths from the London smog of 1952 were falsely attributed to influenza; how the oil companies and auto manufacturers fought for decades to keep lead in gasoline, while knowing it caused brain damage; and many other battles. When Smoke Ran Like Water makes a devastating case for change.