Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire

Lizzie Johnson. Crown, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-13638-6
Journalist Johnson debuts with a brutal account of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. Drawing on firsthand accounts and 911 dispatch reports, Johnson follows a cast of residents, officials, and fire department workers as the fire ravaged their town and their lives changed. Outlining the factors that set the stage for the blaze, Johnson notes that fire management practices are not as straightforward as they seem: by the time the Camp Fire broke out, “a century’s worth of colonial fire suppression policies... had allowed the woods to become diseased and overgrown,” compared to Indigenous practices that historically cleared out debris with low-intensity burns. This, coupled with neglect on the part of the Pacific Gas and Electric company, whose equipment sparked the inferno, primed Paradise for disaster. Johnson’s attention to grisly detail can be overwhelming (the list of victims, along with how they were found, for instance)—but she balances the horror with compassion: “Maybe someday the town she had known would... rise strong and whole again under the tall pines.” This devastating history may be tough to read at times, but those who stay the course will find it crucial, comprehensive, and moving. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weissman Literary. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 03/29/2021
Release date: 08/17/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-0-593-13639-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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