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by George R. Stewart, introduction by Emma Rothschild

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The August 2024 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club

Spitcat, a raging forest fire in the Sierra Nevada of California, had a lifespan of merely eleven days, "yet its effects could be reckoned ahead in centuries." So writes George R. Stewart in this engrossing novel of a fire started by lightning in the dry heat of September, and fanned out of control by unexpected winds. The book begins with the origins of the fire—smoldering quietly at first, unnoticed, then suddenly bursting into a terrifying inferno, devouring trees and animals over acre after acre and leaving nothing but desolation in its wake. Firefighters and lookouts, forest rangers and smokejumpers—as well as animals in the forest, many of them the bewildered victims of the blaze, and all the varied trees and bushes there—are characters of this realistic story.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681378473
Pages: 312
Publication Date:


Man versus nature, and the ability of humans to cope under environmental stress, are Stewart’s two obsessions. He is at once a chronicler of the achievements and architectures of modern civilization and an ecological fatalist.
—Christine Smallwood, The Nation

Fire…materializes dramatis personae out of the powers of nature.
—Josephine Miles

This is what Stewart’s work conveys at its best: a sense of humility and an appreciation of the contingent status of our own species, endlessly threatened as it is by a relentless, hostile nature. In doing so, it unsettles our understanding of mankind’s apparent dominion over the earth. In that respect, Stewart’s body of work feels proleptically tailored to an era of catastrophic ecological decline, one in which the earth may very well abide, but our own human prospects look considerably more doubtful.
—Matthew Sherrill, Harper’s Magazine

George R. Stewart’s ecofictions forecasted today’s calamities.
—Andrew Schenker, The Baffler

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