The Last Fire Season: A Personal and Pyronatural History (Hardcover)

The Last Fire Season: A Personal and Pyronatural History By Manjula Martin Cover Image
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H Is for Hawk meets Joan Didion in the Pyrocene in this arresting combination of memoir, natural history, and literary inquiry that chronicles one woman’s experience of life in Northern California during the worst fire season on record.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A MOST-ANTICIPATED BOOK: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Saturday Evening Post, Poets & Writers, The Millions, Alta, Heat Map News

Told in luminous, perceptive prose, The Last Fire Season is a deeply incisive inquiry into what it really means—now—to live in relationship to the elements of the natural world. When Manjula Martin moved from the city to the woods of Northern California, she wanted to be closer to the wilderness that she had loved as a child. She was also seeking refuge from a health crisis that left her with chronic pain, and found a sense of healing through tending her garden beneath the redwoods of Sonoma County. But the landscape that Martin treasured was an ecosystem already in crisis. Wildfires fueled by climate change were growing bigger and more frequent: each autumn, her garden filled with smoke and ash, and the local firehouse siren wailed deep into the night.

In 2020, when a dry lightning storm ignited hundreds of simultaneous wildfires across the West and kicked off the worst fire season on record, Martin, along with thousands of other Californians, evacuated her home in the midst of a pandemic. Both a love letter to the forests of the West and an interrogation of the colonialist practices that led to their current dilemma, The Last Fire Season, follows her from the oaky hills of Sonoma County to the redwood forests of coastal Santa Cruz, to the pines and peaks of the Sierra Nevada, as she seeks shelter, bears witness to the devastation, and tries to better understand fire’s role in the ecology of the West. As Martin seeks a way to navigate the daily experience of living in a damaged body on a damaged planet, she comes to question her own assumptions about nature and the complicated connections between people and the land on which we live.

About the Author

MANJULA MARTIN is coauthor, with her father, Orin Martin, of Fruit Trees for Every Garden, which won the 2020 American Horticultural Society Book Award. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Cut, Pacific Standard, Modern Farmer, and Hazlitt. She edited the anthology Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living; was managing editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story; and has worked in varied editorial capacities in the nonprofit and publishing sectors. She lives in West Sonoma County, California.

Praise For…

One of The New York Times’ 18 New Books to Read in January
One of The San Francisco Chronicle’s 19 New Books to Cozy Up with This Winter

One of The Los Angeles Times’ 10 Books to Add to Your Reading List in January
One of The Saturday Evening Post’s 10 Reads for the New Year
A Poets & Writers New and Noteworthy Book
One of The Millions Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2024
One of LitHub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2024
One of Alta’s 12 New Books for January
One of Heat Map News’ 17 Climate Books to Read in 2024
One of the TODAY Show’s Best Spring Reads
One of Esquire’s Best Memoirs of the Year (So Far)

“Martin’s clear prose stirs and sings, balancing justified rage and anxiety with a tenderness that never veers into sentimentality. A memoir threaded with natural history and a complicated love letter to the wild and imperiled California landscape Martin calls home, The Last Fire Season shows readers one way to both hold grief and look for new possibilities in the face of an uncertain future.”
Esquire, “The Best Memoirs of 2024 (So Far)”

“Powerful . . . This . . . isn’t a hand-wringing chronicle of climate despair. Nor is it a can-do narrative buoyed by inspirational hash tags and techno-optimistic hopes. Martin’s book is at once more grounded and more surprising . . . the range of this book coaxes us to confront our own failures of imagination.”
The New York Times
“Beautifully written . . . Martin’s account of chronic pain and climate grief is informed by a historically astute social-justice mission, which delivers some hard truths . . . an unflinching memoir . . . at once mournful and hopeful.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“Martin records what it was like to live through and alongside these conflagrations with a lyrical attention to detail and through a deeply personal lens. [She has a] nuanced way of seeing fire as both something to fear and as a necessary element in the evolution of the Earth’s ecosystems.”

“Unsettling, timely . . . Martin’s subtitle, ‘A Personal and Pyronatural History,’ alludes to her impressive interweaving of various narrative modes. The result is a deft tessellation of medical memoir, local reportage, and ecocritical and literary meditation. . . . She's at her most compelling, though, looking inward to examine lived experience and the often problematic or insufficient narrative frameworks in which those experiences are couched.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“Amitav Ghosh has written that the absence of climate change as an informing theme for contemporary literature bespeaks a crisis of cultural imagination. The Last Fire Season offers a reply to his challenge. It shows how a confused, compounding barrage of phenomena and experiences can be transmuted into personal meaning.”

“As I read Manjula’s new book, The Last Fire Season, I admired all over again the qualities I observed in her in our first meeting. Her kindness and candor. Her curiosity and intellectual courage. Her willingness to explore and contemplate the layers of things rather than reaching for easy judgment . . . It’s a book rich with insight.”
—Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar

“It’s the story of how California came to be, it’s the story of fire, and why it’s both essential to life and something we all fear, and it’s the story of how fire season is no longer one time of the year, or in one part of the world, but is something that impacts us all.”
—Jasmine Guillory, TODAY’s “Best Spring Reads”

“Offers a deep dive into how we reached this crisis point: the personal and pyronatural histories promised in the subtitle. The author demonstrates an impressive command of both the story and its stakes—the mix a good memoir offers—as well as the engaging research of the best narrative nonfiction. As the fires rage, we follow her as if on a well-planned hike through an uncontrolled landscape.”

“Riveting . . . both a chronicle and a handbook of the struggle to fight the distortion of grief into despair.”
The Los Angeles Times

“Exquisitely attuned to her Northern California landscape, Martin trains her gaze on wilderness ravaged by wildfire, and on her own body, hobbled by a chronic pain condition, teasing out the intricate connections between human beings and the natural world on which they depend.”
The New York Times, “18 New Books to Read in January”

“Climate change, ‘the biggest, most obvious thing ever to happen on this planet,’ should be the subject of more literature and art. So said Amitav Ghosh in his 2016 book, The Great Derangement. This could be Martin’s mission statement: to do as Ghosh said, to make culture about climate. And also ‘staying within the trouble,’ as the feminist scholar and historian Donna Haraway, another inspiration to Martin, phrases it—‘to fully feel’ the catastrophe we are living through. Martin’s memoir is the first one I’ve read that centers this mission, these feelings and thoughts, this struggle with the great climate catastrophe of our time.”
The Atlantic

“Devastating and ambivalent, The Last Fire Season tries to sift through the ashes of climate change.”
—The Millions, “Most Anticipated: The Great Winter 2024 Preview”
“A personal history turned examination of fire and ecology, The Last Fire Season is strangely timely amid a balmy winter some have never experienced before.”
—LitHub, “Most Anticipated Books of 2024”

“Martin argues that a fundamental shift in the dominant culture’s attitude toward fire and nature is necessary. We can no longer think in terms of a ‘fire season.’ We must now learn to adapt to living with fire throughout the year. Insightful and alarming, hopeful and consistently engaging.”
Kirkus, starred review

“I loved this book. Through her soulful and poignant prose, Manjula Martin finds meaning in a time of unravelling, and agency at a moment of helplessness. She shows us how to exist through our existential crises, and lights our path through the fire.”
—Ed Yong, author of An Immense World

“Martin comes in with a one-two punch: Her book is as lyrical as a prose poem but as smartly reported as the best journalism. Her account of living a year in the smoldering, angry, inflamed Northern California woods will thrill, haunt, and ultimately charm you.”
—Susan Orlean, author of On Animals

“[A] mesmerizing, beautifully written account of living through and trying to come to terms with the harrowing impacts of the climate crisis. . . . In the spirit of Rebecca Solnit and Terry Tempest Williams, Martin’s knowledge of nature and the land illuminate every page. With The Last Fire Season, she joins the ranks of esteemed, provocative nature writers who use their own experiences to examine our past and our future.”
BookPage, starred review

“The prose of this Sonoma County-based author crackles from the first electrifying pages. Combining memoir and natural history to masterful effect, Manjula Martin tells the story of the 2020 California wildfire season that stained skies a haunting shade of orange up and down the West Coast.”
The San Francisco Chronicle, “19 New Books to Cozy Up with This Winter”

“The Last Fire Season is an act of gorgeous excavation. Peeling back the American myth of wilderness, Martin interrogates the complicity of inhabiting a human body within a world grievously damaged by human hands. Clear eyed and stunning, Martin’s words are both a love letter and eulogy to the land, bearing witness to the complex human truth that we can deeply care for something even as we violate it.”
—Tessa Hulls, author of Feeding Ghosts

“Martin’s search for answers takes her far from the events of the specific fire that precipitated them and demands a degree of patience from readers, but her emotional response is palpable and will resonate with many.”

“Compelling . . . gripping . . . It’s a book about California’s natural history and fire-management practices. But it’s also a book about post-traumatic stress disorder and grief . . . What might be most affecting in Martin’s memoir is her characterization of the emotional state that many Californians — and many Americans — feel in a rapidly destabilizing world.”
—Lookout Santa Cruz

“This is the kind of natural history writing we need at this most crucial moment. It's precise, granular, and lovely, but it's also engaged, and entirely honest in grappling with change. The shifting baseline of the world around us, not the timeless beauty of the world, is the story of our moment, and it's rarely been better told.”
—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“As exquisite as it is precise, Manjula Martin's The Last Fire Season is a book that will haunt you. A beautifully composed, exhaustively researched guide through the changes and cataclysms of body, home, and wild California landscape, written with the lyricism of a fable and an urgency befitting our all too real climate crisis.”
—Nicole Chung, author of A Living Remedy

The Last Fire Season is a poetic, instructive document for our times. In sharing her experience of new disasters, Martin reveals that our collective challenge in facing climate change is no less than the ancient human condition: to find and create beauty amid pain, to hold at once love and grief.”
—Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland

"The Last Fire Season is a gorgeous, soulfully written, intricately layered meditation on a region, a state, a body and a planet. Manjula Martin brings deep research, love, and attention to her exploration of northern California in polycrisis and weaves her findings with profound personal reflections on chronic pain and bodily harm. This is a work of memoir, ecology, physiology, political economy, horticulture, and history, and a profoundly moving work about humanity and home, both the individual places that we try to claim, and our singular, beautiful, complex planet in a moment of epochal change."
— Lydia Kiesling, author of Mobility and The Golden State
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593317150
ISBN-10: 0593317157
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: January 16th, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English