Cover image for Fire : a brief history
Fire : a brief history
Pyne, Stephen J., 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Seattle : University of Washington Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvii, 204 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN416 .P85 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GN416 .P85 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"The fate of humanity, like the fate of the earth, is tied to the fires that have made the world as we know it--the fires whose history is told as well in this book as it has ever been told before. If one wants to understand just how completely the story of the human past is also the story of fire on earth, there is no better place to start than this small book."--William Cronon

Here, in one concise book, is the essential story of fire. Noted environmental historian Stephen J. Pyne describes the evolution of fire through prehistoric and historic times down to the present, examining contemporary attitudes from a long-range, informed perspective. Fire: A Brief History surveys the principles behind aboriginal and agricultural fire practices, the characteristics of urban fire, and the relationship between controlled combustion and technology. Pyne describes how fire's role in cities, suburbs, exurbs, and wildlands has been shaped by an industrialized, urban way of thinking.

Fire: A Brief History will be of value to readers interested in the environment from the standpoint of anthropology, geography, forestry, science and technology, history, or the humanities.

Author Notes

Stephen J. Pyne is a professor at Arizona State University. The author of ten acclaimed books on environmental history, he won the 1995 "Los Angeles Times'" Robert Kirsch Award for his career contribution to arts & letters. He lives in Glendale, Arizona.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pyne's latest is the final chapter in the Cycle of Fire (including Vestal Fire; Burning Bush), a six-part suite charting the environmental history of conflagrations and humanity's interaction with the technology of fire. This dense and carefully researched volume examines the myriad ways people have intervened in the destructive, renewing and transmuting powers that fire provides a dual evolution leading to a dynamic coexistence. "Equipped with fire, people colonized the Earth," Pyne writes. "Carried by humans, so did fire." In exacting detail, Pyne traces a historiography of the pyre: the naturally occurring "First Fires" of the Devonian period (roughly 400 million years ago), which burned off biomass and altered early plant life; the domestication of fire by hominids for cooking, hunting, rituals, and burning land for sowing; the advent of urbanization and pyrotechnology, when humans learned to control fuel sources, to manipulate oxygen flow (via hearths and stacks) and to maintain heat to produce everything from power plants to war machines. Pyne's involved examination tends to be dry, and the heavy scientific language might dampen the appeal for the casual browser. But this is a fascinating, fact-filled book; the deft and at times airy prose often sparks with puns and ironies. Of particular interest to readers of nature and ecological history, this volume also illuminates another side of the stories Sebastian Junger told in his recent title on the same subject. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Pyne, the world's leading fire historian, has written a series of five books known as the "Cycle of Fire." World Fire (CH, Dec'95), Vestal Fire (CH, Jun'98), Fire in America (CH, Nov'82), Burning Bush (CH, Oct'92), and The Ice (CH, Mar'87) have provided extensive insights into the fire histories of the US, Eurasia, Australia, and other regions. This new book ties the Cycle series together and furnishes an excellent overview on why the history of humanity cannot be told without the history of fire. Pyne (Arizona State Univ.) illustrates this important relationship by reviewing the evolution of fire, starting with fire origins, combustion process, and the hospitable environment for fire on Earth, followed by a discussion on early hominids colonizing and maintaining fire. Fire's role in human history was intensified when lands were cleared for agriculture and fire was used to manipulate these new fuel sources. The coming of the industrial age brought the extraction of fossil fuels and the containment of fire and combustion. Pyne points out that humanity has special status as a long-term host and keeper of fire. An excellent book and strongly recommended for all audiences, especially those with interests in anthropology, geography, history, natural sciences, or the humanities. All levels. M. J. Zwolinski University of Arizona

Table of Contents

William Cronon
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Foreword: Small Book, Big Storyp. xi
Introduction: Kindlingp. xv
1. Fire and Earth: Creating Combustionp. 3
How Fire Came to Bep. 4
How Life Accommodated Firep. 14
First Fire Todayp. 20
Touched by Firep. 24
2. Frontiers of Fire (Part 1): Fire Colonizing by Hominidsp. 27
What Made Early Fires Effectivep. 29
First Contact: When Fire Arrivesp. 34
Lost Contact: When Fire Departsp. 38
3. Aboriginal Fire: Controlling the Sparkp. 46
Why They Burnedp. 47
Where and How They Burnedp. 51
Dying Fire: When the Firestick Leavesp. 57
4. Agricultural Fire: Cultivating Fuelp. 65
The Fire in Agriculture's Hearthp. 65
How to Cultivate Firep. 67
What They Meant to Each Otherp. 82
Rites of Firep. 85
5. Frontiers of Fire (Part 2): Fire Colonizing by Agriculturep. 87
How Conversion Leads to Colonizationp. 88
Stories from the Fire Frontierp. 90
Comings and Goings of Agricultural Fire Todayp. 97
6. Urban Fire: Building Habitats for Firep. 102
Hearth and House: Making a Home for Firep. 102
Built to Burn: A Fire Ecology for the City Combustiblep. 106
The Eternal Flame Invisible: Fire in the Industrial Cityp. 115
7. Pyrotechnics: Fire and Technologyp. 119
Prometheus Unchainedp. 121
Cycles of Pyrotechnology: How Fire Has Cooked the Earthp. 129
Fire Powers: Controlled--and Not-So-Controlled--Fire as Mover and Shakerp. 133
Fire in the Mindp. 137
8. Frontiers of Fire (Part 3): Fire Colonizing by Europep. 139
How Europe Expanded Fire's Realmp. 140
How Europe Contained Fire's Realmp. 144
How Europe Redefined Fire's Realmp. 151
9. Industrial Fire: Stoking the Big Burnp. 155
How Industrial Combustion Has Added Firep. 158
How Industrial Combustion Has Subtracted Firep. 160
How Industrial Combustion Has Rearranged Fire Regimesp. 167
10. The Future of Fire: Burning Beyond the Millenniump. 172
As the World Burns: What Is and Isn't Burning, and Wherep. 173
Still the Keeper of the Flamep. 182
Selected Sources and Further Readingp. 187
Indexp. 195