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The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  3,365 ratings  ·  352 reviews
On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victorias Latrobe Valley, then sat on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man ...more
Paperback, 258 pages
Published 2018 by Viking Australia
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  3,365 ratings  ·  352 reviews

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This is the second book that Ive read of late about the horrific fires that swept through a country town in Victoria in 2009 known as Black Saturday. The first book I read was a fiction novel whereas this one The Arsonist is a non fiction.

The Arsonist deals more with the investigation on how the fires started and who lit them. As the detectives gather information they trust they are getting closer to who is responsible and its only a matter of time before they catch the fire bug. The
Jaclyn Crupi
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chloe Hooper, Ive missed your voice and your brain. It has been way too long between books. This is exactly the kind of narrative non-fiction I hunger for. ...more
Michael Livingston
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an incredibly readable, upsetting and sometimes insightful book about one of the fires from Victoria's black saturday and the subsequent investigation and prosecution of the man who lit it. Hooper is a smart and compelling writer - I smashed through this in a day, almost unable to stop myself - but I was left feeling like it was a bit heavy on drama and a bit light on illumination.

Partly this comes from the story she's chosen - the titular arsonist is vague, potentially intellectually
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fire in Australia is like a looming omnipresence always lurking in the distance ready to strike at any time. Even though fires are so common place in Australia it was still a major shock to the country when two fires were deliberately lit on the 7th of February 2009 in the State of Victoria causing major devastation.

This book chronicles the timeline from the detectives investigation to catching the culprit and then following the lawyers who had to defend such an openly hated villain all the way
This book has just been nominated to the Australian Stella Prize longlist for 2019. It deals with some of the events of the "Black Saturday" Victorian bushfires of February 2009. In this investigation Hooper narrows her focus to the Churchill fires and the search for and arrest of the arsonist. While the book starts with plenty of bushfire science and follows arson squad investigators to find the perpetrator it quickly becomes an interesting portrait of how the system deals with suspects that ...more
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2019
This is an outstanding example of narrative non-fiction, and Australia writing. Hooper is really a master of storytelling; the story of the Black Saturday fires is a familiar one, but Hooper makes this story new, something more than a journalistic retelling. There were many layers to this book, which is what I enjoyed about it the most. On the surface, it tells the story of the Black Saturday fires, the investigation, arrest, and trial of the accused. But in the end I felt this book was about ...more
Ian Mond
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires will be in two months. I remember my wife and I melting in our flat in Caulfield North as the temperature soared to 47 degrees. In Melbourne it was the hottest day on record for seventy years, preceded by days of sweltering blazing weather. Coupled with drought conditions and the State was already on high alert. Even so, Im not sure anyone could imagine how bad it was going to be.

Chloe Hoopers The Arsonist focuses on one of the outbreaks in
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: stellaproject, auslit
...Ive nearly finished writing this book, which came in fits and starts, after persuading people to speak, and learning of material that was hard to access, then too hard to deal with. I have spent years trying to understand this man and what he did, my own motivation sometimes as indecipherable as his. And, I wondered, what if, having asked the police and lawyers dozens of questions, then more questions, trying to get tiny details right, I essentially ended up with little more than a series of ...more
Alice-Elizabeth (marriedtobooks)
3.5 stars!

Not going to lie, reading The Arsonist was quite disturbing. Real-life events set in Victoria, Australia about a range of lethal fires set by arsonists with residents dying and millions of dollars worth of damage. This book focuses on the Black Saturday fires, the man taken to trial for arson and the aftermath of a small community turned upside down. The pacing was quite slow and I was scared for most of it. This isn't an easy read so be warned!
Karen ⊰✿
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
The Black Saturday bushfires were a series of bushfires across Victoria in February 2009. 173 people died in as many as 400 fires ; most of whom died due to ageing power infrastructure.

Chloe Hooper writes this non fiction account of the Central Gippsland fires where Brendan Sokaluk was convicted of 10 counts of arson causing death.

Mostly this book reads like a long newspaper article. Despite the title of this book, there was much more focus on the fires, and some personal stories of the
Cassandra Austin
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. I've been waiting to have Black Saturday splayed before me and this is very, very good. But The Tall Man was exceptional. Difficult to judge an author against themselves! Well worth the read.
One of the most riveting sessions at the recent Word For Word Non Fiction festival in Geelong was Chloe Hooper in conversation with Lisa Waller from Deakin.
Chloe Hooper is the author of two novels, A Childs Book of True Crime (2002) and The Engagement (2012, see my review) but I think its safe to say she is best-known for her incisive non-fiction. The Tall Man, Death and Life on Palm Island (2008) (see my review) won a swag of awards, and I wont be surprised if The Arsonist does the same. It
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
A compulsively readable retracing of the conditions - in the Latrobe Valley, and in the life of the convicted arsonist - which caused the devastating conflagration in Churchill, Victoria that burnt out an estimated 81,000 acres, and brought death to local residents and wildlife, and destruction to cherished homes and infrastructure.

Although the arsonist's mind is, in the end, unknowable, the individual stories of Black Saturday are the most affecting.

At page 221: "[The prosecutor] went on
I'm not sure it was a good idea to read this book in the middle of yet another heat wave in the middle of the hottest, driest summer on record and on a day where the temperatures will be in the mid 40s.
Nonetheless this was a scary book. Scary on the level of uncontrollable violence unleashed by bushfires. Scary on how these fires can start. Scary on the complexity of people who are arsonists.
This is a different book to Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee made more complex due to the mental state of
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
The Arsonist seems to ask a series of big questions: What role does society play in disasters? How do structural issues like poverty, unemployment and discrimination contribute to the conditions for violent acts? Does our court system actually facilitate justice? And if so, for all?

It's a very strong piece of journalism, bearing witness to the complexities of the Black Saturday bushfires and their aftermath. Like most good journalism it challenges readers to rethink their assumptions, challenge
Robert Lukins
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and necessarily incomplete story; a facet of the disaster told in a wildly compelling style.
Rachael (shereadsshenoms)
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: stellaprize2019
4.5 Stars rounded up.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cried a lot reading this. An immensely nuanced true crime account of the Black Friday fires in Victoria, that captures the horror of a fire beyond human control, the way society ostracises those who are different, and the unrelenting grief of those who lost so much.

Beyond even the knowledge that there will always be people who deliberately light fires and that its a difficult crime to predict and prevent what scares me most is that climate change is already creating drier, hotter conditions
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's been quite a while since Hooper's very excellent "The Tall Man", so I was keen to dive right into this book.
While she does briefly mention the systems failures that resulted in so many deaths from one of Victoria's 'Black Saturday' fires, this book focuses on the man who was convicted of lighting it. Whether or not he fully grasps what he did and what the repercussions from his actions were is unlikely to ever be clear.
Her story is well paced and gripping, depicting the main characters well
Catherine Davison
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australian
Chloe Hooper has honoured all the people whose lives were lost or impacted by this senseless fire setting. She writes in a dignified and enthralling way never ghoulish, never tasteless, hers is a steady hand on the tiller as she tries to navigate a course to shed light on the reasons why this man did what he did. I had put off reading this thinking it would be too difficult to read but it should be read, by all Australians and perhaps lessons might be learned so loners like Sokaluk get treatment ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a lyrically rendered lesson in recounting a crime that's plaintive in its pointlessness. Unsatisfying in a way that's deeply authentic, Hooper has spun up a story that offers no easy insights yet is too idiosyncratic to be imagined. Beautifully written, fast flowing, and filled with feeling.
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Incredibly well put together book about Black Saturday and the subsequent police investigation of the suspected arsonist. Hooper weaves together terrifying first person evidence, royal commission findings and news reports to recreate the experience of the families who lived through the bushfires. Masterful, really. I found the coda irritating but its still a 5 star book for me. ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Hooper has woven a narrative that demonstrates an extraordinary skill at weaving together detailed research and observations. These bushfires were a horrific event but she has taken great care to respectfully examine the prosecution and defence side while not shying from the facts.
Rick Morton
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Haunting and desperately sad and yet there is so much humanity in there. So much. The best writing shows us into the world of nuance and holds us there. Chloe did just that.
Oct 17, 2019 added it
Shelves: 2019
This is another non-fiction book that I find too difficult to properly rate or review. Perhaps this one in particular, as the Black Saturday bushfires are burnt into Australia's collective memory. The stories of fire survivors, as well as those lives claimed, are truly horrific but thankfully it isn't a place that Hooper dwells. Instead Hooper tries to provide a holistic view but doesn't quite get there for me. I felt Hooper had a tendency to claim feelings and attribute reasons that I doubted ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
On February 7, 2009 - a day that would become known as Black Saturday - bushfires burned vast areas of Victoria (my home state). Extreme heat, high winds, low humidity, and severe drought combined to create the worst bushfire conditions in Australia's recorded history (the heat from the fires was equivalent to 500 atomic bombs exploding).

Black Saturday resulted in Australias highest ever loss of life from a bush-fire event. Across Victoria, 173 people died; more than one million animals (pets,
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020-reads

There was something about this book that didn't fully convince me...
4 stars! 🌟🌟🌟🌟
This book wasnt really what I expected it be! It was a lot more based around the legal proceedings than what I was anticipating, but luckily as a law student I love a well depicted court scene. 😂🙈
I also felt a bit of bias coming through Hoopers writing but nonetheless it was well written and engaging.

Also, as someone who has a (slightly irrational 🤪) fear of fire this maybe wasnt the best pick for the sake of my love of a good nights sleep.. 😂🔥🙅♀

40. My favourite prompt from a past
Jay-Dee Davis
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I rushed to finish this book. I enjoyed it, but due to the subject content I really just wanted to get it over with. Its distressing and hard, and wont be for everyone.
Fire is something that is widely feared in Australia. Our country is a giant tinderbox, and so the smell of burning bush in the air is scarily familiar. One of my very first memories is of the 1994 Eastern Seaboard Fires. I was very young, but I remember ash falling from a red sky, my mothers worry, and the thick, inescapable
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This nearly broke me in the beginning. The terrible stories of the the Australian Black Saturday bushfires are harrowing and grim. The story of the search for, and prosecution of, the person convicted of setting these fires is one of those which will leave you wondering whether Brendan Sokaluk was the man who lit the fires and if he was rightfully or wrongfully convicted. Chloe Hooper looks at all of the points of view in the case, from the lawyers and barrister to the arresting policeman and ...more
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Can't wait to read this one. 2 4 May 06, 2019 08:30PM  

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Chloe Hooper is an Australian author. Her first novel, A Childs Book of True Crime (2002), was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Literature and was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2005, she turned to reportage and the next year won a Walkley Award for her writing on the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island, an Aboriginal community off the north-east coast of Australia. The ...more

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