American Fire by Monica Hesse

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Bad sex life? Let’s burn down buildings. 

Quick synopsis: The story of an arsonist couple in rural Virginia. 

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The arson spree the couple committed ended in a tally of 70 fires. 

Fun Fact for History Nerds: There are about 17,000 residential arson fires a year in the U.S.   

My Take: This is a very different true crime book than what most people gravitate to. 

The author doesn’t hide who did it. You know pretty early on who the perpetrators are. Instead, Hesse explains the community and how the fires caused a wide range of responses as the arson seemed to never stop. 

The part of Virginia where this all occurred is known to be on the poorer side and Hesse turns this into a study in sociology as much as true crime. This is a good thing. 

I found myself being moved by the entire story because of how it was presented. This easily could have been turned into a thriller, but Hesse wisely makes this a story of people doing a bad thing but not being bad people. 

Verdict: It is an interesting book for the subject. If you like your true crime with gore, then it’s not for you. If you want a nuanced story, then this is up your alley 

If You Liked This Try: 

  • J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy 
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American Fire by Monica Hesse
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