birthday cake with the lot of burning candles

On fire.

One of life’s enduring myths is that a book can change your life. But looking back on your own life, can you point to a single volume that set your life off in a new direction? Neither can I.  But books shape our lives all the time, and I’ve just started one that’s already changing how I view our extreme weather, and Canada, and Alberta, and the petroleum industry, fire, risk, travel, and of course mass death.

I first came across John Vaillant in 2011 when a friend urged me to read The Tiger, his true story of the hunt for a Siberian Tiger in Siberia. This tiger not only attacked people without warning or mercy, he went after the hunter who first wounded him. The tiger targeted him. It was mesmerizing stuff. As The New York Times said: “Few writers have taken such pains to understand their monsters, and few depict them in such arresting prose.”

Now, Vaillant introduces us to a new monster: wildfires and their almost nuclear ability to destroy our planet. For those of us who feel the world is burning up, a few hours with Fire Weather: A True Story From A Hotter World, will make you listen extra-hard to those distant smoke warnings.

As Vaillant writes: “The energy released during the fire’s peak 7-hour run was calculated to be that of 17 one-megaton hydrogen bombs, or about four Hiroshima bombs per minute. This now is what fire is capable of on earth.  The chemistry and physics of fire remain unchanged. The trees are no different than what they were 50 years ago. But the air is warmer and the soil is dryer.”

“Historians speak of Britain’s Imperial Century, the American Century and the Chinese Century. But those who study the symbiotic relationship between humans and combustion make a good argument for this  one going down as the Century of Fire. Two decades in, across North America and around the world, fires are burning over longer seasons and with greater intensity than at any other time in human history.”

Keep in mind that Vaillant is not referring here to the Fort McMurray Wildfire of 2016, which is the subject of his book. He’s referencing the Chisholm Fire of 2001 where 10 families lost their homes.

The Fort McMurray Fire destroyed 2,400 homes, forced 88,000 people to flee their homes, and cost $9.9 billion in damages, making it the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

I’m just halfway through Fire Weather, but recommending a book I’ve not even finished is evidence of just how on fire my enthusiasm is for you to read it too.  As Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland, said: “Fire Weather is a towering achievement: an immense work of research, reflection and imagination that will come to be seen as a landmark in non-fiction reportage.”

It will shape your life.


1. There’s a good boy. Here’s what a reunion of 400+ Golden Retrievers feels like.

2. Annals of Ageism. The big news is Senators Mitch McConnell (age 81) and Dianne Feinstein (90) suffered major senior moments that brought the issue of aging in office into the public arena.  Meanwhile, Italy has decreed that foreign directors of opera houses must retire at 70, with predictable results, and at the other end of the teeter-totter, ABC TV’s Bachelor series, where everyone is young and beautiful, is spinning off a new series, Golden Bachelor, for men looking for love among women 65 and older. And by the way, Mick Jagger turned 80 last week, which proves that you don’t need to be old to grow deaf.

3. Amusing or Abhorrent? I love The New Yorker cartoons. My favourite shows a Great Dane on the psychiatrist’s couch lamenting to his analyst: “But I’m only a Good Dane.” When this one popped up on Instagram, I was amused. Then I scrolled through the comments.

4. Ten Cities With Their Own Psychological Disorders. We know about Stockholm Syndrome, but Brooklyn Syndrome? Take a hike!

5. Eat, drink and beat Mary. I’m not sure saying “Maaaaate” instead of “Mate” is going to stop abuse, but it’s an intriguing approach, especially given its sponsor, the Mayor of London. And here is a new way to raise funds for good causes.

6. The world’s first smartgun. It’s coming to your Christmas Tree this December with the promise of reducing ‘unauthorized deaths’. But weekend warriors can take heart that jamming all their exercise into Saturday and Sunday gives them as much protection against cardiovascular risk as spreading their exercise throughout the week.

7. AI can teach us about good writing. It won’t be long before we can spot AI writing, not because it produces huge errors of fact, but because it’s so predictable. What makes writing (and life) exciting are its surprises. No more lightning bug when you’ve seen the lightning. And what makes AI exciting is John Oliver’s very funny take on it.

8. Affirmative action for the wealthy. In June the US Supreme Court struck down years of affirmative action for Blacks and other minorities in getting in to college. This caused an equal and opposite reaction when Americans (including their President) said: “Let’s ban ‘legacy admissions’, the policy of admitting the children of wealthy donors or VIPS. This is no tiny number. A Harvard study released in July reveals that “kids from the richest 1% of American families are more than twice as likely to attend the nation’s most elite private colleges as kids from middle-class families with similar SAT scores.”

9. The $1 billion gamble to bring cricket back to America. It was the word “back” that struck me as odd in that headline in the Financial Times. But there was a time when cricket was bigger than baseball in America, and the first international match in history, between the US and Canada, was played in 1844. And now, cricket is on the rise again. Credit immigration from countries like India whose people are mad for cricket.

10. Martha Argerich has still got it. The 82-year old Argentinian pianist, “widely considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all time,” gives a stunning performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy at her home base of Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Be sure to stick around for the encore.

Also, if you like Jazz and you like the Kensington Market, then take in the Kensington Market Jazz Festival in Toronto on the last weekend of September. Anything with Molly Johnson’s  got to be good.

11. What I’m liking. The University of Toronto which now ranks behind only Harvard as the most prolific health sciences research institute in the world, according to a recent global ranking compiled by the scientific journal Nature.




This is not a cruise, but a sail.

All we do is bask in the historic luxury of this unique ship and the tender expertise of Lindblad Expeditions.

So join Jean and me, next year from May 29 to June 5, on the sea from Nice to Amalfi.

For more information, click here.

Bob Ramsay

Here are the other trips RamsayTravels is hosting in the coming months.

In order of appearance…

October 2-10, 2023 — Bicycling and the Kardamyli Literary Festival in Greece.

February 25 – March 9, 2024 — South Pacific aboard the National Geographic Orion

September 2-9, 2024 — Lindblad Expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest.

Just e-mail Bob Ramsay at if you have questions.

Thanks for coming this far with us.

Bob Ramsay

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