I’m sharing my book review here of the wildly popular book, Malibu Burning: the real-life Story Behind LA’s Most Devastating Wildfire. This book is making waves in my seaside, hometown.
I live in Malibu, and this time last year, my husband and I, our two German shepherds and our 15-year-old black cat evacuated in haste, when the Woolsey Fire, which started in Thousand Oaks, California, traveled through the Santa Monica Mountains behind our house and reached the ridge of our property. In frantic urgency, we turned left on the Pacific Coast Highway and headed north, away from Malibu’s town center. It was here we discovered that the 320 acres of the state park near our home were violently up in flames. We were evacuated for 24 days, the first four of which we had no information as to whether our house was standing. It was total chaos in Malibu. The small coastal town was overwhelmed and ill-prepared for a wildfire of such swift, epic proportions. In some ways, it was every man for himself. In others, it was the ultimate exercise of a heroic feat as neighbor helped neighbor.
Once they allowed Malibu’s anxious and traumatized citizens back to their homes to assess the fallout, locals assembled at relief centers, sharing their stories. Among them, writer Robert Kerbeck, who took it upon himself to do a bit of investigative reporting as to how the fire started, then set about the business of collecting the first-person stories of many who refused evacuation orders and remained in the thick of the heinous drama in an effort at protecting their neighborhood.
The stories in Malibu Burning are staggering. Malibu local, Robert Kerbeck, has done a magnificent job in writing this book and getting it published in such a short span of time. Many in Malibu were so independently blindsided, there was little way of telling what went on behind our backs. We now have a larger story.
When tragedy engulfs a community, the media report the overarching highlights, typically from an aerial view. In Malibu Burning, author Robert Kerbeck portrays the hidden story—the nuanced blow-by-blow minutia told with such investigative reporting skills as to lend immediate urgency with a sense of present tense. It can’t be easy to shake oneself off and get organized, after surviving what can only be called the surreal worst, which is what Kerbeck basically did in writing this riveting book. Malibu Burning is a boots-on-the-ground story; an impassioned order from chaos, cohesive treatise told with a clear-eyed, objective voice. Weaving facts with vivid personal accounts in this cause and effect human interest story, this is a book so well-wrought as to hold one’s attention with all the characteristics of a gripping novel. It takes a deft hand to avoid judgment or accusation in a painstakingly researched nonfiction book. Robert Kerbeck’s Malibu Burning is a book with a resonating heartbeat. It sobers by threading the true stories of Malibu’s citizens who navigated the devastating Woolsey wildfire and simultaneously warms the heart by depicting the power of spirit.
Malibu Burning by Robert Kerbeck is available at independent book stores and all online book outlets.