Volcanoes mean more than threat and calamity. Like our parents, they've led whole lives before we get to know them. From Mount Etna in Italy to Mount Erebus in Antarctica, volcanoes are captivating and magical places that have always inspired the human imagination and pioneering exploration.
Having worked in some of the wildest and most inaccessible places on Earth, Professor of Volcanology Clive Oppenheimer has an intimate relationship with volcanoes. His research measuring and mapping these powerful forces reveals just how entangled volcanic activity is with our climate and environment, as well as our economy, politics, culture and beliefs, ultimately defining the course of human history. In Mountains of Fire, we travel with him to the edges of volcano craters across the world, from the most remote peaks in the Sahara to the lush islands of the Caribbean, and from the mystical mountains of North Korea to the fiery depths of Iceland.
Combining science, history, myth and legend with a sense of adventure, Mountains of Fire captures the awe and sheer excitement of working at the crater's edge and reveals the interwoven tales of volcanic nature and humankind.
Clive Oppenheimer is a volcanologist and filmmaker. He is a Professor of Volcanology at the University of Cambridge, where he has been based for 25 years. His research seeks to understand how volcanoes work and to probe the connections between eruptions, climate and society. He has conducted fieldwork around the world – either at the crater's edge peering in with assorted monitoring devices or hunting for the far-flung deposits of Earth's greatest eruptions. He has also made two documentary features with legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, Into the Inferno (Netflix, 2016) and Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (Apple TV+, 2020).
"What the French adventurer Jacques Cousteau was to the hidden world under our seas, Oppenheimer is to the hidden, molten world bubbling under our feet."
– Sunday Times
"Gripping [...] [reads] like a thriller [...] Perhaps one final attribute of a volcanologist is that he should be a good storyteller. Oppenheimer is better than good. This is terrific."
"A fantastic account of the power and importance of volcanoes to history. Clive Oppenheimer takes us on a wonderful tour of some of the world's best and least known volcanoes in a book that will make all readers want to become volcanologists."
– Peter Frankopan
"Oppenheimer weaves together science, history and culture into a book that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It is also a darn good read [...] The gripping narrative and stylish descriptions make this a real page-turner. If Michael Palin had been a volcanologist, this is the book he would have written [...] All lovers of adventure stories, travel stories and the science of our living planet can rejoice."
– Literary Review
"Elegantly weaving derring-do with insights into the mechanics of how volcanoes work [...] fascinating [...] What makes this book stand out isn't its poetry or scientific explication, but all the ways Oppenheimer finds to connect the majestic lives of volcanoes to the ephemeral lives of people [...] The overall result is a scientific memoir that is unusually full of human feeling and myth [...] We can't all travel the globe to risk our lives at the crater's edge, but we have Oppenheimer's prose to get us nearly there."
– New Scientist
"Beautiful. Mountains of Fire is bursting with poetry, with storytelling. Clive is one of the rarest of men driven by nomadism, courage, and curiosity. What he studies, volcanic eruptions, are in the rank of things that are mighty, grave, and great. Like a magma eruption, his wonderful prose even spills over into footnotes at the end. Normally, such notes are tucked away, because they are boring and pedantic, but here they are as readable and exciting as the book itself."
– Werner Herzog
"Few people have come into contact with as many fiery mountains as Dr Oppenheimer has [...] In Mountains of Fire he regales readers with gripping stories of his travels, as well as those of adventurers past [...] Mountains of Fire is a love letter to volcanoes and an investigation into all the ways that they have and continue to sustain humanity – spiritually and scientifically."
– The Economist
"On almost every page of his book – which is at once a history of volcanology and a memoir of Oppenheimer's own research expeditions – there is some display of mind-boggling bravado in the face of Earth's pyrotechnics [...] as Oppenheimer shows, such fascination [with volcanoes] is practically ubiquitous across every culture and epoch. Volcanoes have always been seen as numinous places, where the boundaries are blurred between the living and the dead, between material reality and the netherworld [...] Faced with violent geological forces beyond our control, some of us are not content merely to keep our distance from them, but instead feel compelled to fathom their mysteries [...] It's an excellent thing that scientists like Oppenheimer exist to pursue such a noble cause."
– The Times
"Think of how Naples is defined by Mount Vesuvius, or Tokyo by Mount Fuji [...] As a seasoned volcanologist, Oppenheimer conjures up volcanoes with science and humanity [...] Fired by his and others' fieldwork at the crater's edge, his appealing book is grounded in the reasoning of thinkers far from the flames and lava."
"Captures exactly [...] what it's like to work as a volcanologist – the taste of the sulphur in the morning air, the smell of rubber soles sizzling on hot lava, the mix of exhilaration and apprehension that accompanies peering into the rumbling crater [...] as Mountains of Fire ably demonstrates, a world without volcanoes would be one of markedly less awe and fiery enchantment."
– Times Literary Supplement
"Each chapter centers on a particular volcanic site, scrutinized by the indefatigable author; by [the] book's end, he weaves together volcanic cause, explosion and effect so that it all makes startling sense [...] the author has a droll, dry sense of humor and is fun to accompany as he traipses around the globe in search of extraordinary and fascinating terrain and history [...] Oppenheimer is at his best when discussing how volcanoes are integral parts of nature's vast, involuted networks of sky, land, oceans and subterranean regions."
– Wall Street Journal
"Entertaining deep dive into the history and science of volcanology [...] fascinating and enlightening encounters with volcanoes."
"[Oppenheimer] blends science, history, and cultural traditions from communities around the world to deliver a riveting account of active volcanoes. Escorting readers on an educational, often frightening, but always adventurous global tour, Oppenheimer is an uber-experienced and well-informed guide [...] Readers will marvel at Oppenheimer's close calls, risky research, and elegant writing style that delightfully weaves his perilous excursions with exacting science and rich ethnography."
"Oppenheimer [is] a professional volcanologist, working in searing heat and constant peril, dodging lava bombs and sulphurous air [...] Oppenheimer is engaged not just in the earth sciences, but a kind of deep history [...] pure action-adventure stuff [...] Oppenheimer's story is compounded of science, personal testimony and a broad cultural understanding, but the most unexpected thing about the book is his apparent affection for all those hills that tried to kill him."
– The Tablet
"An illuminating, popular book on the scientific and social history of volcanoes [...] But Oppenheimer has also written an absorbing travelogue, setting his own adventures squarely in the natural and social history of the sites he has visited. He is a sensitive observer and a fine writer, turning what could have been drab accounting into luminous prose [...] an uplifting tour of the hot spots and high points of a perceptive volcanologist's career."
– Natural History magazine
"Oppenheimer takes readers to the world's active volcanoes, making stops in Antarctica, Iceland, the Sahara Desert, and North Korea, and noting characteristics, sensory details, and local cultural, political, and economic aspects and beliefs. This magnificent guide offers stories about his adventures, research observations, and science – including volcanoes' link to climate and environmental changes – conveyed in memorable prose."
– Library Journal
"Thrilling! An explosive account of the inner lives of volcanoes, and how they have touched our lives through history. Adventurous, gripping science writing at its very best."
– Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins
"I absolutely loved this book – it's so full of passion, wonderment, philosophy, anthropology and most of all volcanoes! It ignited my mind and delighted my imagination. I loved the deep and poignant connections between history, meaning and people, but it's Clive Oppenheimer's dazzling charisma and thrilling experiences that infuse this book with an energy befitting our planet's most powerful force."
– Sara Dosa, director of the Academy Award-nominated film Fire of Love
"Breathtaking. Weaving together geology, history, culture with dramatic personal adventure, Clive Oppenheimer takes us deep into the beating heart of our planet."
– Anil Seth, author of Being You
"An engrossing, richly detailed journey into the mysterious world of volcanos and volcano enthusiasts. Clive Oppenheimer's passion for his subject begins in the realm of science and ends with the human soul."
– Helen Gordon, author of Notes from Deep Time
"Witty, precise, evocative. Clive Oppenheimer is a beautiful writer and spectacular scholar. He guides us safely through the smelly, noisy blast furnaces of volcanic craters and lava flows. Mountains of Fire tells the story of a volcano doctor who measures the temperature and chemical compounds in volcanic 'breath' while recounting the history, adventures, and spirituality surrounding these wonders of the world."
– Terry Plank, Professor of Earth Science, Columbia University
"A global tour of some of the world's most fascinating volcanoes [...] From North Korea to Antarctica to the Caribbean, he brings the reader along with extraordinary access onto the very flanks of volcanoes. Oppenheimer's deep knowledge of these mountains of fire, combined with his eye for detail and his deep respect for those living alongside volcanoes, yields a thoroughly delightful and accessible exploration of these geological wonders."
– Alexandra Witze, author of Island on Fire