From The Washington Post:
Late in April 1844, a pair of misfits went camping on the Concord River in Massachusetts, with plans to survive “Indian-style” on the fish they caught. The forest along the banks was dangerously dry, but one of the young men started a campfire anyway. Encouraged by a brisk wind, the flames quickly spread to the grass and then to the pines and birch trees. Before the end of that awful day, 300 acres had been reduced to ash.
You know this accidental arsonist as the world's most famous naturalist, Henry David Thoreau. But to the aggrieved men of Concord, he was known for many years as that “damned rascal,” the “Woodsburner.” Not surprisingly, Thoreau didn't refer to this incident in his classic meditation on nature, “Walden; or, Life in the Woods.” He couldn't even bring himself to mention it in his own journal until six years after the fact, when he finally described the fire with such shameless pride and self-justification that you want to slap him upside his Transcendental head.
But now, 165 years later, that awful day finally bursts back into flame. John Pipkin's brooding first novel, “Woodsburner,” starts on the morning of April 30, as Henry David squats on the bank of Fair Haven Bay and strikes a match he bummed from a shoemaker. The novel ends that evening, as the blackened forest glows in the darkness and soot snows down on the town of Concord. Over the course of this momentous day, Pipkin moves back in time and across the Atlantic, describing several other characters whose lives are lit by their own fires and altered by Thoreau's conflagration.