New Book by English Professor Scott Berg Explores Aftermath of Great Chicago Fire

"The Burning of the World" Lands Review in The New Yorker and Lands on Carnegie Medal Longlist

New Book by English Professor Scott Berg Explores Aftermath of Great Chicago Fire

The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and The War for a City’s Soul, the latest book from English Professor Scott Berg, MFA ’97, was released on September 26 by Pantheon Publishing.

The new book landed a feature review in the October 2 issue of The New Yorker.

Burning of the World cover

A few weeks later, The Burning of the World landed on the longlist for the 2024 Carnegie Medal for Excellence. The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence is a joint initiative of the Carnegie Foundation and the American Library Association. Berg's book was one of 24 nonfiction longlist finalists, with the winners in fiction and nonfiction to be announced in summer 2024.


The Burning of the World details the Great Chicago fire of 1871 and the subsequent societal changes that followed in the aftermath of the tragedy. Kirkus Reviews has named it “a strong contribution to the history of not just the fire, but urban America generally.”

This is Berg’s third published book, which have all been in the genre of narrative history.

“I’ve been in love with and fascinated by Chicago for more than fifty years now, since I was very young,” says Berg. “Here at GMU, I’ve taught two different courses on the literature of Hurricane Katrina, and as part of all of that reading and teaching, I noticed remarkable similarities between the story of New Orleans in 2005 and 2006 and the story of Chicago in the years 1871 to 1874, after the Great Fire. The more I dug, the more I discovered familiar patterns, personalities, and politics. That connection provided the first spark of my investigation.”

Berg's love of narrative history was first sparked when he began writing features for The Washington Post, which he’s contributed several articles to over the years.

“Very early on the editors there discovered that I could be counted on to over-research any article dealing with historical topics,” says Berg. “I find the real lives of real people, and the progress of history, to be as fascinating and strange as any novel could ever be, and that includes books of fantasy and science fiction. The material is endless.”

Berg has been teaching at Mason for nearly 30 years. In addition to teaching creative writing and publishing courses, Berg serves as publisher of Stillhouse Press, Mason Creative Writing's student-managed "teaching press" and literary imprint.

Order your copy of The Burning of the World here.