California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric-and What It Means for America's Power Grid | Mechanics' Institute

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California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric-and What It Means for America's Power Grid
with author Katherine Blunt of the Wall Street Journal

Join Wall Street Journal reporter and Pulitzer finalist Katherine Blunt as we examine how a powerful company can put people in a powerless (and deadly) situation.


California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric—and What It Means for America's Power Grid is a revelatory, urgent narrative with national implications, exploring the decline of California’s largest utility company that led to countless wildfires—including the one that destroyed the town of Paradise—and the human cost of infrastructure failure.


Pacific Gas and Electric was a legacy company built by innovators and visionaries, establishing California as a desirable home and economic powerhouse. In California Burning, Katherine Blunt examines how that legacy fell apart—unraveling a long history of deadly failures in which Pacific Gas and Electric endangered millions of Northern Californians, through criminal neglect of its infrastructure. As PG&E prioritized profits and politics, power lines went unchecked—until a rusted hook purchased for 56 cents in 1921 split in two, sparking the deadliest wildfire in California history.


California Burning is a deeply reported, character-driven narrative, the story of a disaster expanding into a much bigger exploration of accountability. It’s an American tragedy that serves as a cautionary tale for utilities across the nation—especially as climate change makes aging infrastructure more vulnerable, with potentially fatal consequences.


​Katherine Blunt has written about utilities and renewable energy for the Journal since 2018. Her coverage of PG&E, reported in close collaboration with two colleagues, was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and earned a Gerald Loeb award, the highest honor in business journalism. The series also won the 2019 Thomas L. Stokes Award for energy and environmental writing, as well as a silver Barlett & Steele award through the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.


Praise for California Burning:


“One does not need to be interested specifically in utilities or the energy industry at large to appreciate this book-length reportage….If you were a business leader having to choose between the latest self-help pablum that populates much of the literature about how corporations work and California Burning, you certainly should choose the latter.” — AMERICAN AFFAIRS JOURNAL


“Diligent reporting and a clear focus make this a must-read for anyone interested in the future of energy.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY


“A compelling and heart-wrenching study.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS


This event will be held onsite at Mechanics' Institute, 4th floor Meeting Room.

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