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About the book
  • Published: 27 June 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099597476
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 944
  • RRP: $27.99

City on Fire

Among the most eagerly anticipated and addictive novels of recent years

The New York Times bestseller
A Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2017

'Extraordinary…dazzling… a sprawling, generous, warm-hearted epic of 1970s New York' Observer

Midnight, New Year’s Eve, 1976. Nine lives are about to be changed forever.

Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, heirs to one of New York's greatest fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by the punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbour – and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve.

Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out.

'Dazzling' Washington Post

'Heart-stopping' New York Times

'Addictive' Independent

'Extraordinary' Observer

  • Pub date: 27 June 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099597476
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 944
  • RRP: $27.99

About the Author

Garth Risk Hallberg

Garth Risk Hallberg’s first novel, City on Fire, was an international bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Independent, and Vogue, among others. His illustrated novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family was nominated for a Believer Book Award and his short fiction and essays have been published in the Guardian, and the New York Times Book Review. He is a Granta Best Young American Novelist. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children and is at work on a new novel.

Also by Garth Risk Hallberg

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Praise for City on Fire

“Extraordinary…dazzling… a sprawling, generous, warm-hearted epic of 1970s New York”


“Staggering…gloriously ambitious”

Independent on Sunday

“A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power – a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents”

New York Times

“Exciting, imaginative and perfectly paced”

Daily Telegraph

“Dickensian, massively entertaining, as close to a great American novel as this century has produced”

Stephen King

“You’re soon zipping through Hallberg’s vividly realised New York like a child discovering Hogwarts for the first time”

The Times

“This book felt to me like a DVD boxset, in that each chapter was so short that I’d find myself reading just one more, just one more, and then find myself still reading an hour later. I love this book: this is definitely for me the best book we’ve done on the Book Club this year.”

Simon Mayo Radio 2 Book Club

“Once I started Hallberg's addictive soap opera shuttling between uptown and downtown Manhattan, I couldn't stop ... This is The Goldfinch with a safety pin through its beak.”

James Kidd, Independent

“A tour de force”

Daily Mail

“The kind of debut novel that only comes around once every 20 years or so – one that everyone who's read it roots for...[An] edge-of-your-seat epic, which is as tightly told as it is ambitious.”


“There is prose in City on Fire as transporting as any you’re likely to see in a book in the next 10 years”


“City on Fire is an extraordinary performance. Radiating youthful bravado that will make older authors sniff with contempt (or sweat with envy), Hallberg has conjured what he calls the “muchness” of New York City in the late 1970s … A novel whose Whitmanesque arms embrace an entire city of lovers and strivers, saints and killers … Dazzling”

Ron Charles, Washington Post

“The hype is justified: this is the year’s must-read book”


“A big, stunning first novel and an amazing virtual reality machine, whisking us back to New York City in the 1970s … It’s a novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power – a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.”

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“It’s a big ask to give up a week of your reading life to an unknown guy from North Carolina whose middle name is Risk. However, then you start reading this classic thriller set in the graffiti-splashed 1970s New York, about a girl called Sam being shot in Central Park, and it’s immediately apparent that here is a writer who knows how to do suspense. You’re soon zipping through Hallberg’s vividly realised New York like a child discovering Hogwarts for the first time.”

The Times

“It’s been a while since a debut novel received as much pre-publication scrutiny as City on Fire… It happens that the hype wasn’t for nothing… Hallberg writes with style and sophistication about everything from urban decay and punk rock to domestic terrorism and the dissolution of the nuclear family, seamlessly melding disparate character arcs, and deploying a host of storytelling modes in the process… Those who commit will come away with the bracing sense that they’ve discovered a writer of immense talent, confidence and self-awareness… It’s exciting to see a writer start his career with such an extravagant display of talent and assurance, and pleasing to learn that behind all the hype, there’s a tremendous amount of substance. Hallberg’s going to be fun to follow for a long time.”

Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

“Were it not such an emphatically personal work, City on Fire might have suffered from the preemptive (and inaccurate) comparisons freely employed by critics and publisher alike. Hallberg is not David Foster Wallace, nor (thankfully) is he Jonathan Franzen. However, he is now indisputably in their league. That is the only comparison with such authors required…Hallberg's New York is not that of Tom Wolfe, Lou Reed or Jonathan Lethem. It is vividly and indisputably his own…The author, it seems, is not dead yet … Some critics already resent City on Fire for doing too many things. One suspects what they truly resent is that it does too many things well. Hallberg occupies a middle-ground between the social epics of the 19th century and the all-encompassing endeavour of modernism, and achieves much inside that comfortably gigantic expanse…Though the novel confronts identity, idealism, love, youth, art, ambition, the political and the personal, the persistent charm of City on Fire is how it luxuriates in an impressionistic recreation of place, mood and atmosphere. If there are lengthy, luminous descriptive sections of Hallberg's prose that exist for no other reason than to be beautiful, there is nothing wrong with that. Quite the opposite: the beauty of such passages permeates the entire book, and could easily support another hundred pages. That's right. City on Fire – all 900-plus pages of it -– is, if anything, too short.”

Sunday Herald

“City on Fire is the kind of exuberant, Zeitgeisty New York novel, like The Bonfire of the Vanities or The Goldfinch, that you’ll either love, hate, or pretend to have read”



Judy Blume

“[Hallberg conjures] a pulsing metropolis out of legend, lyrical prose, studious imitation, and the thrilling arrogance of imagination … City on Fire is a novel of connection, forgiveness, and empathy”

A.O. Scott

“Gunshots ring out in New York’s Central Park. Various colourful characters revolve around this event, their lives interlocking. Don’t be put off by its length. It’s sprawling, brilliant and all-consuming – I couldn’t put it down.”

Fanny Blake, Woman and Home

“Like great American writers before him, he taps into the energy of a moment and makes you wish you had witnessed it … The verdict: believe the hype around City on Fire. Five stars.”


“Looks as if it might be the most propulsive New York novel since Bonfire of the Vanities.”

Jesse Armstrong, Guardian

“His New York City is ablaze, with fireworks, trashcan infernos and the burning Bronx.”

Sarah Begley, Time Magazine

“A fantastic achievement; mesmerising, addictive in a way that a book this long really shouldn’t be, and full of intrigue. Hallberg’s writing is clear, insightful, and accessible; for all that it runs to almost 1,000 pages, each sentence has been crafted just so.”

Running in Heels

“An epic of New York…a kind of punk Bleak House.”


“This magnificent first novel is full to bursting with plot, character, and emotion, all set within the exquisitely grungy 1970s New York City...Graceful in execution, hugely entertaining, and most concerned with the longing for connection, a theme that reaches full realization during the blackout of 1977, this epic is both a compelling mystery and a literary tour de force.”

Booklist (starred)

“The very-damn-good American novel.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A vivid immersive novel.”

Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe Sunday

“Clocks in at a cool 944 pages, but we breezed through it in no time. It’s the story of a shooting in Central Park and its effect on ‘70s New York – the city’s scuzzy, punky peak.”


“Glitzy, gritty storytelling.”

The Debrief

“An outstanding novel… what an accomplishment.”

James Treltsch, The Skinny

“Ambitious and assured – and stunningly good.”

Good Housekeeping

“An American epic…But don’t wait for the movie. There’s writing here that’s too good to miss.”

Diana Hendry, Spectator

“The biggest and boldest novel of this generation”


“Approach as you would a box set or a Shirley Conran novel - in stages. It's glitzy, gritty storytelling that is worth sticking with.”

Alexandra Heminsley, Debrief

“A fantastic achievement; mesmerising, addictive in a way that a book this long really shouldn't be, and full of intrigue. Hallberg's writing is clear, insightful, and accessible; for all that it runs to almost 1,000 pages, each sentence has been crafted just so.”

Jennifer Lipman, Running in Heels

“This year’s most exciting fiction debut is a wild ride through the grimy, glorious city of the 1970s...a book that is truly that great, rare thing: a wholly inhabitable universe, reflecting back our lives while also offering an exhilarating escape from them”

Rolling Stone

“Expert storytelling, lyricism and authenticity…Fans of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch: you’re going to love this book”

The National

“The hype is justified: this is the year’s must-read book ”


“A gripping, atmospheric and authentic take on the decade when the Big Apple seemed almost rotten to the core”


“For almost a thousand pages, he swirls around a single tragedy — the shooting of a college student in Central Park — sweeping up tangential characters and making every one of them thrum with real life until the lightning strikes, the electric grid overloads and the city goes mad on that dark summer night in 1977.”

Ron Charles, Washington Post

“The grit of the city provides an equal lure. As garbage blows, graffiti scrawls, and street fashions strut through Vinyl and City on Fire, who wouldn't swoon?”

Jim Farber, I-D Vice

“A vast cast of characters and intricate sub-plots, City on Fire has been compared to everything from Bleak House to the early work of Jonathan Franzen. Not to mention nods to Don DeLillo and Tom Wolfe.”

Alfie Baldwin, GQ Magazine Uk

“Despite being a debut, it shows a technical maturity matched to a playful, sexy wit… A thriller, albeit an extremely clever and stylish one.”

Melissa Katsoulis, The Times

“Imaginative debut… His eyes for the tiny things that make up life suggests better is to come.”

Daily Telegraph

“This is one of those enormous books that might, if you’re luck, grab you and keep hold for days and days.”

William Leith, Evening Standard

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