Published by
Rizzoli (2023-03-28)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language
Earth Sciences, Geography, Environment, Planning


Storia umana di un disastro naturale

by Rielli, Daniele

IL FUOCO INVISIBILE is an absolutely brilliant and extremely well-documented book about the largest plant epidemic in the world - the one caused by xylella, a pathogen wreaking havoc on Italy's olive trees.

The world's largest plant epidemic is underway in Salento, the stony "heel" of Italy: a peninsula surrounded by the blue waters of the Mediterranean sea. This territory is one of the most beautiful places in Italy and a popular tourist destination, however it is first and foremost the land of olive trees, which are considered immortal and sacred by local people. Every family (even the author's) owns olive trees: they mark the passage of time and generations and are part of the profound identity of an entire population.

Everything changes in 2013: the olive trees start to succumb to a mysterious disease. A bacterial outbreak is quickly identified: branches become progressively desiccated, trees turn grey and dry out, and families that have manufactured olive oil for generations have to face the harsh reality of a true epidemic. Within a few years, a plant pathogen, called Xylella, will have spread across the region, one mile after the other, changing an entire territory and killing over 21 million olive trees.
News of the disease are immediately picked up by media all over the planet and by European institutions; it's an emergency. But Italian authorities fail to stop it... and Salento gradually turns into a huge plant graveyard.
How was this possible? What are the secrets of the land of olive oil? Who are the main players behind this story?

In an attempt to understand what is killing his own family's olive trees, Daniele Rielli sets on a journey to investigate the events related to the arrival of Xylella in Puglia. He studies the epidemic, he talks with its protagonists (scientists, olive growers, prosecutors and deniers), looking for the secrets of an industry, of a territory, and of his connection with it.
In the meantime fake news spread on social networks, deniers fill the town squares, magical thinking powerfully resurfaces in people's minds, well-respected and international researchers who are studying the phenomenon and suggest to cut the infected trees are made into scapegoats. As if that's not bad enough, the disordered action of Italian public prosecutors results in an investigation against scientists...It's the perfect storm.

Daniele Rielli is an Italian writer. Born in Bolzano to a father from Salento and a mother from Bolzano, he lives in Rome. When he first heard the news of the olive tree disease, he remembered his grandfather who, twenty years earlier, had a dream and saw his olive trees burned as if by "an invisible fire." And he decided to go back to Salento, where his father still tend the family's fields, to discover more. He is the author of two non fiction books: Stories from the New World (Adelphi 2016) and Quitaly (Indiana 2014) and of two novels: Odio (Mondadori 2020) and Lascia stare la gallina (Bompiani 2015). He is the host of a successful podcast: "Pdr- the Daniele Rielli podcast".

Available rights (1)

Language Territory Type Vendor Status
German World All

Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

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