'AI-written history' of Maui wildfire becomes Amazon bestseller, fuels conspiracies

Bizarrely, Bezos's bookshop is also promoting a book about the book

A book that purports to recount the history of this month's deadly Maui wildfire has become a bestseller on Amazon, despite reviewers panning the work because its prose is on a par with that of AI.

The 44-page tome, snappily titled "Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change," is a self-published work attributed to a “Dr Miles Stones” whose author biography states: "I'd rather not say." At the time of writing, Amazon US rated it the number-one bestseller in its environmental science category. It currently has 21 reviews on Amazon, all one-star.

Signs that the book was perhaps not crafted by a human include its rather repetitive writing in a dull style. Five of the seven sentences in the paragraph describing its content open with the same words, "The book," while the other two start with the book's title. Not exactly an imaginative start.

Another oddity is that Amazon lists Fire and Fury as having been published on August 10, yet the description of the work states that it "chronicles the events of August 8-11, 2023, when a massive fire swept across the island of Maui."

The good doctor’s author page lists other books he’s penned, one of which was published on August 11 and another on August 14.

Where does he find the time? Not even Reg scribes are that fast!

The timing discrepancy is, sadly, no laughing matter, as it is fueling bonkers conspiracy theories about who or what started the blaze, with some claiming the tome is evidence the disaster was planned or foreseen. For those who missed the news, at least 110 people were killed and the town of Lahaina destroyed after fires tore through the Hawaiian island of Maui starting August 8.

Fact-checking website Snopes has debunked the idea the book was published as some kind of eerie harbinger before the flames could engulf homes and businesses.

"The rumor about the book supposedly predicting the disaster was possibly prompted by the fact that its description on Amazon said the text covered 'the events of August 8-11, 2023,' while the publication date was August 10. It was unknown why the description included time after the book's publication date," Snopes noted.


Fury, indeed ... The contentious book listed on Amazon. Click to enlarge

One reviewer assessed the title as "inaccurate and insensitive… smells of AI, even before the smoke clears (literally)." Another described it as "a sloppily put together fake book," and claimed it was "generated by ChatGPT artificial 'intelligence'," adding: "Nothing of any value is contained within these pages."

Bizarrely, a book about the book has a 2.5-star rating, at time of writing.

That 14-page work is titled "Summary of Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change by Dr Miles Stones EXPOSED.”

This one is also a bestseller, this time in the 30-minute education & reference short reads category. It’s even been included as a free read in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription reading service.

US military conducts search operations of areas damaged by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, on August 15, 2023

A US serviceman surveys the aftermath of deadly wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii ... Credit: Army National Guard Staff Sgt Matthew A. Foster

Amazon has recently come under fire for allowing sales of books that seem to be AI-generated and claim to be authoritative but upon closer reading are quickly found to be slapdash and inaccurate. Jane Friedman, an author and reporter covering the publishing industry, found several books published under her name despite never having written them. They all have generic-sounding titles, and she believes they were produced by machine learning software.

Friedman criticized Amazon publicly, after which the e-commerce giant removed those suspect titles from its digital bookstores.

AI-generated books aren't strictly prohibited within the Amazonian digital tat bazaar, and it is not hard to find numerous publications on the site covering topics including travel and cooking.

The Register has asked Amazon for comment. ®

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