The Big Burn

The Big Burn

Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America

Book - 2009
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In THE WORST HARD TIME, Timothy Egan put the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl at the center of a rich history, told through characters he brought to indelible life. Now he performs the same alchemy with the Big Burn, the largest-ever forest fire in America and the tragedy that cemented Teddy Roosevelt's legacy in the land.

On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in an eyeblink. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men -- college boys, day-workers, immigrants from mining camps -- to fight the fires. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them.

Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force, through the eyes of the people who lived it. Equally dramatic, though, is the larger story he tells of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by every citizen. The robber barons fought him and the rangers charged with protecting the reserves, but even as TR's national forests were smoldering they were saved: The heroism shown by those same rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.

THE BIG BURN tells an epic story, paints a moving portrait of the people who lived it, and offers a critical cautionary tale for our time.

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
ISBN: 9780618968411
Branch Call Number: 973.911 Egan
Characteristics: x, 324 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm.


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Sep 18, 2018

I think that Mr. Egan has once again written a highly readable book that entertains and educates. Having spent a lot of my life in the area of the fire I was familiar with landscape as it is today as well as the towns and communities that were affected. I'm not sure it would have been as interesting to me if that wasn't the case.

Nov 23, 2014

The way Tim Egan told the story of this fire and how it led oddly to a national action for protection of forests was really interesting. It has a lot of detail that i wasn't able to connect to but i could see how the building blocks were laid down in history. Plus his writing style is direct and colorful.

Aug 31, 2013

An interesting read that highlights a time in history I was not aware of. The individuals in the story are well written to the point that you want a happy ending for everyone. However, it took me forever to make it through this book.

Aug 06, 2012

You could not ask for better designed characters than Roosevelt and Pinchot. Almost too good to be believable.

Jul 21, 2012

Loved the book. Loved learning about Teddy Roosevelt and the birth of the forest service and the environmental movement.

Jun 23, 2012

Tim Egan writes an interesting account of the greatest wildfire in American history and the politics that led up to and followed it. His descriptions of the ordeals encountered by the forest fire fighters are first rate. He also describes the fight for conservation waged by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, as TR's handpicked successor, Pres Taft, turned out not to be the progressive TR hoped he would be. The right-wing swing of the GOP evidently started with Taft. A map would have been a nice addition to this book.


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