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National Book Award–winner Timothy Egan turns his historian's eye to the largest-ever forest fire in America and offers an epic, cautionary tale for our time.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and 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 ...
National Book Award–winner Timothy Egan turns his historian's eye to the largest-ever forest fire in America and offers an epic, cautionary tale for our time.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and 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 the blink of an eye. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men 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 recreates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force, and the larger story of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, that follows is equally resonant. 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. Even as TR's national forests were smoldering they were saved: The heroism shown by his rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service in ways we can still witness today.
This e-book includes a sample chapter of SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER.
"Essential for any Green bookshelf." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Historians will enjoy Egan’s well-written book, featuring sparkling and dynamic descriptions of the land and people, as a review of Roosevelt’s conservation ideas, while general readers will find his suspenseful account of the fires mesmerizing."—Library Journal
"Egan tells the story with great humanity . . . In prose so sizzling it crackles, The Big Burn keeps alive the conservation dreams of Teddy Roosevelt by allowing this story to rise from the ashes, once again."—Denver Post
"[Egan] has already proved himself to be a masterly collector of memorable stories. His new book, The Big Burn, continues in the same tradition . . . What makes The Big Burn particularly impressive is Egan’s skill as an equal-opportunity storyteller. By this I mean that he recounts the stories of men and women completely unknown to most of us with the same fervor he uses to report the stories of historic figures . . . Even as we mark the centennial of this great fire, wildfires in the West continue to burn. It makes this book which is a masterwork in every sense worthy of a very careful reading."—Christian Science Monitor
"[Egan] is at the top of his game . . . An important cautionary tale for these days that also reads like a classic adventure story."—Washington Times
"Egan is a gorgeous writer. His chapters on the 'blowup'... should become a classic account of an American Pompeii."—BookPage
"Muir called Pinchot 'someone who could relish, not run from a rainstorm'—a phrase that also describes The Big Burn's narrator. For as long as Egan keeps chasing storms, whether of dust, fire, rain or snow, you'd be smart to call shotgun."—Los Angeles Times
"Few writers have the Pulitzer Prize-winning Egan's gift for transforming history lessons into the stuff of riveting page-turners... Don't miss this one. Grade: A."—Entertainment Weekly
Posted May 7, 2010
I would never have thought a book on the beginnings of American conservation and the Forest Service would be my favorite book of the year, but it is. Egan not only has well researched the devastating fires of 1910 in Idaho and Montana, but brilliantly brought to life both those who fought the fire and those who fought for policies that would conserve the forests of America. That these conflicts between businesses who want to exploit natural resources and average citizens who cherish them continue to this day is all the more reason why this story of a long ago fire resonates one hundred years later. Egan deftly weaves the story of the calamity of the fire with the personal stories of those who were outmaned and lacked federal support. Highly recommended.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 4, 2013
Great read! I enjoyed the mini-biographies of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Now I want to read more about them. The story of the beginning of the conservation movement was interesting too. His depiction of the huge fire was a real gripping story with wonderful, memorable stories. Just saw a photo of fire fighters at Yosemite and their "Pulaski" tools and knew all about how that was named. Highly recommend this for anyone who likes history and the outdoors.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2013
This was a read for my book club, not something I would have picked out on my own, but I liked it. I've always been interested in history, and now living in Washington State it had local appeal.
It was interesting to see that people haven't changed much, people are still fighting things that would be good for the country as they fought conservation then.
Posted April 5, 2013
So glad I read this book. You will learn about Teddy Roosevelt and how he started the Forest Service, politics has and always will be about the might dollar, and what brave men were a part of the early Forest Service. Sometimes I think the average Joe should run this country.
Posted March 5, 2013
Timothy Egan does it again. A period of history that is little known, but important is brought to vivid life. I couldn't stop reading this book because of the human stories Mr Egan uses to tell his story, and the fascinating tale of our fledgling Fire Service and National Parks. A fascinating read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2013
Brings real people back to life by telling their fascinating story surviving the huge fire across the northwest in the early 1900s. Also describes the beginnings of the US Forest Service - sometimes making it through outrageous politics.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2012
I guess this would classify as an historical novel - with the emphasis on historical accuracy. Loved it - as a retired Parks guy and firefighter. TR and Pinchot saved our National Forests from idiot politicians.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2012
A fascinating account of two battles fought in the early 1900s - the political battle fought by Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot to establish the U.S. Forest Service against strong opposition from timber, mining and railroad interests, and the on-the-ground battles fought by the young, underpaid, undersupplied rangers to try to save the forests in the devastatingly dry summer of 1910. The author brings the characters to life, providing glimpses into their personal lives as he weaves each character into the story. In the political story, parallels can be drawn to battles still being fought today. In the personal stories, the accounts of heroism in the face of overwhelming odds are timeless. A great read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 26, 2012
Posted June 12, 2012
This book is highly reccommended. It tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot's start of the National Forest Service, our national parks and reserves and the terrible fire that destroyed the bitterroot forests and beyond before rain finally came after a long drought. It tells of the horrific fight they had on their hands from big money and politicians to save the many lands we now cherish. If not for these dedicated conservationists we wouldn't have what we have now.
Posted June 5, 2012
I am astonished by Timothy Egan's ability to research and present such epic events as the deadly forest fire of 1910 and the birth of conservation in such an exciting and absorbing narrative style. Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, are fascinating and fallible. I never imagined how their personalities intertwined and conflicted with their hopes for our national forests, or how they struggled to give birth to and battle for their precious child Conservation in spite of mean-spirited, greedy political leaders.
Growing up in the West myself, and twice mesmerized by the sight of the Sierra Mountains ablaze behind my home, the discussion of wildfire out-of-control is not a distant topic. I watched firefighters walk into these life and death struggles with awe and disbelief. The Big Burn is a heroic record of lives, men and women, that mattered during the terrible fire on August 20, 1910. Egan tells us the very personal story of how the leaders of our country created policy that led these foresters into this firestorm of overwhelming horror with no means to fight it, protect the towns in its path, or save the people in its way.
From the wealthiest idealists of that time to the immigrants working for no pay, Egan painstakingly gives us the details of their lives, the richness of their desires, and the bitterness of their decisions, which led many to their deaths. And yet, there are so many deserving heroes, too, which thankfully Egan offers for our consideration, like Gifford Pinchot and Pulaski. In the end, the readers will thank Egan for bringing these great men to life and light, and helping them understand the controversy between conservationists and those who might use our forests for personal gain.
An impressive story from an excellent writer.
Posted December 10, 2011
Timothy Egan went to great expense with his character development, and it paid huge dividends as the book reaches it's zenith. While not written, I believe, with any political implications, it is as thought provoking now as it we be in the future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 15, 2011
A true story that reads like a thriller. You will not want to put it down. If you ever wondered how the Forest Service started; if you are fascinated by people of courage; if the old west and survival in the west intrigue you, read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
I can only echo the other reviews. The history, the politics and the spirit of the people of the times, powerful and not, are documented in an engaging and informative way. Only in the history can we come to see how much, and in some cases, how little, has changed.
If your interest is in the history of wildfires in the U.S., then it is also worth following up on Egan's mention of the Peshtigo fire of 1871, the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history. I've recommended a book on that below.
Posted February 6, 2010
The Big Burn was an exciting trip through the lives and events associated with the creation of our Forest Sevice and our system of National and State Parks. You will hear names that once you might have only associated with a big brown sign in the middle of the wilderness, but the next time you are there a story will come to mind that will draw a smile to your lips, a tear to your eye, or maybe even a scowl.
It was a wonderful read.
I came upon this book as I roamed the bookstore, and its unusual cover with the burned cut-out was what first captured my eye.It is subtitled, "The Fire that Saved America," and this story ignites a fire of indignation at the wanton destruction of our country's forests. Not only is this an incredible story, but the history of this largest-ever forest fire in America made me feel almost short of breath as I raced along to follow this American tragedy.
Set in the early 1900's, the story brings to life the political and economic events of an era when 'Conservation' was not a household word. The impact of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt's chief forester, on the future of America's National Park System, is told dramatically. There is much human drama in the tales of the men who made up G.P.'s boys, the first group of Forest Rangers. You also meet John Muir, an American icon.
The three pages of Chapter 10, "Blowup," are sheer poetry from the first word until the last. I had heard my Mother use the term "Lalo Palouser" to describe a strong wind, but I really didn't know what it meant, and I never thought to ask her. To envision firebrands being tossed more than 10 miles while the wildfires raced more than 80 miles per hour with temperatures reaching more than 1,000 degrees is more than my imagination can fathom. This is an amazing description of true terror.
I do not know as much about the northwestern part of our country as I would like, and this gives me a invigorating look at its history. You may have bought the recently published National Parks: America's Best Idea, the book and DVD series about our national parks, narrated by Ken Burns. If so, you will be enthralled with the history of this book as it relates.
Timothy Egan brings to life an incredible amount of research into the lives and personalities of the principal characters, Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, as well as their roles in the formation of what was to become the U. S. Forest Service. The "Big Burn" of 1910, consuming more than three million acres in the forests of Idaho and Montana, provides the canvas upon which Egan paints the drama of conflicting interests of conservationists, logging companies, developers and railroads, enhanced with details acquainting the reader with numerous individuals and their roles in fighting this, the nation's largest forest fire.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2009
If you liked The Worst Hard Time, You will simply relish in this work. The writing is excellent and Egan does a great job of developing the characters involved in the story and describing the importance of the fire. This book, at times, also reads like a mystery. And there will be times where you simply find yourself traveling and camping with TR, Pinchot, and Muir. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this work for anyone. You will not be able to put it down. Great Story. Great Author. Great History.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Egan details the history of the beginnings of the US Forest Service and the battle to control one of the largest forest fires in US history. The book tells of the callousness of the rich stockholders/landowners who believed the land was there for their exploitation, and it relates the heroism of the newly minted forest rangers who were forced to dig into their own pockets to keep Teddy Roosevelt's dream of conservation alive. The social history of the Idaho wilderness is fascinating. I highly recommend this very entertaining and enlightening book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.