The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

by Timothy Egan
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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547394602
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/07/2010
Pages: 324
Sales rank: 93,352
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, a New York Times columnist, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in nonfictionHis previous books include The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award, and the national bestseller The Big Burn. He lives in Seattle, Washington. 


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

November 8, 1954

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Big Burn 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
ChiefGaryMac More than 1 year ago
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.
kc_reader More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Euryleia More than 1 year ago
Well written and, despite being history, very emotionally engaging.  Even knowing how the 'story' ends you still find yourself caught up in the drama.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
SFlibres More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Park Service history was facinating
jomarshall-twigstories More than 1 year ago
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.
LosAngelesDan More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am retired US Forest Service. My forest supervisor lent me his book to read when I was undergoing cancer treatments. I learned many things, but it also brought back memories of very hard times and periods when some resources were not well respected. This is a touching story based on a severe wildfire, and the men that fought it. The background information in based on just how difficult it was politically to conserve resources in the era of big business. It basically took a combination of both Congressional and Presidential action to conserve the national forests. It is fairly long book, slow in places with excruciating detail brought out by the author, but also one that is difficult to put down. But to know the sacrifices made by our predecessors can be uplifting, especially when you are going through tough times yourself. To know about great men that see past the immediate politics and dollar to try to understand, conserve and sustain our most important resources for the people is an important story. I learned many things I did not know about Gifford Pinchot, his idiosyncrasies and internal ghosts he bore, yet was still effective. You wonder if today, he would have been as effective. Most will not be able to experience the "Forest Service" family, but that personal visit to my home by my forest supervisor when I was very sick, and loaning me his personal copy of this book is not out of the ordinary for an agency that "Cares for the Land, and Serves People". In reading this book, you get a chance to read about this history and personal effort and commitment of individuals that goes beyond expectations. COULD NOT TELL IF THIS WENT IN, SO I AM RESENDING AS ANONYMOUS.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do you have red hair?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The girl was taking a shower.
dogloverVC More than 1 year ago
Gave me an appreciation for the passionate dedication of T Roosevelt and the political climate of that time period.
booksnoopks More than 1 year ago
Sorry, I just could not get through this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I_like_clean_reads More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book, and where do I start! It starts out with the politics surrounding the beginnings of the conservation efforts as well as the beginnings of the Forest Service. Liking Presidential history, I loved how integral Teddy Roosevelt was in the conservation efforts, but appalled at how the first USFS Rangers were treated. Next was the coverage of the big fires of 1910, and Egan did not disappoint. All present day firefighters and others who work with wildland fire should read this book; and if Forest Service employees haven't yet read it, they, too, should! Excellent historical read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: FireStar. <br> Age: 37 moons old. <br> Gender: Male. <p> Appearance: Ginger fur with a flame-colored pelt. Green eyes. <br> Personality: Smart, brave, handsome, great warrior, thoughtful, funny, and a strong leader. <p> Status: Leader. <br> Anything else just ask me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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OllienZoe More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago