Egan always writes insightfully about his native region; here he commands the full sweep of characters, from the president on down to the loneliest mining-town drunk.
The Washington Post
Egan weaves his account of the Big Burn with the creation story of the United States Forest Service. This might seem a dull, bureaucratic yarn, but Egan tells it as the stirring tale of a very odd couple: the irrepressible Teddy Roosevelt, who "burned 2,000 calories before noon and drank his coffee with seven lumps of sugar," and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, an ascetic loner who sometimes slept on a wooden pillow and for 20 years mystically clung to his deceased fiancee.
The New York Times
Egan, National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time, spins a tremendous tale of Progressive-era America out of the 1910 blaze that burned across Montana, Idaho and Washington and put the fledgling U.S. Forest Service through a veritable trial by fire. Underfunded, understaffed, unsupported by Congress and President Taft and challenged by the robber barons that Taft's predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, had worked so hard to oppose, the Forest Service was caught unprepared for the immense challenge. Egan shuttles back and forth between the national stage of politics and the conflicting visions of the nation's future, and the personal stories of the men and women who fought and died in the fire: rangers, soldiers, immigrant miners imported from all over the country to help the firefighting effort, prostitutes, railroad engineers and dozens others whose stories are painstakingly recreated from scraps of letters, newspaper articles, firsthand testimony, and Forest Service records. Egan brings a touching humanity to this story of valor and cowardice in the face of a national catastrophe, paying respectful attention to Roosevelt's great dream of conservation and of an America “for the little man.” (Oct.)
In this unique chronicle of the 1910 forest fire that burned more than three million acres in two days, killed at least 80 people, and destroyed five towns, Egan, author of the National Book Award-winning The Worst Hard Time, tells a complex and intriguing story: the confrontation between wealthy industrialists who built railroads and stripped the land of its natural resources and those men, including President Theodore Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, who diligently worked to preserve the West's vast forest resources. The "big burn" complicated this showdown by swaying public opinion in favor of the idea that natural resources belonged to the public and that fires could be controlled by human efforts. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09; for more on Roosevelt's conservation efforts, see Douglas Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior.—Ed.]—Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley Coll., Mt. Carmel, IL
The epic forest fire of 1910 and how it kept massive business interests from strangling the nascent American conservation movement. New York Times columnist and National Book Award winner Egan (The Worst Hard Times: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, 2005, etc.) dissects the nation's worst-ever forest fire and its aftermath. Erupting over two August days in the tinder-dry Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border, it consumed three million woodland acres, wiped out several railroad-junction towns and killed nearly 100 people, most of them temporary fire fighters and the U.S. Forest Service rangers who had hired them. Egan focuses his probing tale on two men, Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, who had met two decades before, finding they had wealthy families and a deep love of the outdoors in common. A third, Sierra Club founder John Muir, was a mentor and inspiration to both, but later broke away due to differences of opinion on policy matters. In the author's accounting, the idea of conservation, as now generally accepted, was essentially launched from the relationship between Roosevelt and Pinchot. Roosevelt proved crucial in many endeavors. He set aside, as Egan writes, "an area roughly the size of France" as public-domain national forest in the West and appointed Pinchot as founding director of the Forest Service, which was then an agency with no authority that faced nearly total public antipathy, including that of the powerful timber and railroad barons. The "Big Burn," however, during which undermanned ranks of rangers were dying in the last line of defense, drastically changed public sentiment. Essential for any Green bookshelf.Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Kansas City, Missoula, Mont., Denver, Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Los Angeles
"Egan brings a touching humanity to this story of valor and cowardice in the face of a national catastrophe, paying respectful attention to Roosevelt's great dream of conservation and of an America 'for the little man.'" -Publishers Weekly, starred review
"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