The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America (MP3 CD)
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Winter 2011 Reading Group List
“Well-researched, compassionate, and vivid, Egan's book tells the interconnected stories of the 'Big Burn' forest fire of 1910, the founding of the National Park system, the creation of the enduring idea of conservation, and the immigration and labor histories of the Rocky Mountain West. These gracefully interwoven stories create a memorable picture of the political, social, cultural, and natural forces at play at a pivotal moment in the nation's history. Add to this the powerful personalities of Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and the wide array of characters who made up the first generation of forest rangers, and you have a 'can't put it down' firestorm of a book in your hands!”
— John Evans, DIESEL, A Bookstore, Oakland, CA
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 college boys, day workers, immigrants from mining camps to fight the fire. 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. Equally dramatic 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 and preserved for every citizen. The robber barons fought Roosevelt and Pinchot's rangers, but the Big Burn saved the forests even as it destroyed them: the heroism shown by the rangers turned public opinion permanently in their favor and became the creation myth that drove the Forest Service, with consequences still felt in the way our national lands are protected or not today.