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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 hundreds of small blazes into a roaring inferno that destroyed towns and timber in an eye-blink. Forest rangers assembled nearly 10,000 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 with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of 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 national forests as our national treasure, owned by and preserved for every citizen. The robber barons fought them, but the fire saved the forests even as it destroyed them: the heroism shown by the rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, even as 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By P. Bergh on 11-11-09
A fascinating history of early Forest Service
I heard Timothy Egan interviewed on NPR about this book, so downloaded despite two early "2 star" reviews. I was glad I did. His book provides a fascinating history of the early conservation movement and the great fire of 1910 and the role it played in solidifying the Forest Service in the hearts and minds of Americans. BTW, it's a great companion read to "Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior" which, sadly, is not available in audio format.
25 of 25 people found this review helpful
By CARL V PHILLIPS on 11-25-09
wonderful audio experience
This is an very good book, but an excellent listen. The story is captivating and uplifting as both success and tragedy. The mix of personal adventure and non-wonky political analysis work very well at oral pace. The flaws in the writing (see, e.g., the New York Times review), such as the author's tendency toward over-dramatic or breathless prose, turn out to be little or no problem when listening rather than reading. (You notice the phrases that seem comical out of context if you look for them, but only if you look for them. Otherwise, they glide right by.) Dean's narration is near perfect, and adds much to what is already a very good book. I would definitely recommend this book, and make the rarely-deserved recommendation that listening is much better than reading. The book is such an inspiration that if it were not winter right now, I would be off exploring the locales from the book rather than taking time to write this.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful