The Big Burn

  • by Timothy Egan
  • Narrated by Robertson Dean
  • 10 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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, a tragedy that cemented Teddy Roosevelt's legacy.

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- P. Bergh "There's always time for reading"

Thrilling history, beautifully read

Timothy Egan's The Big Burn is the best sort of nonfiction book: a detailed and thoroughly researched examination of an interesting moment in history, made exciting and lively by the way the author structures the narrative. The Big Burn reads like one of those great disaster movies of the 70s, introducing a range of characters, great and humble, connecting them to an ominous disaster, and then following each of their stories to the thrilling conclusion.

Unlike disaster movies of the 70s, though, The Big Burn will provoke thought and discussion about what has changed and what hasn't changed--politically, environmentally, and socially--in America in the hundred years since the events took place.

Robertson Dean's deep, rich voice has a weight and substance suited to the text, and he even lends a touch of acting and dialect in extensive citations from the writings of historical figures.

I generally listen to fiction from Audible, and the Big Burn was as entertaining and engaging as any novel, with a great deal more substance and food for conversation.
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- A. Hawley

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-19-2009
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio