The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (Paperback)
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
A dramatic account of the worst forest fire in American history by the author of the National Book Award–winning The Worst Hard Time.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forest of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno. 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.
Timothy Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched ranges against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of outsize president Teddy Roosevelt ad 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.
“An important cautionary tale for these days that also reads like a classic adventure story.”—Washington Times
"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 —