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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan Unknown Binding – July 12, 2009


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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: by Timothy Egan (July 12, 2009)
  • ASIN: B004H6WTBQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (429 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,862,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of seven books, most recently Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, named Best of the Month by Amazon.com. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was named a New York Times Editors' Choice, a New York Times Notable Book, a Washington State Book Award winner, and a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book. He writes a weekly column, "Opinionator," for the New York Times.

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Customer Reviews

The book is very well written and definitely worth the time to read it.
Rick M. Barton
I had in one book facts about a President, a Governor, the Forest Service, the Buffalo soldiers and the largest forest fire in American History.
Susan Oliver
The portraits of work done by Roosevelt and Pinchot give an excellent history of the Forest Service.
Sarah H. Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 173 people found the following review helpful By Connie G Scammell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book reads like a growing, raging wildfire: it starts out slow, then builds up to a spellbounding climax and finishes with a lengthy cleanup of loss and grief and the realization that the Forest Service is needed.

Timothy Egan is a gifted writer who knows how to keep readers spellbound. I started reading the book yesterday "just to get a feel for it" and a few hours later couldn't put it down. He does a great job of pulling the reader into this subject, introducing the main characters of TR, Gifford Pinchot (first Chief Forest Servicer who met an early demise when Taft took over) and Bill Greeley (District Ranger), and all the wealthy New Yorkers who resented wild lands being put in reserves for future generations. In the background is John Muir, this country's first passionate nature advocate and preservationist.

TR created the Forest Service in 1905 and Congress passed the first laws for its agency. With the buffalo, grizzly bear and wolf practically killed off from most lands, the last great fear was the wildfire. History has proven that even in the young United States, a ravaging fire could wipe out entire families, entire towns. After a brutally cold and wet winter in early 1910, the weather warmed up, drying the forests of the eventual burn area by April. Over 1000 smaller fires were already burning by late July. By then Roosevelt was out of the White House and a new man, William Taft, his successor.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Long-Suffering Technology Consumer TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Even though Teddy Roosevelt figures prominently in the title of this book, he has left office by the time of the August 1910 wildfire in the Bitterroot Mountains (along the Idaho-Montana border) at the true center of this story.

Roosevelt has left behind Gifford Pinchot to lead the conservation efforts of the nascent US Forest Service. Pinchot's efforts are underfunded and unpopular with influential senators, congressman and powerful industrial figures who want to leverage western timber and mineral reserves to enhance their personal empires. By the time the fire strikes, William Taft is serving ineffectually as president, essentially leaving Pinchot to do the best he can with what he has.

Timothy Egan lays out the political and historical scene setting in animated detail, providing well documented insights. He adds life and personality to the central players in the coming conflict between powerful people (with vastly differing agendas) and nature (with just one).

He then shifts to the fire itself. In 1910, the towns of the Bitterroots were populated by a diverse group of immigrants with social issues that could have come from today's op-ed pages. Writing about an influx of Italians, Egan says: "The Italian surge, in particular, angered those who felt the country was not recognizable, was overrun by foreigners, had lost its sense of identity. And they hated hearing all these strange languages, spoken in shops, schools and churches."

The events of this book take place at the intersection of many disruptive influences in America; railroads, telephone, freed blacks (the Buffalo Soldiers play a prominent role in the firefighting in this book).
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91 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on September 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The "big burn" was definitely big. Just as the U.S.--under Teddy Roosevelt--finally got around to protecting millions of acres of western forest, parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming--an area about the size of New England--burned to the ground in what is probably the most devastating forest fire in our history. Well deserving the name "bug burn" it was front page news for a week, caused dozens (and perhaps as many as 200) deaths, and destruction of vast areas of virgin timber--worth millions of dollars if logged. Yet, the story is now largely forgotten.

Timothy Egan (who last focused his writing talents on the dust bowl) does a good job of bringing this important event back alive. The book is (with a few exceptions discussed below) eminently readable, and he tells a good story--describing both the fire itself, and the political context vividly.

I do believe that the sub-title is a little overblown--the fire did not "save America", but arguably did save the concept of wilderness protection. That story is really the story of "spin"--the conservationists simply did a better job of selling their story. The narrative of heroic rangers battling a monster fire, despite having been under funded by timber barons for years--leading to wholly unnecessary lose of life. The timber companies had just as plausible story line: if the woods are going to be destroyed by fire anyway, doesn't it make sense to harvest the lumber in an economically productive manner? But did a terrible job of selling it.

My reservation is that the book is a little disorganized. The same story is told twice--in almost identical words--in the introduction, and then again in its chronological "place" in the story. Also, the book really doesn't come alive until the fire starts.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the development of our system of national parks and forests.
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