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The National Parks: America's Best Idea Hardcover – September 8, 2009


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268969
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 9.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Exclusive: Joseph J. Ellis Reviews The National Parks

Educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University, Joseph J. Ellis is a Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. His Founding Brothers won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, and American Sphinx earned the 1997 National Book Award. His latest work, American Creation, was published in 2007. Read Ellis's exclusive Amazon guest review of The National Parks: America's Best Idea:

If Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary film on America’s National Parks is as good as the book laying open before me, he has another huge winner. Of course the book, entitled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, is intended as a companion to the film, but as I see it--literally--the book permits the eye and mind to linger over the truly breathtaking pictures in a more meditative way that film does not allow. The result is almost elegiac, producing the same kind of goose bumps that Burns created in his early work on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Civil War.

Burns has been chronicling the American experience for over thirty years, and I think it’s fair to say that no one has influenced more living Americans to think about our history as a people and a nation. His dominant themes have been space and race, his persistent question deceptively simple: who are we? I think The National Parks is his masterpiece on the space theme. And the message that kept whispering to me in these pages was that whoever we are has been decisively shaped by the sheer physicality of the continent we inhabit.

It never occurred to me before, but Americans invented the idea institutionalized in our National Parks. Namely, as Burns puts it in the introduction, “for the first time in human history, land--great sections of our natural landscape--was set aside, not for kings or noblemen or the very rich, but for everyone, for all time.” As Wallace Stegner once observed, and the book’s subtitle echoes, this may have been “America’s best idea.” Burns links the idea to Jefferson’s magic words in the Declaration of Independence (i.e. “We hold these truths...”), our quasi-sacred text on human freedom, which takes on an almost spiritual resonance amidst the vistas of Yosemite or Yellowstone.

Dayton Duncan, Burns's longtime colleague, has provided most of the text, which is designed to cast a spell that matches the wonder of the stunning illustrations. The book looks luxurious and feels expensive, but this visit to the National Parks is a great deal.--Joseph J. Ellis

(Photo © Jim Gipe)


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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Duncan and Burns, who last teamed on Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip, rejoin in this visually stunning guide to the unforgettable landscapes and fascinating history of America's national parks. A companion to the documentary miniseries, this book provides not only an armchair tour of the parks but lessons in American history and biography, as Duncan and Burns attempt to answer the question, "Who are we?" through the foundation and legacy of American conservation. From Yellowstone, the first national park, to Acadia to the Everglades, readers will learn the origins of many of the parks, monuments, and historic areas across the U.S., illustrated with more than a century's worth of photographs. A recurring theme throughout history has been the value and purpose of conservation and beauty, versus utility and tourism, and the story of the parks brings it into brilliant focus; readers will meet characters like John Muir, Horace Albright, Stephen Mather, Adolph Murie, and others who helped create the existing park system (with no shortage of attention paid to Theodore Roosevelt). Likely to inspire adventure-seekers of all generations, this broad, deep, evocative survey is just the kind of volume readers have come to expect from filmmaker and cultural historian Burns.

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Customer Reviews

Just a great coffee table book!
A. N. Reese
Most books of this sort have a lot of good pictures, but very pedestrian text.
Stoy G. Bailey
A good Ken Burns view of our National Parks.
Melvin C. Shaffer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Tim Martin VINE VOICE on September 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful book! Mr. Duncan and Mr. Burns have done a wonderful job telling the history of our National Park system. The book clearly shows the depth of the 30-odd years that they have been working on their project. As the sub-title of the book indicates, this is "an illustrated history." The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. You won't see the usual travel guide and brochure shots in this book. Instead you will find hundreds of historic and contemporary photos of the National Park system. I cannot imagine the amount of research that went into assembly and organizing all of these photos. They are simply gorgeous.

The text is very informative and provides you with a good history of the National Park system. You will learn a lot about the history of our nation when you read this book. Each chapter also has an interview with someone who is part of the Park Service or has close connections with the Service. These interviews (no surprise here) help bring to life that topics of the text. Being a Ken Burns project, the text tells the big story through little stories: history is personalized and seen through the eyes of the participants.

Simply put, this is a book to linger over and savor. It is a coffee table book in the truest sense: you will want to keep it within easy reach. This is a book to inspire you to daydream and ponder. It will enrich your experiences of our National Parks and you will find yourself planning years of vacations! If you have any interest in our National Park system, you must buy this book. You will not regret it for one second! Enjoy!
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85 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Scott Chamberlain VINE VOICE on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Let me first point out that I'm just reviewing the companion book to Ken Burns' PBS show--having not (yet!) seen the show I make no attempt at discussing how it relates to the TV program. This is simply a look on how the book holds up on its own merits.

And let me say it is an eye-popper! As a coffee table book alone, it succeeds wildly, with all kinds of stunning photos that make you want to grab the kids and hit the road. What is particularly enjoyable is that it uses a whole range of illustrations--besides glorious contemporary photos of these magnificent landscapes, there are fascinating historic photos in B&W and photos of the various cranks, caretakers and visionaries whose lives were so deeply entwined with the park. There are also a number of beautifully reproduced photos of paintings from the Hudson River school of painting back in the mid-1800s that not only sparked interest in America's landscapes but created one of the first great artistic movements in our country.

And as always, it's amazing how landscapes can communicate such profound, and profoundly human emotions, even when there are no people depicted. The simple visual of a lone tree, buried under a heavy canopy of snow and placed against a blank winter landscape can convey loneliness on such a powerful unconscious level. Or how a sunrise on the rim of the Grand Canyon can convey majesty beyond any human description. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

But what makes this so much better than a photo essay of great landscapes is the wonderful written content that frames the illustrations. The text brings these magnificent parks back into the realm of human beings.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Tim Challies TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Ken Burns is easily the cream of the crop when it comes to documentary film making (take that, Michael Moore!). The Civil War, The War, Baseball...his credentials go on and on. Each of his documentaries has been amazing in its own way. His latest film is called The National Parks and like its predecessors, it is accompanied by a coffee table book. I was rather surprised to see that book, with its $50 price tag, spring onto the list of bestsellers and remain there for a couple of weeks.

Coming in at over 400 pages and weighing about as much as a small car, The National Parks is chock full of both text and pictures. The book follows the same format as the film, offering six chapters that cover roughly the same material. Chapters average fifty or sixty pages and they are split roughly evenly between text and photographs. The text is interesting enough, describing the genesis of "America's best idea." The photographs are often stunning, showing some of the most amazing scenery America has to offer. My only complaint, if we can label it that, is that the paper used in the book could use a bit more gloss in order to really make those pictures pop. Nevertheless, even as they are, they provide amazing evidence of the beauty to be found in America's parks.

What gripped me as I read the book was the beautiful simplicity of the idea behind the National Parks. In days past and in other nations, the richest people, the most powerful people, had been able to have their nature preserves, their areas of unbroken and pure land. They had been able to set aside these little bits of paradise for themselves and had been able to enforce privacy, ensuring that the commoners were kept far away. In America, though-the land of free-vast areas of land were set aside specifically for the common man.
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