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The National Parks: America's Best Idea Hardcover – September 8, 2009
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Based on seven years of reporting from over a dozen countries, writer Tom Wainwright takes you on an extraordinary journey into the business of being a drug lord. Learn more.
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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)
Look Inside The National Parks
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Beautiful book, and chock full of interesting stories about the history of the parks.Published 27 days ago by LA
This book came completely damaged. Some of the pages were folded in half, there was sticker residue on the back, and the book cover was crinkled.Published 1 month ago by Diane
I enjoyed this book enormously. It's beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. The author has done an extraordinary job. Read morePublished 7 months ago by J. Handleman
I did not realize that America actually has as many as 59 National Parks! This book has a LOT of beautiful color pictures from a wide variety of scenes from our National Parks. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Dachsielover