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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)
Loved the tv series and I own the Blu ray copy. Wish they would make a ken burns documentary on u.s. forest service and national refuge system in the future.Published 15 days ago by Joe Collins
My wonderful husband loves this book. I totally scored this Christmas! He reads it all the time. The pictures are beatutfulPublished 20 days ago by Nancy Lee
This is a fabulous book. Gave it to my family for Christmas.Published 1 month ago by Jerry Calderone
Christmas gift for my husband. He wants to travel out west next summer to see some of our National Parks...He will love this book.Published 2 months ago by Mary C. Constance