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The National Parks: America's Best Idea Hardcover – September 8, 2009
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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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However, you should know that it is not a book about the natural beauty of the National Parks. While it features about 60 scenic color pictures by QT Luong, they are dully printed on thin matte paper. Since then, the photographer has published Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America's National Parks, Second Expanded Edition - with a foreword by Dayton Duncan and an endorsement from Ken Burns. It contains no historical material, but its 600+ pictures exquisitely printed on glossy art paper, resulting in a book physically twice as thick although only 80 pages more , finally do justice to the beauty of the National Parks.
There was a lot more information on parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite and almost nothing on others, which was a little disappointing. But, I can see that this needed to be done to cover the National Park idea as a whole. The way the book was laid out was slightly confusing. The dates kept jumping back and forth and it would be hard to pinpoint a certain topic if you wanted. But, the pros to this book far outweigh these couple cons.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history behind the parks and I would read it again.