The Big Burn
Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America
By Timothy Egan
(Mariner Books, Paperback, 9780547394602, 352pp.)
Publication Date: September 2010
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On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand mencollege boys, day workers, immigrants from mining campsto fight the fire. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them.
Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by and preserved for every citizen.
TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and the author of six books, most recently The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Washington State Book Award. His previous books include The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. He is an online op-ed columnist for the New York Times, writing his "Opinionator" feature once a week.He is a third-generation Westerner and lives in Seattle.
Author Timothy Egan argues in The Big Burn that the forest fire of 1910 — the largest in American history — actually saved the forests, even as its flames charred the trees. It helped rally public support, Egan explains, behind Theodore Roosevelt's push to protect national lands. More at NPR.org
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- This gripping account begins with the fire’s destruction of Wallace, Idaho. What kinds of things make people late to the evacuating train? What would you bring with you if you were allowed only a case small enough to fit on your lap?
"Egan brings a touching humanity to this story of valor and cowardice in the face of a national catastrophe, paying respectful attention to Roosevelt's great dream of conservation and of an America 'for the little man.'" -Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Essential for any Green bookshelf." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review"Historians will enjoy Egan’s well-written book, featuring sparkling and dynamic descriptions of the land and people, as a review of Roosevelt’s conservation ideas, while general readers will find his suspenseful account of the fires mesmerizing." -- Library Journal"Egan tells the story with great humanity . . . In prose so sizzling it crackles, The Big Burn keeps alive the conservation dreams of Teddy Roosevelt by allowing this story to rise from the ashes, once again." -- Denver Post"[Egan] has already proved himself to be a masterly collector of memorable stories. His new book, The Big Burn, continues in the same tradition . . . What makes The Big Burn particularly impressive is Egan’s skill as an equal-opportunity storyteller. By this I mean that he recounts the stories of men and women completely unknown to most of us with the same fervor he uses to report the stories of historic figures . . . Even as we mark the centennial of this great fire, wildfires in the West continue to burn. It makes this book which is a masterwork in every sense worthy of a very careful reading." -- Christian Science Monitor"[Egan] is at the top of his game . . . An important cautionary tale for these days that also reads like a classic adventure story." -- Washington Times"Egan is a gorgeous writer. His chapters on the 'blowup'... should become a classic account of an American Pompeii." -- BookPage"Muir called Pinchot 'someone who could relish, not run from a rainstorm' -- a phrase that also describes The Big Burn's narrator. For as long as Egan keeps chasing storms, whether of dust, fire, rain or snow, you'd be smart to call shotgun." -- Los Angeles Times"Few writers have the Pulitzer Prize-winning Egan's gift for transforming history lessons into the stuff of riveting page-turners... Don't miss this one. Grade: A." -- Entertainment Weekly