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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved Americaby Timothy Egan
In this remarkable tale of the nation's largest forest fire — which burned more than three million acres in 1910 — Timothy Egan vividly narrates the heroic efforts to fight the blaze and the dramatic impact it had on the future of conservation.
Synopses & Reviews
In The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan put the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl at the center of a rich history, told through characters he brought to indelible life. Now he performs the same alchemy with the Big Burn, the largest-ever forest fire in America and the tragedy that cemented Teddy Roosevelt's legacy in the land.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in an eyeblink. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men — college boys, day-workers, immigrants from mining camps — to fight the fires. 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, through the eyes of the people who lived it. Equally dramatic, though, 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 every citizen. The robber barons fought him and the rangers charged with protecting the reserves, but even as TR's national forests were smoldering they were saved: The heroism shown by those same rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.
The Big Burn tells an epic story, paints a moving portrait of the people who lived it, and offers a critical cautionary tale for our time.
"Egan, National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time, spins a tremendous tale of Progressive-era America out of the 1910 blaze that burned across Montana, Idaho and Washington and put the fledgling U.S. Forest Service through a veritable trial by fire. Underfunded, understaffed, unsupported by Congress and President Taft and challenged by the robber barons that Taft's predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, had worked so hard to oppose, the Forest Service was caught unprepared for the immense challenge. Egan shuttles back and forth between the national stage of politics and the conflicting visions of the nation's future, and the personal stories of the men and women who fought and died in the fire: rangers, soldiers, immigrant miners imported from all over the country to help the firefighting effort, prostitutes, railroad engineers and dozens others whose stories are painstakingly recreated from scraps of letters, newspaper articles, firsthand testimony, and Forest Service records. 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) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Egan's tactile dramatization of the fire in Idaho and Montana compares favorably to the best of this genre...as he depicts the climactic moments of firefighters entrapment by flames." Booklist
"Historians will enjoy Egan's well-written book, featuring sparkling and dynamic descriptions of the land and people...while general readers will find his suspenseful account of the fires mesmerizing." Library Journal
In The Worst Hard Time, Egan puts the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl at the center of a rich history. Now he performs the same alchemy with The Big Burn, detailing the largest-ever forest fire in America.
A dramatic account of the worst forest fire in American history by the author of the best-selling and National Book Award-winning THE WORST HARD TIME.
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 men—college boys, day workers, immigrants from mining camps—to 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.
About the Author
Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of five books, most recently The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award for nonfiction. He writes a weekly column, Outposts, for the New York Times and lives in Seattle, Washington.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Fire at the End of the World 1
IN ON THE CREATION
1. A Peculiar Intimacy” 17
2. Roost of the Robber Barons 39
3. The Great Crusade 53
4. Deadwood Days 73
5. Showdown 86
WHAT THEY LOST
6. Summer of Smoke 105
7. Men, Men, Men! 116
8. Spaghetti Westerners 129
9. Firestorms Eve 141
10. Blowup 154
11. The Lost Day 158
12. The Lost Night 172
13. Towns Afire 187
14. To Save a Town 201
15. The Missing 211
16. The Living and the Dead 227
WHAT THEY SAVED
17. Fallout 239
18. One for the Boys 249
19. Ashes 263
Notes on Sources 287
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