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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America

by

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America Cover

 

Staff Pick

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.
Recommended by Michal D., Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"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

Review:

"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

Synopsis:

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. 

Synopsis:

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.

Synopsis:

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

CONTENTS

Prologue: A Fire at the End of the World 1

 
PART I

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

 
PART II

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

 
PART III

WHAT THEY SAVED

 17. Fallout 239

 18. One for the Boys 249

 19. Ashes 263

 
Notes on Sources 287

Acknowledgments 307

Index 309

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

Lindsay Waite, November 1, 2013 (view all comments by Lindsay Waite)
It isn't surprising that battles of today (preserving nature versus corporate profits, manipulating government processes, controlling government through lobbying) have taken place throughout American history. But after the past few years of observing our stagnant legislative branch in particular, it has been fascinating to look back a century at times of the first Roosevelt president and his battle to open up nature to the people.

This fascinating book by Timothy Egan takes us into the world of people who fought for the purity of the national forests. We learn about John Muir's influence on Teddy Roosevelt, the intriguing personality of Gifford Pinchot, and the assortment of people settling in the deep forests of Idaho, Montana and Washington.

The early forest rangers were mostly hated by the people and many in the government, and it is a testament to Pinchot and others that the National Forest Service ever got off the ground. A massive fire in 1910 showed how important forest rangers were (and are). Because there were so few rangers, new immigrants, Buffalo soldiers, and an odd assortment of recruits joined the battle. The recounting of individual stories makes the story of this disaster come alive.

Whether this monstrous fire in fact, "saved America" is questionable since big business got a lot of control of these lands after-the-fact. The way the injured and dead were treated afterwards is appalling as well.
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HappySnaps, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by HappySnaps)
This book is much more than a historical account of the large forest fire that ravaged the West at the turn of the century. What came as a surprise was the insight into American politics during that time and the "Aha!" moment when you realize that politics is very much the same today, with the wealthy few trying to manipulate the fate of the masses. Timothy Egan does a great job at relating Teddy Roosevelt's progressive thinking and how much he and men like Gifford Pinchot influenced the enormous changes taking place in America during that time.
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Jo Marshall - Twig Stories, June 5, 2012 (view all comments by Jo Marshall - Twig Stories)
I am astonished by Timothy Egan's ability to research and present such epic events as the deadly forest fire of 1910 and the birth of conservation in such an exciting and absorbing narrative style. Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, are fascinating and fallible. I never imagined how their personalities intertwined and conflicted with their hopes for our national forests, or how they struggled to give birth to and battle for their precious child Conservation in spite of mean-spirited, greedy political leaders.

Growing up in the West myself, and twice mesmerized by the sight of the Sierra Mountains ablaze behind my home, the discussion of wildfire out-of-control is not a distant topic. I watched firefighters walk into these life and death struggles with awe and disbelief. The Big Burn is a heroic record of lives, men and women, that mattered during the terrible fire on August 20, 1910. Egan tells us the very personal story of how the leaders of our country created policy that led these foresters into this firestorm of overwhelming horror with no means to fight it, protect the towns in its path, or save the people in its way.

From the wealthiest idealists of that time to the immigrants working for no pay, Egan painstakingly gives us the details of their lives, the richness of their desires, and the bitterness of their decisions, which led many to their deaths. And yet, there are so many deserving heroes, too, which thankfully Egan offers for our consideration, like Gifford Pinchot and Pulaski. In the end, the reader will thank Egan for bringing these great men to life and light, and helping us understand the controversy between conservationists and those who might use our forests for personal gain.

An impressive story from an excellent writer.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780547394602
Author:
Egan, Timothy
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Subject:
United States - 20th Century (1900-1945)
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
Environmental Conservation & Protection - General
Subject:
Natural Disasters
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
US History - 20th Century
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20100931
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 9
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 pages of b/w photos
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 0.75 lb
Age Level:
from 14

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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America New Trade Paper
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$15.95 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547394602 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

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.

"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by ,
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. 
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by ,
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.

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