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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009)

by Timothy Egan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3826612,713 (3.95)129
Narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire of August, 1910, and Teddy Roosevelt's pioneering conservation efforts that helped turn 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.… (more)

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» See also 129 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
This book tells the story of the 3 million acre fire in Montana and Idaho in 1910 as well as the creation of the forest service 4 years prior. On the whole the book was interesting but the first half is a bit slow detailing more than you would ever need to know about president Teddy Roosevelt who created the Forest Service and Gifford Pinchot who was the first to run the department. What the firemen who fought this fire faced was horrific and the treatment they received from the U.S. government was almost worse. A sad state of affairs from our government. One thing I found surprising was that with all the wealth both Gifford and Roosevelt had, neither one of them ever compensated the forest service workers for doing the work these two men expected of them, knowing full well the government also did not help them. I found this fact to be equally shameful. ( )
  zmagic69 | Mar 31, 2023 |
Most interesting to me was the conflict between the conservation movement and "industrialists" that wanted to just harvest all the timber. Even individuals would squat, claiming to be homesteaders which they hoped to sell to the timber interests. ( )
  Castinet | Dec 11, 2022 |
“At the peak of its power, it found the Coeur d’Alene forest, leading with a punch of wind that knocked down thousands of trees before the flames took out the rest of the woods. By now, the conscripted air was no longer a Palouser but a firestorm of hurricane-force winds, in excess of eighty miles an hour. What had been nearly three thousand small fires throughout a three-state region of the northern Rockies had grown to a single large burn.”

This 1910 fire burned three million acres over in Idaho, Montana, and Washington, destroying seven towns and killing eighty-seven people. It served as the impetus for increased protection of America’s forests. In addition to a detailed account of the disastrous “Big Burn,” this book provides minibiographies of early conservationists, particularly Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, and a history of the US Forest Service. It speaks of the heroism of Ed Pulaski, the Buffalo Soldiers, and others, who fought the fire and saved lives.

It starts with an episode during the fire, then backtracks to provide history and set it into the context of its time. Egan highlights the key players, providing an extensive analysis of the politics involved and the struggles of the early foresters. I appreciated Egan’s inclusion of first-hand accounts and photos that vividly convey the devastation.

I live in an area impacted each year by wildfires, so I am particularly drawn to the topic. This book will appeal to those interested in the history of forestry and conservation. It is a well-written and compelling narrative history. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
This book tells the story of the origin of, and the key men behind the development of the U.S. Forest Service. President Teddy Roosevelt's role in the beginnings of the National Parks is well known and discussed, and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, was introduced to me in this book. Both men helped introduce the notion of conservation to the Country and the idea that the National Forests are a treasure which should be preserved for all Americans. Timber interests and mining interests, and the Senators they could buy, were opposed. The struggle was all but settled after the huge Forest Fire of 1910, which burned forests in the Northwest the size of the State of Connecticut. The description of the fire, the speed of its spread, and the heroism of those brought in to fight the fire was dramatic.

( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
nonfiction (history/ginormous 1910 forest fire and evolution of the National Forest Service). Egan's narrative storytelling rivals that of Erik Larson. Recommended for people who love the outdoors and for those who love history. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Egan's impressive account makes clear that Pinchot and Roosevelt cared deeply for the land—a concern they shared with the rangers who heroically faced down towering walls of flame.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Brian Sholis (Dec 1, 2009)
Egan has already proved himself to be a masterly collector of memorable stories.

His new book, “The Big Burn,” continues in the same tradition. It is also a clarion call for the conservation philosophies of John Muir and others as Egan details the saga of “the largest wildfire in American history”...

A masterwork in every sense

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Egan, Timothyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dean, RobertsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If now the dead of this fire should awaken and I should be stopped beside a cross, I would no longer be nervous if asked the first and last question of life. How did it happen?
- Norman MacLean, Young Men and Fire
To Sam Howe Verhovek Friend, editor, writer, and adopted son of the Pacific Northwest, no bow-tied bum-kisser he
First words
Here now came the fire down from the Bitterroot Mountains and showered embers and forest shrapnel onto the town that was supposed to be protected by all those men with far-away accents and empty stomachs.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire of August, 1910, and Teddy Roosevelt's pioneering conservation efforts that helped turn 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.

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Book description
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 niether the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them. Timothy 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 outsize president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less that creating 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." (978-0-547-39460-2)
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