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Timothy Egan, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.


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.

Read an excerpt from The Big Burn and listen to Terry Gross interview Timothy Egan on NPR's Fresh Air  NPR Books

Interview with Timothy Egan on C-Span Book TV


"A compelling look at the biggest forest fire in American history.  . . . "The Big Burn" serves a big helping of Great Man history, with some familiar, larger-than-life characters acting out a morality tale that delivers a satisfying kick.  The Los Angeles Times

"Essential for any green bookshelf." Kirkus Reviews

"Egan is a gorgeous writer. His chapters on the 'blowup,' should become a classic account of an American Pompeii.BookPage

"Egan reconstructs the fire in horrific, exhausting detail. . . The fire scenes occupy the bulk of the narrative, but the backstory is more interesting, centered on the curious friendship between Roosevelt and Pinchot that helped give birth to the modern conservation movement."  The Washington 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 . . . " Christian Science Monitor

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