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The Big Burn Audiobook

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

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Publisher's Summary

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, a tragedy that cemented Teddy Roosevelt's legacy.

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 hundreds of small blazes into a roaring inferno that destroyed towns and timber in an eye-blink. Forest rangers assembled nearly 10,000 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 with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of 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 national forests as our national treasure, owned by and preserved for every citizen. The robber barons fought them, but the fire saved the forests even as it destroyed them: the heroism shown by the rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, even as 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.

©2009 Timothy Egan; (P)2009 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

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  •  
    Dusty G. 10-13-15
    Dusty G. 10-13-15
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    "Perfect!"

    If you have a love for the outdoors and how our forfathers fought for its preservation this is an amazing story of why WE still get to enjoy these things today! The Narrator is perfect for this story

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Michelle Robbins USA 09-16-15
    Michelle Robbins USA 09-16-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Fascinating bit of history that is often forgoten"

    I was immediately pulled in by this book. It is structured in a brilliant way and the subject matter was something I had barely ever heard about - never even touched upon in my public schools growing up.

    So, listening to the build up of the forest service - and the circumstances around the fire - had a sense of unreality for me. I had to keep reminding myself that this really happened. Part of that was because of the scale of the destruction and the way the heroes were badly treated (before, during, and after the fire). Overall, I came away with the strong belief that this is a part of American history that should have much more attention.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Mathgod Bay Area, CA 08-23-15
    Mathgod Bay Area, CA 08-23-15 Member Since 2016
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    "Excellent history of Forest Services"

    I thought I would like this book but I found out I loved it! Fascinating story of the rise of the National Forestry Service.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 07-11-15
    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 07-11-15 Member Since 2012
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    "Great listen"

    If you like history, this is a good listen about an event that never got much attention. Well researched and good narration.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Harvey Trabuco Canyon, CA, United States 04-27-15
    Harvey Trabuco Canyon, CA, United States 04-27-15 Member Since 2004
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    "If you are interested, it is worth it."

    I first put The Big Burn on my wish list years ago, probably after reading the excerpt during an Audible sale. I remember thinking that the description somehow reminded me of another small historical book, A Thread Across the Ocean. The book remained on my wish list for years. Finally, I gave it a chance and am very happy that I did. My knowledge of the early 20th century was pretty limited, but I have made it through several books during the last 18 months or so that at least touched on the time period. The most prominent was Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit, which was also very interesting. All these books included many of the same people, so I have different perspectives from the various authors. While The Bully Pulpit was good, the part about the deteriorating relationship between Roosevelt and Taft just did not feel right. The Big Burn tells a story that seems much more plausible. Ms. Goodwin seems to have fit part of her narrative to her preconceived premise. While the Roosevelt - Taft interaction is only a small part of this book, it does illustrate why this book feels accurate to me.

    This book consists of a bigger picture, the formation of the Forest Service and the great fire that is told through many smaller stories of individuals, events and actions before, during and after the fire. You learn about the what happened to a series of characters throughout the fire. These stories are well crafted into the complete narrative. Some of these stories have to be reasonable conjecture given that it includes the deaths of groups with no survivors. Mr. Egan is not unbiased and has selected his heroes who all seem reasonable, but the environmental, political side could probably be more balanced. If there is a weakness, it is putting the fire in context of the country. Through the book, the story seems huge, yet neither myself nor my friends had any notion of the fire before my listening to the book.

    I really recommend the book for anyone with interest into relatively obscure history and those that want to learn about the dawn of the American environmentalist era. You meet a lot of prominent individuals of the period, but the focus is the fire. It is not always the exciting story that will keep you alert if you are tired and driving, but it is informative, engaging and entertaining. Being from California, to some extent the issues are the same today.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    rudolph 03-04-15
    rudolph 03-04-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Wow history that I never knew!"

    This is a great piece of history on National forests. If you like the outdoors, you will for sure enjoy this.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    R. Henle Davis, CA 02-15-15
    R. Henle Davis, CA 02-15-15 Member Since 2015

    I am Granny.

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    "Authentic and inspirational"

    This is an incredible true account of why there are any forests left in America at all. This account in a large part, reads like dramatic and fast-moving fiction and this reader, as always, is outstanding. If you care about our environment, this is a must read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Stephen 12-11-14
    Stephen 12-11-14 Member Since 2014
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    "The Big Burn - The Begining of the USFS"

    Story: Interesting historical review of the US Forestry Service against the background of the US Progressive Movement at the turn of the 20th Century. It is really the story of the USF founder, Gifford Pinochot. As always, take with a grain of salt about the facts.

    Reader: Excellent, as always.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Helen Great Cacapon, WV, United States 11-25-14
    Helen Great Cacapon, WV, United States 11-25-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Heroics beyond imagination"

    What an extraordinary cast of characters were assembled to battle one of the most horrific natural disasters in our nation's history! The cast includes the greediest millionaires, the most spiritual nature lovers, the strongest and the weakest leaders, the Buffalo soldiers in search of honor, and the townspeople caught in the cross-hairs. As the saying goes, "You just can't make this stuff up!" Egan's descriptions of the forest and the wall of fire are first rate. His vivid prose gives the listener all the special effects needed to make this book memorable. The narrator was good, not great. But I'm grateful that he didn't over dramatize the scenes that truly did not need embellishment.

    I'm glad I listened to this after I watched the Ken Burns Roosevelt series on PBS. It rounds out Teddy Roosevelt's legacy and deepens my gratitude and admiration for his dedication to preserving our most precious wild places. I shudder to think what the American West would have become without him.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    L. Smith 11-19-14
    L. Smith 11-19-14
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    "Outstanding Story and a Great Listen"
    What did you love best about The Big Burn?

    Egan's story of the 1910 Big Burn is an outstanding tale of a pivot in American History--the industrialization of American resources in the Gilded Age.

    Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were radical (Progressives) in their ideals and wanted a "reserve" and preservation of the West as well as the East (if it could be spared).

    The Burn occurred when few took the fledgling Forrest Service (USFS) seriously, nor really wanted it, because it stood in the way of progress.

    Egan gives a full account of the idealism and politics previous to the fire, and a full account of the fire--its mechanics, the heroes, the tragedies, and its hidden backstories.

    Although he lingers with the injustice and lack of credit the US Government gave to Pulaski and others, at the end of the book, Egan does provide a balanced view between what the USFS became, and the role of wildfire as it is today ("fire is neither good nor bad, it just is").

    Robertson Dean provides a worthy listen in his narrative, and he is worth listening to on any audio book!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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