©2009 Timothy Egan; (P)2009 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
There's always time for reading
I heard Timothy Egan interviewed on NPR about this book, so downloaded despite two early "2 star" reviews. I was glad I did. His book provides a fascinating history of the early conservation movement and the great fire of 1910 and the role it played in solidifying the Forest Service in the hearts and minds of Americans. BTW, it's a great companion read to "Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior" which, sadly, is not available in audio format.
Timothy Egan's The Big Burn is the best sort of nonfiction book: a detailed and thoroughly researched examination of an interesting moment in history, made exciting and lively by the way the author structures the narrative. The Big Burn reads like one of those great disaster movies of the 70s, introducing a range of characters, great and humble, connecting them to an ominous disaster, and then following each of their stories to the thrilling conclusion.
Unlike disaster movies of the 70s, though, The Big Burn will provoke thought and discussion about what has changed and what hasn't changed--politically, environmentally, and socially--in America in the hundred years since the events took place.
Robertson Dean's deep, rich voice has a weight and substance suited to the text, and he even lends a touch of acting and dialect in extensive citations from the writings of historical figures.
I generally listen to fiction from Audible, and the Big Burn was as entertaining and engaging as any novel, with a great deal more substance and food for conversation.
This is an very good book, but an excellent listen. The story is captivating and uplifting as both success and tragedy. The mix of personal adventure and non-wonky political analysis work very well at oral pace. The flaws in the writing (see, e.g., the New York Times review), such as the author's tendency toward over-dramatic or breathless prose, turn out to be little or no problem when listening rather than reading. (You notice the phrases that seem comical out of context if you look for them, but only if you look for them. Otherwise, they glide right by.) Dean's narration is near perfect, and adds much to what is already a very good book. I would definitely recommend this book, and make the rarely-deserved recommendation that listening is much better than reading. The book is such an inspiration that if it were not winter right now, I would be off exploring the locales from the book rather than taking time to write this.
I worked for the Forest Service in Idaho in the 1980's, fought many forest fires, knew Ed Pulaski's heroic story, and especially loved working with the tool he invented, the pulaski. Egan is a terrific story teller and gets everything right, both the feeling and the facts about this time and place. I especially appreciated learning about Gifford Pinchot and how he and TR fought for and finally triumphed in establishing the Forest Service. The Big Burn is American history told at its best.
I mostly listen to books while exercising, which pretty much explains all of the action/thrillers on my list.
Vintage Timothy Egan. Don't start it if you are already in a bad mood because it will just rile you up again as you see the parallels to the recent financial collapse. The rich and greedy pull out all the stops to try to prevent the creation of the National Forests and it takes a combo of Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, plus many more, to make it happen. And then, of course, we know it has been perennially undermined after the fact by the same 1% that tried to stop it in the first place. But this story at least gives you glimpses into what drove the people who dreamed the dream and of course makes heroes of them all.
The Perfect Storm is like The Big Burn. The difference is that The Big Burn includes historical persons and how the Federal government abandoned the rangers of the early days of the U.S. Forest Service at their time of greatest need.
There is a point when the last train out was full and those that could not get on realized they were probably not going to survive. It is tempting to think this is a fictional story. If the government did even half of the things they did in this book the people would demand that someone be criminally charged.
Egan's book, though non-fiction, is constructed like a great Hollywood movie: introducing the characters and getting us to care about them before dropping them into the unfolding disaster. I knew little about America from the years between the Civil War and World War I, but the many colorful anecdotes about Teddy Roosevelt alone have got me searching for a great biography on that president.
I found this to be a real "page-turner" for me; I was making time to listen, and listening in situations I usually don't because I was so caught up in the narrative, particularly the detailed accounts of human bravery and tragedy on those fateful days of August 20th and 21st, 1910. Egan researched this material thoroughly, and it shows. Robertson Dean's narration, in his magnificent baritone, is classy.
I've now consumed 50 books on Audible, and this is probably my second favorite, after Shadow Divers.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I think that the title of The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America is a bit misleading. This is a story about the worst wildfire in US history, Teddy Roosevelt, Chief of the Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, William Howard Taft, the West, and the timber industry, but it is mainly a history of the Forest Service, told through all of the preceding personalities and events. Initially this is nonfiction that reads like exciting fiction, but during the fire chapters, it begins to read like the screenplay for a hyperbolic Hollywood disaster movie. In the end, Roosevelt and Pinchot saved the Forest Service, but not America or America's forests. "The Forest Service became the fire service, protecting trees so industry could cut them down later."
Pinchot was unknown to me before listening to this book, and he is also the most interesting person in The Big Burn. This book has made me want to look for others about Pinchot, but that is probably the best recommendation I can muster for it.
Exciting, well read, cleverly told tale of Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire Service Rangers who fought the Great Fire of 1910 and the reactionaries who wanted to rape the common land for their own benefit.
Highly recommended. I couldn't turn it off! And, of course, I bought the paper version as well. Will probably send a copy to all 5 of my kids.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this. It is a long narrative of an incredible event in our history. I am a Am. Hstory fan and I never knew this story. The book develops a great Progressive story of our development of our Forestry Service and of the tragic fire in our Northwest, that solidified its existence.
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