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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.

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  • Overall

A fascinating history of early Forest Service

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.

25 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

wonderful audio experience

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.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Thrilling history, beautifully read

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.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mary
  • Fresno, CA, United States
  • 03-14-10

An Important American Story, Well Told

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Fay
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 04-22-12

The Birth of the Forest Service

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 11-22-13

What an adventure

I greatly enjoyed the Big Burn. Here's the story of the national park service, a service that nearly never happened. Teddy Roosevelt had to work some serious legislative magic to make it happen and when it did it was poorly accepted, underfunded, and rarely supported. But into the world these rangers went, hoping to protect our natural resources. And immediately the biggest fire any of them would ever see broke out.

This is the story of the new rangers and their boss, Gifford Pinchot, trying to establish a service. This is also the story of a town in the great north that finds itself in the path of a hellish blaze. How will they escape, how will they fight the blaze, and who will survive when it dies down? It's a wonderful story of bravery and ingenuity. The narration is thoughtful and crisp and the story is all the more exciting because it's true. Enjoy.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • john
  • SPANISH FORT, AL, United States
  • 04-20-10

A Great Listen

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • North Jackson, OH, United States
  • 04-02-10

very enjoyable

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Katherine
  • El Dorado, CA, United States
  • 12-03-09

Superb Audio Book

This is one of my all-time favorite audio books. The narration creates an alive and fascinating history. You may have to appreciate conservation or fire fighting to really love the book. There were many fascinating people that made up this history. The narration makes them seem real and compelling. There were many courageous men and women that created the start of conservation and survived this great fire.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • Nasu, Japan
  • 09-03-10

A gripping account of a forgotten US disaster

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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful