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The National Parks

America's Best Idea
Narrated by: Ken Burns
Length: 15 hrs and 28 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (300 ratings)
Regular price: $34.95
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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award, Nonfiction, 2010

The companion volume to the 12-hour PBS series from the acclaimed filmmaker behind The Civil War, Baseball, and The War.

America’s national parks spring from an idea as radical as the Declaration of Independence: that the nation’s most magnificent and sacred places should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. In this evocative and lavishly illustrated narrative, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, through the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly 400 sites and 84 million acres.

The authors recount the adventures, mythmaking, and intense political battles behind the evolution of the park system, and the enduring ideals that fostered its growth. They capture the importance and splendors of the individual parks: from Haleakala in Hawaii to Acadia in Maine, from Denali in Alaska to the Everglades in Florida, from Glacier in Montana to Big Bend in Texas. And they introduce us to a diverse cast of compelling characters - both unsung heroes and famous figures such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams - who have been transformed by these special places and committed themselves to saving them from destruction so that the rest of us could be transformed as well.

The National Parks is a glorious celebration of an essential expression of American democracy.

©2009 Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns (P)2009 Random House

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

"See America First", and often...

Being the grandson of a park ranger, I greatly appreciated this long overdue in-depth examination of how the NPS and its various parks and monuments came into being.

While they gave credit where it was rightfully due for the most part, there are two instances here where they did not (hence my 4-star rating of an otherwise 5-star book):

1) The cover states "Read by the authors with a supporting cast". While Mr. Burns does read the preface and Mr. Duncan does read the afterword, the "supporting cast" does most of the reading, especially Danny Campbell. He definitely should be listed in the narrated by section, along with Ms. Farr, Mr. Ervin, Mr. Mayer, Mr. Peterson, and Ms. Raver.

2) In the book, we hear about George Melendez Wright's unsuccessful effort to turn Big Bend into an international park with Mexico, yet there is no mention of the successful effort that Rotarians in the U.S. and Canada made for creating the very first international park, uniting Canada's Waterton Lakes with Glacier. Given the amount of time Mr. Duncan has spent in Glacier, maybe this was an unintentional oversight, thinking it was always so?

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Katie
  • Lolo, MT, United States
  • 04-01-13

5 stars from this National Park junkie

I have a strong emotional attachment to America's National Parks. I am fortunate to live near both Yellowstone and Glacier and visit one, the other, or both on average about once a month. I loved the documentary series, and I loved this book. I listened to it while on a solo trip to Yellowstone - kept it on my "unread" shelf until I could do so. Our National Parks are a great treasure and this book, like the documentary series, delivers the history of the parks, those who helped preserve them, and those who, like me and my family, love them. If you enjoyed the documentary series, you'll enjoy this book - and it won't be repetitious.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • TechGooch
  • Dubuque, IA, United States
  • 09-25-11

Wonderful look at America's conservation struggles

If there was one book about America's history that I would recommend to anyone to read or listen to, this would be the one. I enjoyed the Audiobook so much, I went out and purchased the actual Hard Cover so I could read it again, but this time with my own eyes. In addition, my father who is not too big into reading, listened to a chapter with me while working and really enjoyed the book. Now he keeps asking me about how the book went and ended. This is a must have book for anyone with a love for the outdoors and our National Parks.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Love the parks, great history of park creation.

Any additional comments?

Noticing some reviewers said that this book is boring and dull I would like to mention that this book is more of a history, development and experiences of those involved in the creation and protection of the parks. To me this book is great I have visited many of the most notorious parks Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Smoky etc. so when the book describes the experiences of those involved I can already picture the scenes and feel what the characters felt, perhaps that's why I failed to find it boring. For those that find the parks spiritual or something greater as I do they will perhaps feel themselves as of they were present during the story. Learning the history was interesting and makes me more grateful and appreciative for the parks and for those involved in the creation and protection. For those that love the parks or aspire to travel the parks and want to know the history I would recommend this book. If your looking for a travel guide this is not the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Listened to it twice

Any additional comments?

The perfect book to listen to as you're painting or doing anything relaxing. Makes you proud of our history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Inspiring and Educational

I've always had a love for the national parks, but this book has increased my appreciation and respect not only for the parks themselves, but for what they stand for, and for all the individuals who fought for their protection so future generations like us could enjoy them as well. Be careful though, my list of parks to visit has grown immensely.

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Amazing

This was a great and thorough history of our National Park System. It is well researched an the authors did a wonderful job of going back to the origins and exploring the many struggles along the way that brought our national parks into fruition.

It was well balanced and the many players from Muir to Roosevelt to Pinchot were all accurately and fairly represented.


I highly suggest this book for a good overview of the entire national park system. I suggest you back this up with The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley

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Great Story

Very informative and inspirational nstory of the history of our National Parks. Makes one want to see them all

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  • Tim
  • United States
  • 02-15-19

Boring, but Also Good

I'm really a city slicker at heart. I like to be connected and really enjoy having room service, but I also like being outdoors and being off the grid from everything. "The National Parks" is a companion book to the PBS documentary with Ken Burns. I like history and to be honest I was expecting more of a tour guide pamphlet instead of a history lesson. Boring, but also good. I won't be reading this one twice though.

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  • D M BOYCE
  • Ooltewah, TN, United States
  • 12-13-18

Absolute required listening.

this was a remarkable journey. as always Ken Burns brings amazing people together to tell our story.