Our Best Idea

By guest blogger Martha, the Reference Coordinator for the library


The summer after my freshman year of college I followed a cute boy west to Yellowstone National Park where we had jobs waiting tables. That summer I fell madly in love, not with the boy, but with the park. I was floored by the majesty of the wilderness. Watching Ken Burns' recent series The National Parks: America's Best Idea rekindled that passion and my desire to learn more about our National Parks.

As luck would have it Timothy Egan has a new book out called The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. It’s a beautifully written account of the formation of the national forest service, the American conservation movement, Roosevelt and Pinchot’s passion for the wilderness, and a heartbreaking account of the fire of 1910.

Growing up in the Midwest I didn't know very much about the fire of 1910 and was surprised to learn it was the largest wildfire in American history. Egan says that in less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people. To give some perspective, he explains, it’s like having the entire state of Connecticut burn in one weekend.

Egan has a delightful writing style; it’s as if he’s flopped on your living room couch regaling you with a tale filled with passion, drama, and politics. As a presidential history fan I loved reading about Roosevelt’s relationship with Gifford Pinchot; it was something I hadn't read about in other Roosevelt biographies.

Mr. Egan was recently interviewed by NPR and I expect that explains the large hold list on this book. If you need a national park fix while waiting for The Big Burn you can try the book version of the series (The National Parks: An Illustrated History), Norman MacLean's Young Men & Fire or Gifford Pinchot’s autobiography Breaking New Ground.