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

Front Cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct 19, 2009 - History - 336 pages
96 Reviews

National Book Award–winner Timothy Egan turns his historian's eye to the largest-ever forest fire in America and offers an epic, cautionary tale for our time.

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 the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in the blink of an eye. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men to fight the fires, but no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them. Egan recreates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force, and the larger story of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, that follows is equally resonant. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by every citizen. Even as TR's national forests were smoldering they were saved: The heroism shown by his rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service in ways we can still witness today.

This e-book includes a sample chapter of SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER.


What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

User Review  - Goodreads

A gripping account of the huge wildfires of 1910 along the Idaho-Montana border, but much more than that, a perspective on the enduring American struggle over public lands. Egan is a brilliant writer ... Read full review

Review: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

User Review  - Lauren - Goodreads

Compelling story about the "Big Burn" fire in the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains in Western Montana and the Idaho panhandle. The fire itself was the catalyst and early justification - albeit ... Read full review


A Fire at the End of the World
In On the Creation
What They Lost
What They Saved
Notes on Sources

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and the author of seven books, most recently Short Nights of the Shawdow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. His previous books include The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Washington State Book Award. He is an online op-ed columnist for the New York Times, writing his "Opinionator" feature once a week. He is a third-generation Westerner and lives in Seattle.

Bibliographic information