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“In prose so sizzling it crackles, The Big Burn keeps alive the conservation dreams of Teddy Roosevelt by allowing this story to rise from the ashes, once again.” — Denver Post As I held The Big Burn in my hands, I wondered how a book about a wildfire could inspire such a review. Sizzling prose? Doubtful.
I dove into the book, however, and quickly realized I hadn’t the slightest understanding of forest fires and their ability to devastate endless swaths of land — especially in the early 20th century. I had never thought of the tiny homesteads and towns dotting the mountains, which lasted only minutes against the monstrous flames that leapt from tree to structure.
The prose did sizzle.
He follows homesteaders, firefighters, and drunks, weaving the details of their lives into the inferno that engulfed them.
Egan’s knack for intimately researching and telling the stories of the characters lives created a connection to the event I could have never imagined. He follows homesteaders, firefighters, and drunks, weaving the details of their lives into the inferno that engulfed them. Humanizing these characters as he does drops the reader himself into the blaze.
Away from the disaster are the seeds of modern conservation. Egan uses the story of Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship — and the common cause for which they were fighting — to frame the fire as a tool used by corrupt politicians to discredit the conservation movement. Their storyline precedes and succeeds the “Big Burn” but its defining moments lie within.
In The Big Burn, Egan captures the fight against not only the flames threatening the evergreens of the Bitterroots, but the industry titans who also lusted after them. Roosevelt, Pinchot, Muir, the pioneers of conservation in America are all there and are complemented beautifully by the stories of the men and women licked by the flames.