Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Minute Book Review: Timothy Egan's The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

I did most of a masters degree in history back before I knew I'd get a job teaching in college. I thought the degree would make me a more competitive junior high teacher. Masters in two fields after all. But I dropped out immediately when I got the job at Mt. SAC. The experience all those years ago taught me that I'm a dilettante in history. I don't think that's a bad thing despite the connotations of the word. I like to dip into big sprawling fun historical books.

The Big Burn is perfect if you're like me. It covers those years when the forest service just was just starting and how Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot turned the burn to their political advantage to start the modern conservation movement and the forestry service. It made me feel something for Roosevelt for the first time. I'd liked a lot of his policies, but never really the man, not with the wars of conquest that he seemed to enjoy so much. This focuses on his progressive streak, making the implicit argument that it was this aspect of his personality that was at the heart of who he was. Certainly, it reminded me of what I've always liked about Pinchot, but I'd never known that he was communing with his dead wife. Anyway, if you like these kinds of books rather than the serious tomes that I no longer read because I'm out of the field, you'll like this. It's fantastic.

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