I don't read much non-fiction. I can count the number of non-fiction books I've read in the past decade on one hand. Those I've liked tended to be those that read like fiction -- books like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Robert Kurson's Shadow Divers, and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm. I can now add The Big Burn by Timothy Egan to that list.
The 2009 work is many things: a history of the early conservation movement; an explanation of Theodore Roosevelt's role in that movement; a biography of Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service; and a riveting account of the Great Fire, which destroyed more than three million acres of forest in Idaho, Montana, and Washington and forever changed how our public lands are managed.
Egan's treatment of the influential but relatively little-known event was interesting, informative, and balanced. More than once, I had to remind myself I was reading the true stories of individuals and communities swept up in the calamity of August 20-21, 1910, and not the creative narrative of a novelist.
Readers looking to better their understanding of important figures of the day and an event that shaped the American West won't be disappointed. Rating: 4/5.