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The National Parks: America's Best Idea [DECKLE EDGE] (Hardcover)



Product Description
The companion volume to the twelve-hour PBS series from the acclaimed filmmaker behind The Civil War, Baseball, and The War

America’s national parks spring from an idea as radical as the Declaration of Independence: that the nation’s most magnificent and sacred places should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. In this evocative and lavishly illustrated narrative, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, through the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres.

The authors recount the adventures, mythmaking, and intense political battles behind the evolution of the park system, and the enduring ideals that fostered its growth. They capture the importance and splendors of the individual parks: from Haleakala in Hawaii to Acadia in Maine, from Denali in Alaska to the Everglades in Florida, from Glacier in Montana to Big Bend in Texas. And they introduce us to a diverse cast of compelling characters—both unsung heroes and famous figures such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams—who have been transformed by these special places and committed themselves to saving them from destruction so that the rest of us could be transformed as well.

The National Parks is a glorious celebration of an essential expression of American democracy.

A gorgeous book on the history of the National Parks, September 20, 2009
By Tim Martin (South Bend, Indiana United States)


This is a beautiful book! Mr. Duncan and Mr. Burns have done a wonderful job telling the history of our National Park system. The book clearly shows the depth of the 30-odd years that they have been working on their project. As the sub-title of the book indicates, this is "an illustrated history." The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. You won't see the usual travel guide and brochure shots in this book. Instead you will find hundreds of historic and contemporary photos of the National Park system. I cannot imagine the amount of research that went into assembly and organizing all of these photos. They are simply gorgeous.

The text is very informative and provides you with a good history of the National Park system. You will learn a lot about the history of our nation when you read this book. Each chapter also has an interview with someone who is part of the Park Service or has close connections with the Service. These interviews (no surprise here) help bring to life that topics of the text. Being a Ken Burns project, the text tells the big story through little stories: history is personalized and seen through the eyes of the participants.

Simply put, this is a book to linger over and savor. It is a coffee table book in the truest sense: you will want to keep it within easy reach. This is a book to inspire you to daydream and ponder. It will enrich your experiences of our National Parks and you will find yourself planning years of vacations! If you have any interest in our National Park system, you must buy this book. You will not regret it for one second! Enjoy!

An absolute treasure, September 22, 2009
By Scott Chamberlain "Historian and archaeologist" (Minneapolis, MN United States)



Let me first point out that I'm just reviewing the companion book to Ken Burns' PBS show--having not (yet!) seen the show I make no attempt at discussing how it relates to the TV program. This is simply a look on how the book holds up on its own merits.

And let me say it is an eye-popper! As a coffee table book alone, it succeeds wildly, with all kinds of stunning photos that make you want to grab the kids and hit the road. What is particularly enjoyable is that it uses a whole range of illustrations--besides glorious contemporary photos of these magnificent landscapes, there are fascinating historic photos in B&W and photos of the various cranks, caretakers and visionaries whose lives were so deeply entwined with the park. There are also a number of beautifully reproduced photos of paintings from the Hudson River school of painting back in the mid-1800s that not only sparked interest in America's landscapes but created one of the first great artistic movements in our country.

And as always, it's amazing how landscapes can communicate such profound, and profoundly human emotions, even when there are no people depicted. The simple visual of a lone tree, buried under a heavy canopy of snow and placed against a blank winter landscape can convey loneliness on such a powerful unconscious level. Or how a sunrise on the rim of the Grand Canyon can convey majesty beyond any human description. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

But what makes this so much better than a photo essay of great landscapes is the wonderful written content that frames the illustrations. The text brings these magnificent parks back into the realm of human beings. Again and again we read about how determined individuals, communities, businesses and even bureaucrats *created* these parks, fighting tooth and nail to preserve these natural wonders for us all. Along the way we meet all kinds of fascinating people, and learn to admire their fortitude--or chuckle at their eccentricities. The text is well assembled and flows smoothly, and is as large in its scope as the Grand Canyon itself. Absolutely riveting.

But this also brilliantly shows the character of Americans--we the people. This is a tour-de-force civics lesson on patriotism, of making the country better and making the government serve us, and should be joyously read by every American. Which, I bet, was precisely Ken Burns' goal all along.

This is a book that everyone--left, right, northerner, southerner, African-American, Latino, Caucasian... EVERYONE--should love and cherish. What an incredible country we share! And what a spectacular book that does justice to it!

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