Book Reviews

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

The Big Burn
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Teddy Roosevelt and a force of underpaid do-gooders are the protagonists in a fight against corrupt politicians, a palouser, and robber barons in The Big Burn. Roosevelt and his man, Gifford Pinchot, fight to preserve western forests for future generations but standing in their way are the lumber barons who argue that felling trees is the best way to serve American progress and the railroad magnates who are conquering the western wilderness to ease trade between the east and west coasts. Swooping down upon an uneven fight between poorly equipped forest rangers and politicians rich from graft is a palouser, a storm of gale force winds driving fire through towns built with lumber and railroad money. The results of this clash are on our maps. This book lands a historical footnote right in the middle of today’s clash between the morality of conservation and the drive to develop natural resources for economic progress.

True Grit: A Novel by Charles Portis

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Image from Amazon

True Grit, an American literary classic, is overshadowed by John Wayne and an American movie classic, and that’s a shame. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross tells the story of her quest to find Tom Chaney, the man who gunned down her father. The Wild West is colored by hard-bitten U.S. Marshals, a dapper Texas Ranger, double-crossing outlaws, and townsfolk entertained by rough frontier justice. Echoes of the Civil War are heard in the snarling exchanges between lawmen and outlaws. In the middle of this Western opera is Mattie looking for her own rough justice. She chooses Rooster Cogburn, the meanest Marshal she can find, to do the job, and she dogs his every step to make sure the job is done right. Mattie’s naïve, deadpan delivery brings to mind Scout Finch, but her devotion to her mission calls up Captain Ahab.