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The National Parks: America's Best Idea

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  736 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
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 illustra
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 8th 2009 by Knopf (first published 2009)
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Jason Koivu
Jun 24, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it it was amazing
The glories of nature versus the all mighty dollar, this is the story of America. This is story of The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Having just read a book by John Muir, seen as the savior of Yosemite, and having an ingrained love of nature, I was naturally driven towards The National Parks. I've always wanted to see them for myself, but lately I've developed a desire to know their history. I was thrilled to find this book in audio format at my local library.

This is the book form of Ken
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This may appear to be just a "coffee table" book, but it's much more than that. This is a comprehensive history of our national parks, from the first molecule of an idea right up to the present.
I learned about many of the key figures here and there in my university degree program. This book pulled it all together for me chronologically, so I could appreciate each person's sacrifices and contributions within the context of the emerging national park system.

I've been a user and a lover of our na
Mar 29, 2011 Alison rated it it was amazing
There are two ways to read this book. The first would be a quick scan through, like a coffee table book to browse the beautiful photography and maybe read the short bios and interviews scattered throughout the book. Or, you can read the book in it's entirety and learn the history of how our national parks came to be, and who the pivotal people were who made it happen. Either way, I would give it a 5 star rating. I come from a family who has a great appreciation for the national parks. My ...more
“For the first time in human history, land--great sections of our natural landscape--was set aside, not for kings or noblemen or the very rich, but for everyone, for all time.” -Ken Burns

At the risk of offending Ken Burns' fans, I found the PBS narrative to be a bit tedious (sorry, Ken Burns!), AND despite his wonderful intro (quoted above). However, this companion book to his documentary about our National Parks is a GEM. I liked the fact that I could take my time and choose the images and text
High Plains Library District
Jun 17, 2014 High Plains Library District rated it it was amazing
Shelves: victoria, adult
First off -- BEAUTIFUL photos (a mix of scenic and historical). This book explores the founding of our national parks. Fun and interesting details about the well-knowns, like Muir and Roosevelt, but the author also does a great job of highlighting the unsung heroes and stories no one's heard before.

Even if you just flip thru the book and look at a few photos and read a paragraph or two, I bet you'll want to jump in your car and scoot over to the nearest National Park!

(And I recommend the Ken B
May 04, 2013 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
For all the American history I have read, nothing has taught me more about democracy, illustrated how American democracy operates, or personalized the values underlying our democracy more than a book about National Parks. No book on the Founding Fathers, no book about military engagements, no book on civil rights. National Parks. Go figure. This was an enlightening and as touching a book as I've ever read.
Mar 22, 2016 Patti rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-cd
Fascinating stories of the amazing men and women who, at crucial times in American history, were able to fend off private individuals and and big interests determined to destroy our country's beautiful and remarkable forests, canyons, mountains and rivers. The haphazard story of how our National Parks came into existence involves perseverance, courage, sacrifice, wit, good writing and media connections, enforcement, politicking and intense personal experience with the great outdoors. It started ...more
Joe C.
Jan 26, 2015 Joe C. rated it really liked it
Be aware that this book isn't just a coffee table book with pretty pictures (okay, it can be that), the narrative behind it is excellent. Some of the stories can be a little dry at times as it talks about politics leading to the creation of the parks. Over all the book takes a great look at how the national parks (and the conservation movement) got its start. If you are a fan of park system, this book opens your eyes to how close we came to not having amazing places like the Grand Canyon, ...more
Feb 03, 2015 Laurel rated it really liked it
This appears to be a highly-illustrated coffee table book but it is actually quite dense and quite good. It took me a surprising amount of time to get through a story I know well. The beginning was particularly rich and there is a great focus on the many, many people involved in the creation and evolution of the National Park System. The interviews at the end of each chapter were a phenomenal addition. My favorite was with Yellowstone expert Paul Schullery.
Angel **Book Junkie**
I absolutely adored these pictures and the actual history of the national Parks. I especially enjoyed reading about the Everglades. Normally Non-Fiction is something I stay clear of especially if it involves the environment etc. But this time I was pleasantly surprised at how much I actually enjoyed this read!
Todd Martin
Sep 01, 2016 Todd Martin rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
You’ve seen the PBS documentary, now read the book! The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan (who was the writer and co-producer on the excellent Ken Burns documentary) explores the history and role of national parks in American life as well as the lives of some of the individuals who worked and fought to make them possible. I don’t believe there is any hyperbole in the sentiment expressed by Wallace Stegner, that they are “America’s best idea”.

The year in which I write this (20
Oct 05, 2016 Arianna rated it really liked it
This book offers a beautiful and affecting view into the history of our National Parks Service. It shows why those who made the NPS what it is today found our parks so necessary and inspires you to get out and, like John Muir, experience exposed, wild wilderness. It also gives you the names and stories of so many amazing individuals who fought for conservation and our parks. You could almost say "America's Best Idea" is a story about heroes. It's a great book. My only complaint is that I spent ...more
Kamrud Jacobson
Oct 06, 2016 Kamrud Jacobson rated it really liked it
Exactly what youd expect from a book version of the Ken Burns documentary series. Moving stories, historical and personal. Villeins and heroes and people just living their lives all mingled up with the nations most famous National Parks. A pleasant read. However it foes tend to jump all over the place rather than sticking with one park at a time but that's an editorial choice as the story as a whole is told in chronological order with characters vanishing and reappearing in another park's story.
May 05, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
An excellent companion book to the PBS documentary about our national parks!

I really like how well it matches up with what was said it the documentary. I could almost hear the people speaking as I read the words printed in the book.

I loved reading the interviews; especially with Gerard Baker and Shelton Johnson. Shelton Johnson was very impressive in the documentary and he is equally impressive in the book. His voice was very lyrical in the documentary. I could listen to him (documentary) foreve
Sep 28, 2016 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-books
Long but excellent information about the origin of many of the National Parks. They truly are one of America's best ideas. Especially enjoyable as I recently visited several parks incl Yellowstone, the very first.
Kristin B
Sep 27, 2016 Kristin B rated it it was amazing
I am in love with Ken Burns' documentaries and with the National Parks... But I was not expecting to be as in love with this book as I was. I found myself drawn to it whenever I had a free moment in a way only my favorite book series' have lured me in the past. If you have the least bit of interest in our National Parks... Or you just enjoy vast amounts of nature porn... I highly recommend this book.
I'm only in the preface and already loving it. I didn't see much of the PBS special, so I can't wait until my library gets it in. For now, I'm reading this.

Favorite quote so far:

"This is still," John Muir wrote assuredly, "the morning of creation."

This resonates with me and what I feel when I partake of the wild country of America.

Update:Wow! I wasn't able to watch much of this series on tv. I was initially dissatisfied that it was about the history of parks because I wanted to see amazing film
Valerie J K
Oct 20, 2013 Valerie J K rated it really liked it
This is the companion book to a documentary film (which I have not seen) and I was pleasantly surprised by thoughtful stories of those who discovered, protected, and visited the National Parks. I have fond memories of the Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, the red sandstone parks in Utah, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and the national forests near Mt St Helens. I think many Americans take for granted the wonders of nature set aside for all to enjoy, but that was not always the case and many parks faced ...more
May 31, 2010 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
National Parks preserve some of the most breathtaking landscapes in our Country. But if most people are like me, we don't often wonder about the people and processes which created them. Following the financial crisis of 2008, and the huge government bailout and spending programs initiated as a result, there's been a clamor for smaller government across the board, and certainly for less government spending and taxing. However , the author makes a good case for the establishment of the National ...more
Apr 29, 2015 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
This is a great book for anyone interested in the story of how the National Park Service and National Parks were created. Great photos of various parks on nearly every page, too. It really made me want to get out and see a lot of the parks that I've never been to - and return to some that I have. I've watched a couple of episodes of the accompanying documentary but definitely prefer the book.

Although I really enjoyed this book, there were a couple of things about it that diminished it just a bit
Dec 06, 2010 Kristen rated it it was amazing
I recommend the book, the audio book, and the DVD of this series to anyone who enjoys nature in any way. The book is a perfect bedtime story, something to read right before falling asleep. You can see pictures of the most beautiful places in the world and read about the battles that were won to protect them, and then you can dream about being there.

I recommend the audio book for listening to during a stressful commute to work. The material is read by an impressive cast of narrators as well as th
Mar 18, 2011 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Awesome pictures, interesting stories. Just read about Yosemite and Yellowstone so far.

Fabulous book! Wonderful pictures, wonderful stories. I gather that it is repetitive for those who have already watched the mini-series, but that wasn't a problem for me.

The most eye-opening aspect of the book is the documentation of the constant, CONSTANT attempts by citizens, corporations, and politicians to destroy the parks in order to make money off of them. Some of the stories are heart breaking as the
Aug 19, 2016 Mallory rated it it was amazing
I am concerned because now I want to visit every single National Park and not just visit them, but spend significant amounts of time in them. This needs to happen.

Favorite quotes: "Any man who does not believe in God and glaciers is the worst kind of unbeliever." - John Muir

"There is of course no sense at all in trying to describe the Grand Canyon... It is not a show place, a beauty spot, but a revelation. The Colorado River made it; but you feel when you are there that God gave the Colorado Ri
Aug 25, 2010 Kirk rated it liked it
Have you seen the PBS documentary series of the same name? You have? OK, then don't bother with the book. Unless you want to read what is essentially the transcript of the narration and interviews from the series, with a few "deleted scenes" of extra stories/extended interviews, this book is a giant repeat of the last twelve hours of documentary-watching. Maybe there are a couple more pictures here and there (and hundreds of the same pictures in the show), but when you're reading what is often ...more
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book on our National Parks. Not only does it expound the natural beauties of America, it is also a history of both the national park system and, indirectly, American conservation, which is deeply rooted in our citizens' awe with the land they saw when they expanded westward. Nearly all the the well-known (i.e. John Muir) and lesser-known figures (i.e. Lancelot Jones) in the history of our nation's parks make an appearance. And, like all of Ken Burns' works, it is imbued with ...more
May 26, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it
This book taught me that, as much as I love our national parks, I completely take them for granted. The glimpse into the formation of the national parks (the novelty of the concept, the motivations, the political battles) and the ongoing struggle for their protection (philosophical differences between environmentalist factions on preservation vs managed use and ongoing profit/commercial pressures) makes it clear how precious and fragile our parks truly are. Detailed accounts of the origins of ...more
Feb 10, 2016 Chad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook on my commute to and from work. I did not see the TV documentary or the pictures in the actual book, but the descriptions of these natural wonders were so vivid that I could see and smell and feel the beauty just through the spoken word. This audiobook re-sparked my desire to be back out in nature and to start making plans to visit those National Parks that I have not been to before. I was educated on the history of the parks and how a few ...more
Bryce Holt
May 14, 2014 Bryce Holt rated it really liked it
It's hard to have your breath taken away when you are listening to an audio book, but the way that Muir's words summarize the glory of nature (mostly in the first half of the audio book) and the National Parks described by those working in and around them, it is breathtaking. The story gets too mired down in the historical minutiae, but for most of it, it's a fairly touching ode to those most grandest of places and the people who helped put them aside for the world to enjoy. It certainly ...more
Oct 05, 2009 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Have to confess that I didn't read this book cover-to-cover (yet), but it is a terrific companion to the PBS series by the same name. This beautiful book will appeal to vacationers, nature lovers, and history buffs alike. The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a comprehensive history of the park system and the people who had a passion to preserve these fantastic places for current and future Americans, brought to life with words, interviews, quotes and stunning photography. You certainly ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Jen rated it it was amazing
Incredibly unique and special book. From the description, it's hard to convey how riveting this kind of story is; since there's no unifying storyline, and since a history of the national parks needs to ramble a bit, it's hard to do the book justice. Like doing justice to visiting a national park, I suppose, you really just have to go there to appreciate it. Besides focusing on fascinating people and places, it's also easily the most patriotic book I've ever read: celebrating the fact that the ...more
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