Thursday, October 1, 2009

Great Books on the National Parks: Our Best Idea

PBS will wrap up its six-episode run of The National Parks: America's Best Idea, by renowned documentary film maker Ken Burns, this weekend.

From Healing Landscapes of Texas (2001)

In this outstanding series, Burns focuses on the origin of the national park idea over 150 years, from its inception in the 1800s.

The first episode of the series, "The Scripture of Nature" (1851-1890) focused on John Muir, the Scottish-born founder of the Sierra Club, who found beauty, inspriation, and the courage to battle governmental powers for the preservation of natural landscapes.

Muir, still one of the most popular American nature writers, was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park and other western parks.

In God's Wilds: John Muir's Vision of Nature (Texas A&M University Press, 2002), author Dennis C. Williams shows Muir as a fundamentalist about nature, who learned his passion, his way of organizing the world, and his moral principles in the demanding world of nineteenth-century Calvinism.

God's Wilds (2002)

In episode five of the series, Great Nature (1933-1945) ─ set to air this weekend ─ Burns will look at the contributions of George Melendez Wright. The San Francisco native conducted a four-year survey of wildlife and plant conditions in the national parks that prompted the change of many long-held park practices, such as feeding bears and killing predators.

Wright died in a car accident at the age of 31 in 1936, after he took part in studying a potential international park along the Big Bend of the Rio Grande in Texas and Mexico. Mountains in this park now bear his name.

From Healing Landscapes of Texas (2001)

Find out more about Big Bend and other national parks from Texas A&M University Press's impressive line-up of natural history, environmental history, and nature guide books.

Also, visit the National Park Service and The National Parks: America's Best Idea websites to view video featurettes, detailed park information, and more on the history of America's national parks.

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