An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks

April 18, 2018 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian
An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks, by Kim Heacox. Washington DC: National Geographic Society, 2001.

The National Park System ranks as one of our best achievements, and the story of its creation offers insights into how the American landscape shaped our history and character and continues to do so today.  Kim Heacox’s book, An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks, delves deep into the story of how it all began.

Heacox begins his narrative in the 17th century, when this country’s first settlers built towns around shared lands known as commons. It ends in 1916, when the National Park Service was formed to administer a new kind of common-unspoiled and held in trust for Americans and others to enjoy.

Daniel Boone and Kit Carson appear here, as do explorers like John C. Fremont and John Wesley Powell, whose reports told of wonders so amazing they were met with disbelief. The author tells about the key roles played by Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt and we also are introduced to tycoons who supported parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Former President Jimmy Carter says in his foreword, “National parks give each of us an opportunity to treasure what Henry David Thoreau called those ‘little oases of wildness in the desert of our civilization.’ In fact, An American Idea demonstrates how much of our culture, art and philosophy grew out of an almost sacred relationship with the land, and describes how vast portions of our magnificent country came to be set aside in its natural state for the enjoyment of all.”

In addition to the informative history, the book also includes a generous amount of illustrations featuring paintings and photographs that capture the unique splendor of the parks. An epilogue summarizes some developments within the system since 1916.

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Last updated: April 18, 2018

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