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The National Parks - America's Best Idea
(Alfred A. Knopf) ISBN 978-0307268969 0307268969

Written to accompany the PBS series on United States National Parks, this beautifully illustrated coffeetable book describes the history and politics of national park creation.

The National Parks is not a tour guide or a travelogue. Instead, it documents how the establishment of US National Parks has preserved 84 million acres of space for our enjoyment.


Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns discuss the origins and mythology behind America's national parks and tell the stories about Americans who motivated lawmakers to preserve U.S. mountains, canyons, forests, swamps, valleys, rivers and wildlife for future generations.

Well-documented and authoritative, with historical quotes, archival photos and newspaper clippings, each chapter of The National Parks - America's Best Idea includes an interview with a national park expert. They include Gerard Baker, the first American Indian superintendent at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

List of American National Parks

Colored sidebars describe people who have contributed to the creation and preservation of American national parks, such as the Cook family, in Arizona, with four generations who have worked in the National Park System.

The 403-page book contains 440 black & white images, color photos and illustrations, which document the history, establishment and scenery in US National Parks.

The inner cover features a list of American national parks, by date of establishment, beginning with Yellowstone National Park, in 1872, and ending with Congaree National Park, in South Carolina, in 2003.

National park maps

A tear-out map of the USA locates nearly 400 sites in the US National Park System.

The authors describe the conflict between exploitation of national parks for their resources and the protection of landscapes and wildlife to create memories for generations of national park visitors.

For example, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns tell the story of Enos Mills, a nature writer. Inspired by John Muir, his lectures and articles persuaded Congress to establish Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, in 1915.

The National Parks: America's Best Idea


  • Preface –
    • Our Best Selves
    • A Treasure House of Nature's Superlatives
  • Chapter One – The Scripture of Nature
    • Homeland: An interview with Gerard Baker
  • Chapter Two – For the Benefit of the People
    • Transcendence: An interview with Shelton Johnson
  • Chapter Three – Empire of Grandeur
    • Stories of discovery: An interview with Nevada Barr
  • Chapter Four – Going Home
    • Redefining beauty: An interview with Paul Schullery
  • Chapter Five – Great Nature
    • Democracy at its best: An interview with Juanita Greene
  • Chapter Six – The Morning of Creation
    • This is what we loved: An interview with Terry Tempest Williams
  • Afterword – The Best Day
  • Index


Dayton Duncan is a documentary filmmaker who wrote and produced The National Parks.

Ken Burns is The National Parks director and co-producer.

More information on U.S. National Parks:

Haleakala National Park Maui

Hiking, Canoeing and Bird Watching in Florida Everglades NP

Guide to the National Parks of the United States

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