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I just finished watching Ken Burn's The National Parks: America's Best Idea, and it's fabulous -- it far far far exceeded any expectations I may have had.
The series is fascinating, surprising, intriguing, unexpected, and well narrated and voiced and commentated. The visuals are a combination of historical works (photos, footage, articles, etc.), lovely paintings and photos, and of course glorious beautiful high-definition cinematography. The narration (which is so interesting you don't even need to watch the images -- as I learned when I had to eat dinner during part of it -- but who can resist!) is done by Peter Coyote, and the voices of the historical letter-writers, authors, journalists, and so forth is by various luminaries from Eli Wallach, Derek Jacobi, John Lithgow, Adam Arkin, Tom Hanks, and dozens of others. And there are the occasional live comments from historians and other experts from various walks of life.
It's exquisitely put together and organized, never leaving the viewer bored; stories flow into and out of one another, or end only to be unexpectedly picked up again in a later hour or episode. The story of the parks is told not only through the stories of the politicians and naturalists involved, but also through the lives of everyday people and of artists and photographers (such as Ansel Adams) who loved the wilderness locales. There is a perfect mix of history, nature, beauty, drama, suspense, victories, defeats, and human interest. I was in tears at a few points.
Although a small handful of the names important to the natural park system are familiar (John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, etc.), the stories involving even those few are quite unexpected and fascinating. The vast majority of the true movers and shakers in the development of the natural parks are, however, gloriously unsung -- and thus doubly interesting because their outsized stories, which affected the country so greatly, are not nationally famous.
If you wish to purchase the DVD set, it's cheapest on Amazon, and the shipping is free.
If you watch the series on TV reruns if it ever returns, make sure you do it in order. It starts in 1851:
1851-1890: The Scripture of Nature
1890-1915: The Last Refuge
1915-1919: The Empire of Grandeur
1920-1933: Going Home
1933-1945: Great Nature
1946-1980: The Morning of Creation
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