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The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey Hardcover – June 30, 2015

4.2 out of 5 stars 773 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of July 2015: Well into middle-age, Rinker Buck found himself divorced, at the edge of bankruptcy, and growing blunt through the twin demons of ennui and alcohol. This was not a state he was accustomed to; instilled by his father with a sense of daring, Buck was no stranger to adventure, having been (with his brother) one half of the youngest duo to fly across the country, a tale documented in his celebrated book, Flight of Passage. On a whim, he found himself in a museum at the head of the Oregon Trail, realizing that even as a fairly serious American history buff, he knew virtually nothing about the pivotal era when 400,000 pioneers made their way West in quests for land, gold, and new lives. On a much bigger whim, Buck decided to travel the 2,000 miles of ruts and superseding highways in a mule-driven wagon on his own “crazyass” quest for a new beginning. The result is a dense-yet-entertaining mix of memoir, history and adventure, as Buck-- joined by another brother, Nick, and his “incurably filthy” dog, Olive Oyl--struggle with the mechanical, environmental, and existential challenges posed by such an unusually grueling journey. Buck is an engaging writer, and while the book pushes 500 pages, the story never lags. By the end, you’ll know more about mules than you ever thought you would (just enough, actually), and you’ll have a better perspective on the Trail, its travelers, and the role it played in shaping the modern United States. (And is Rinker Buck not a pioneer-worthy name for an tale such as this?)--Jon Foro


“An incredible true story . . . Weaving a tale somewhere between a travelogue and a history lesson, Buck traces the iconic path literally and figuratively as he re-creates the great migration with his brother and a Jack Russell terrier.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Excellent . . . An amazing cross-country journey . . . Rinker and Nick Buck’s conquest of the trail, the achievement of a lifetime, makes for a real nonfiction thriller, an account that keeps you turning the pages because you can’t conceive how the protagonists will make it through the enormous real-life obstacles confronting them.”
—Ian Frazier, The New York Review of Books

“Enchanting . . . Interspersed with the story of his westward journey, Mr. Buck entertains and enlightens with discourses on American history and culture. . . . He has delivered us a book filled with so much love—for mules, for his brother, for America itself. . . . Long before Oregon, Rinker Buck has convinced us that the best way to see America is from the seat of a covered wagon.”
—Gregory Crouch, The Wall Street Journal

“Absorbing . . . The many layers in The Oregon Trail are linked by Mr. Buck’s voice, which is alert and unpretentious in a manner that put me in mind of Bill Bryson’s comic tone in A Walk in the Woods. . . . He’s good company on the page, and you root for him. . . . He’s particularly winning on how, as he puts it, ‘the vaudeville of American life was acted out on the trail.’ . . . This shaggy pilgrimage describes a form of happiness sought, and happiness found.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Awe-inspiring . . . Charming, big-hearted, impassioned, and a lot of fun to read . . . If Buck doesn’t quite make you want to hitch up your own wagon, his rapturous account will still leave you daydreaming and hungry to see this land.”
The Boston Globe

“A remarkable saga . . . Thanks to Buck’s utterly engaging voice, infectious enthusiasm, unquenchable curiosity, dogged determination and especially his ability to convey the interaction of two brothers (and three mules), all of whom pull together despite their strong but profoundly different personalities, the saga becomes nothing short of irresistible. . . . This tale of brotherhood, persistence and daring so snares the emotions that it becomes a tear-jerker at its close.”
—Rosemary Herbert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A laugh-out-loud masterpiece . . . Alternately harrowing and exhilarating . . . The book is an unremitting delight.”
Willamette Week

“Interwoven in Buck’s adventure tale is a fascinating history of the development of the trail, its heyday, and the colorful characters that made the journey. . . . Whether their primary interest is American history, adventure travel or a captivating memoir, readers are sure to be delighted by this humorous and entertaining story that allows us to believe that Walter Mitty–like fantasies can indeed come true.”
—Associated Press

“A quintessential American story . . . The Oregon Trail attains its considerable narrative power by interweaving pioneer history with Rinker-and-Nick-and-mules interpersonal strife with poignant memories of the author’s father, who took his own family on a covered wagon journey through New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1958. . . . This makes The Oregon Trail a rare and effective work of history—the trail stories of the Buck brothers bring humor and drama, and the pioneer biographies supply a context that makes every other aspect of the book snap into sharp relief. . . . The experience of The Oregon Trail stands squarely opposite much of what is modern—it’s slow travel with poor communication, it places struggle before comfort, and it represents a connection with history rather than a search for the newest of the new. In that sense, you’d think the book would be slow-paced and fusty, but it’s really something else: raw, visceral, and often laugh-out-loud funny. For anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing America slowly from the back of a wagon, The Oregon Trail is a vicarious thrill.”
—James Norton, Christian Science Monitor

“A trip back in time . . . Buck brings the land to life in a richly researched book that draws heavily from journals kept by the pioneers and their memoirs. . . . His exploration of America and himself is a joy to read.”
USA Today (4 out of 4 stars)

“What a way to spend a summer! Rinker Buck lived the dream of countless red-blooded Americans. . . . The Oregon Trail is must reading for anyone in love with the West.”
—Jules Wagman, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“This book is a keeper. . . . The straight-ahead title scarcely does justice to this rollicking good read, a book that’s as much fun as the Brothers Buck seem to be as they travel from Missouri to Oregon by covered wagon. . . . Observant, conversational, and often funny, The Oregon Trail makes for a satisfying trip.”
Seattle Times

“Exhilarating . . . Bristles with new information . . . Although the subject of the Oregon Trail has been raked over by some of America’s finest historians, Rinker manages to relate stories about pioneer life, disease, grave location, and trail development and history that add to our collective knowledge. . . . The book sparkles.”
The Wichita Eagle

“An entertaining and enlightening account of one of America’s most legendary migrations. Even readers who don’t know a horse from a mule will find themselves swept up in this inspiring and masterful tale of perseverance and the pioneer spirit.”
Publishers Weekly

“Astonishing . . . By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative . . . A crazy whim of a trip on a covered wagon turns into an inspired exploration of American identity.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This smart, endearing book is not just about a picaresque and probably ill-advised adventure; it’s a story about us—who we are and how we came to be that way. As he makes his two thousand-mile pilgrimage by cussed mule across the dusty continent, Rinker Buck finds his way deep into our nation’s DNA.”
—Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Americana

“How lucky we are that Rinker Buck and his brother, as stubborn and endearing as the mules they drove, undertook this patently imprudent journey—so the rest of us could sit in our easy chairs and tag along for the wild and woolly ride. Along the way we learn a little about mule breeders, tongue relievers, cholera, cattle guards, and littering, 1850s style—and a lot about the enduring essence of the pioneer spirit. Part Laura Ingalls Wilder, part Jack Kerouac, The Oregon Trail is an idiosyncratic and irresistible addition to the canon of American road-trip literature.”
—George Howe Colt, National Book Award finalist for The Big House

“Buck’s lean prose, historical insight, and penetrating curiosity elevate The Oregon Trail into an instant classic that deserves a place on your bookshelf between Bryson and Horwitz. A master storyteller and dogged reporter, Buck gives substance to an unrelenting wanderlust that is the envy of anyone who has ever dreamed of lighting out for the territories.”
—Bob Drury, coauthor of The Heart of Everything That Is

“Once you start reading this book, you will not want to stop. With wonderful writing, colorful characters, and a deep understanding of history and the human condition, Rinker Buck delivers a richly rewarding portrait of the Oregon Trail, past and present. Using humor and compassion, he creates a compelling, page-turning saga of the American experience.”
—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire and Leviathan

“Romantic . . . Compelling . . . The Oregon trip is fraught with mishaps, near-death experiences, and plain bad luck. But there were also angels along the way helping them get through.”
Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (June 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451659164
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451659160
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (773 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on March 27, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author, who is a self described book worm, history junkie, and control freak decided, basically on a whim, to drive a wagon over the entire Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon in one summer. Although this has been done by others in past years, it has never been done in modern times without support vehicles and an entourage of people meeting the wagon every night. His original goal was to drive, alone, without any support assistance, which would be a first. Eventually, after his brother found out about the trip, he decided to allow his brother to accompany him. And that was still a first.

He spent the winter and spring prior to the trip doing research in old journals and historical documents about the trail. He also studied maps to determine where he would have to divert from the original trail to a highway and what obstacles he would face. He and his brother drove, in the late spring, to Missouri where he had purchased and authentic wagon and a team of mules for the trip. His reason for chosing mules is well documented in the book, but you will have to read it to find out why he chose them.

The book consists of three parts intertwined with each other. First, most obviously, is a written record of the trip. He describes what was happening, where it was happening and how he and his brother coped with various problems. The second part was from the historical records. He describes, from journals, what the original settlers were going through in various parts of the trail and compares his journey to what the settlers experienced. Finally, he describes some issues he has with his father and tries to reconcile long buried feeling she has towards his father.

The book is very well written.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rinker Buck and his brother got to live the dream of many a history buff and in doing so wrote a history/travel book that is very enjoyable to read. In doing so he got the chance to learn about life, think back to times with his family and make the history and experiences of the Oregon Trail come alive.

This could have been two books. It could have been a history of the Oregon Trail. I learned a lot about what the settlers who traveled on the Oregon Trail faced daily. It could also been a travel book talking about how two brothers learned a lot about the world and themselves while traveling the Oregon Trail The author does an remarkable job of merging these two books into one and in doing so creating a work that I read in three sittings. I literally did not want to put this down.

This book is a rare example of excellent writing combined with a fascinating story about a recreated journey from the past. There have been a number of books written by people who have recreated journeys made by explorers in the past. There are television shows where people live like people did in the past. Most of these fail because they get caught up in the “gimmick” of modern people living in the past.

While the premise of this book is that two modern men take and old wagon and three mules on the Oregon Trail, the end result is so much more. What makes this book different is the author is an exceptionally good writer who knows how to write about history as well his journey and I wound up caring both about the history and the journey.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rinker Buck is an acclaimed author uniting American history with modern adventure.
Rinker Buck deserves a Pulitzer for History & Biography. First for providing this delightful pilgrimage through the American spirit; and then second for introducing readers to his brother Nick, a retro-pioneer born of freedom's soil.
Expect to come away from "The Oregon Trail" read with a lifetime of American history trivia neatly tucked away in your brain's nostalgic corner.

Buck has gone way beyond this expected diary of anecdotes about the brothers' own Oregon Trail. Extensive research to aid in the planning and implementation of this 21st Century trail trek is brought alive for the reader as though he is riding beside the mule driver. Buck even offers modern trail-side wonders that the travelers of 1840s would not even dreamed about.
The Buck Boys are as humorous as they are adventurous. This book is as educational as it is entertaining. Not a book to read rapidly, take it at a mules' walking pace, and enjoy every paragraph, it's that good.

I really meant it that this should be at least nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Never have I said that before, and it is not stated lightly.
Thank you Rink and Nick for sharing your exploit.
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Format: Kindle Edition
My wife bought this book for me for my birthday. I'm a serious Oregon Trail "rut nut", so I couldn't wait to get started reading it. The further I got into the book, however, the less I liked it. For a reader that is not very familiar with the history of the Oregon Trail, I suppose this book is an OK introduction. But for any serious student of the trail, I think they will be disappointed. Mr. Buck spends way too many pages talking about his childhood and his father and his demons, while at the same time glossing over many of the fascinating historic sites he passed along the way.

For the past four summers, I too have been following the trail. Rather than riding in a wagon, I've been on a bicycle. This year I ended up in Baker City, Oregon, the end point for Mr. Buck's journey. Next summer I'll complete the trail where the pioneers did, in Oregon City. Along the way, I've met many of the same people Mr. Buck met. I was especially annoyed by his treatment of the owner's of the Burnt Ranch near South Pass, Wyoming. These people showed me nothing but kindness as I rode across their land. The difference was that I had the common courtesy of contacting them in advance and asking for their permission. Mr. Buck obviously didn't understand how people out west value private property rights. The author also didn't impress me with his navigational skills. Even though I was traveling solo, never once did I doubt my location. There are times when you can throw caution to the wind, but not when crossing the high deserts of Wyoming. Proper planning prevents poor performance. Mr. Buck was very lucky nothing serious happened along the South Pass portion of the trail (his broken wheel at Pacific Springs was inconvenient, but not life threatening).
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