The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey Hardcover – June 30, 2015
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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
“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.”
“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.”
“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)
- Item Weight : 1.6 pounds
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1451659164
- ISBN-13 : 978-1451659160
- Product Dimensions : 6.75 x 1.25 x 9.75 inches
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st Printing Edition (June 30, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #590,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I was raised on a large farm in Eastern Washington State. If perchance my parents had entertained these profane men. They'd have been kicked out of the house. I really wonder how they conducted themselves when receiving the good-natured hospitality of farmers along the way. The second star is for good historical background. I will use the book for the few informational chapters on the Oregon Trail.
The book consists of several things - the story of the trip I great detail, ruminations about Rinker's father and how he made him who he was, and passages about the West. These included, among others, information about the importance of mules, how the wagon business prospered as a result of the Trail, the impact of the trail on the Native American population, and how the Mormons (LDS) affected the trail and its history.
In the beginning the sheer amount of information is a bit off-putting. After the first few chapters are complete it sort of becomes part of the scenery and blends in. Additionally he and his brother become humanized and there is often a warm feeling present.
They actually do make it after making their way through many hair-raising adventures. All of those are told with a breathless spirit that adds to the interest. If you have an interest in the West and how it came to be, you will enjoy this wonderful book.
I closely followed the progress of the trip as described. I used maps and took notes. I enjoyed that very much. I read additional articles about the various locations. I found the entire exercise very illuminating. I plan on following the Oregon Trail as best I can on highways this fall. The author often left the highways with his covered wagon.
The author also shares his personal views on subjects such as religion. He makes it clear he is an atheist. That is all well and good but at times I found his lectures tiresome. After all there is a reason that the word "faith" exists and there is a reason we each know what it means and how it feels. In the end, Atheism is still a faith based belief system. Speaking for myself, that was probably the part of this otherwise fine work that I liked the least.
The author also went on a brief tirade against law enforcement. I am not sure that was necessary. The outburst was not related to this adventure. The author's experience during the trip with law enforcement seemed all positive.
In the event one reads this fine work and enjoys it as I did, by coincidence, a friend recommended to me another book that I also enjoyed and is of a similar format, except it is about a motorcycle trip. The name of the book is "The Old Man And The Harley" by John J. Newkirk.
Both good reads!
Top reviews from other countries
It’s a great 14 CD audio boxed set. Perfect long car journey material.
Rinker Buck travelled the trail with his brother in a covered wagon ~ amazing!
I listened the history of the covered wagon, how to lock the wheels on a treacherous descent and I feel like I could take on the challenge (not really). I loved his writing and reading style, the distinct tone of his brother’s voice and his devotion to the trail.
This was an epic journey and I loved every CD ~ hugely listenable and you end up living the trail.
A modern odyssey with a wagon, a pup, two guys, a dog and three mules ~ seeing America the slow way.
B R I L L I A N T
I was hooked after the first two sentences: "I had known long before I road a covered wagon to Oregon that naivte was the mother of adventure. I just didn't understand how much of that I really had."
I really enjoyed how the author explained about buying mules, and everything to do about the covered wagon. I loved hearing bits a pieces of history (so much so that I had to order a book about Narcissa Whitman), and that Mr. Buck told stories about his father, who, in a strange way, also seemed to be a reason that the author went on this trip.
But the best was reading about his brother . They were totally incompatible but complimented each other so much that the reader sees why both were needed to make the long journey.
If I had anything to complain about it would be that I would have liked to read more about the places that they were in--to SEE them a bit better. Still, The Oregon Trail was very much enjoyed and is very much recommended.