The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey
by Rinker Buck
Simon & Schuster, 2015
Simon & Schuster Audio
16 hours and 41 minutes
narrated by the author
The term "participatory history" is new to me, and it's an apt description of Rinker Buck's new book. It had been over a hundred years since the last mule-crossing of the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail when Buck, his brother Nick, and a Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl traveled the entire distance in a covered wagon a couple of years ago.
Along with tales of their adventure, the book includes information about pioneers, their lives, and the significance of the westward movement. I enjoyed learning about wagons and mules - especially mules - and didn't even know I was interested in either!
There are some laugh-out-loud funny moments in the book, too. However RV enthusiasts and Mormons may find some of them offensive. Here are a couple examples of Buck's style:
Highway 36 through Kansas is, essentially, a motorized ghetto for the massive Winnebago and Gulf Stream motor homes that American seniors drive themselves around in these days... Spending six figures for a McMansion mounted on a bus chassis is truly an adventure in bad taste.
The Mormons are effective because they exploit something so basic in the national psyche that most of us have lost the ability to see it. Americans on summer vacation, especially the RVers, are idiots, and haven't read anything in years. Their every cranial neuron has been erased by watching Fox News. The brains of American tourists will accept practically anything as truth because there is nothing else up there to compete with new information. Just say something, anything, preferably in bland thirty-six-point type, and it will stick.I approached this book as a read/listen combination, but ended up mostly listening. There were some maps, drawings, and photographs in the print version that I appreciated seeing, but overall I recommend the audio. Rinker Buck may be just average as far as narrators go, but listening to his voice added a certain authenticity to the experience. Additionally, at the end of the audio production, there is a wonderful conversation between Rinker and his brother. Don't miss it.
The Oregon Trail is an entertaining mix of history and adventure - give it a try!