rail buffs will be happy with Todd Webb's industry not only in delineating the history of the great trails West but also in his itemizing of the facts of the trail as it is today. Webb spent two Guggenheim Fellowships and seven years following the California Gold Rush and Oregon trails by foot, raft, bicycle, Vespa motor scooter and Volkswagen. The first wagons began to roll from Independence, Mo. to California and Oregon in the spring of 1841. The following twenty years transformed the face of the nation with unsurpassed swiftness. There were no maps--or what maps did exist proved useless. The members of The Great Migration of 1843, however, proved the practicability of wagon travel. In 1846 the Donner-Reed Party spent three nightmarish months traversing the Wasatch Mountains and great Salt Desert, only to be stalled by blizzards in the Sierra foothills with much loss of life. Then gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill. News got back East of 13-pound nuggets. Gold fever struck, and the great westward expansion began full tilt. This book describes crossing the wide prairie, the famous utoffs and subroutes, and is earnestly matter-of-fact, with an occasional irony. Its quotations from diary accounts spring magnificently to life. Webb quotes better than he writes.