By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative.

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THE OREGON TRAIL

AN AMERICAN JOURNEY

A crazy whim of a trip on a covered wagon turns into an inspired exploration of American identity.

Journalist Buck (Shane Comes Home, 2005, etc.) chronicles his summerlong journey across the “Great American Desert” in a covered wagon, an arduous, astonishing journey that traced the same exodus of more than 400,000 pioneers across the Oregon Trail in the 15 years before the Civil War. The author and his brother had the knowledge and wherewithal to make such an ambitious journey largely because of their upbringing in rural New Jersey, where their father, a Look magazine editor and former pilot, kept horses and wagons and took the family of 11 children on a similar, though shorter, journey into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1958. Once Buck realized he could not manage three mules and a wagon all by himself, he enlisted his big, enormously capable brother, and the two procured the authentic 19th-century Peter Schuttler wagon and three specially bred American mules (each with its own wonderfully eccentric personality) and all the necessary equipment for breakdowns and repairs. The preparations were daunting, and Buck fascinatingly walks readers through all of them, all with an eye to how the early settlers made the actual journey, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley, Oregon: 2,000-plus miles of carefully plotted trail, encompassing high desert and mountains, rivers and shaky bridges, thunderstorms, scant water, and patches of no road. Throughout, the travelers were, by necessity, required to frequently jettison supplies. “See America Slowly” was the theme of the men’s boyhood trip, a theme resurrected sweetly for this one. The journey encouraged delighted observers to shelter and feed the men and mules, often in the towns’ communal rodeo grounds, and allowed the brothers to reconnect over childhood memories and with the American land they cherished.

By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative.

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5916-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

THE WAY I HEARD IT

Former Dirty Jobs star Rowe serves up a few dozen brief human-interest stories.

Building on his popular podcast, the author “tells some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do.” Some of those stories, he allows, have been subject to correction, just as on his TV show he was “corrected on windmills and oil derricks, coal mines and construction sites, frack tanks, pig farms, slime lines, and lumber mills.” Still, it’s clear that he takes pains to get things right even if he’s not above a few too-obvious groaners, writing about erections (of skyscrapers, that is, and, less elegantly, of pigs) here and Joan Rivers (“the Bonnie Parker of comedy”) there, working the likes of Bob Dylan, William Randolph Hearst, and John Wayne into the discourse. The most charming pieces play on Rowe’s own foibles. In one, he writes of having taken a soft job as a “caretaker”—in quotes—of a country estate with few clear lines of responsibility save, as he reveals, humoring the resident ghost. As the author notes on his website, being a TV host gave him great skills in “talking for long periods without saying anything of substance,” and some of his stories are more filler than compelling narrative. In others, though, he digs deeper, as when he writes of Jason Everman, a rock guitarist who walked away from two spectacularly successful bands (Nirvana and Soundgarden) in order to serve as a special forces operative: “If you thought that Pete Best blew his chance with the Beatles, consider this: the first band Jason bungled sold 30 million records in a single year.” Speaking of rock stars, Rowe does a good job with the oft-repeated matter of Charlie Manson’s brief career as a songwriter: “No one can say if having his song stolen by the Beach Boys pushed Charlie over the edge,” writes the author, but it can’t have helped.

Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982130-85-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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