Little did I realize that this is not a history book, per se. There's lots of detailed history of the trail woven through it, but basically it's an account of a trip two brothers took over the trail, from St. Josephs MO to Oregon, in 2011 in the very wagon shown on the cover!
The brother who wrote the book is a lifelong journalist and the book is very well written. He weaves the 2011 trip, detailed history of the pioneer travel (lots of research and actual journal entries of actual people who did it), as well as a trip he went on with his father and some siblings back in 1958, on the east coast. The brothers are opposite in personality and play off one another throughout the book. Rinker, the journalist, is quieter, a bit uptight and cautious, while his brother Nick is boisterous and fearless and charges into the most harrowing circumstances with glee and abandon.
I never knew mules could be so interesting! He gives a good background on their use and development, the different crosses and types that exist, what type works best for what use, and basically more than I ever thought I wanted to know about mules. But, it was interesting and the three that towed their wagon had very distinct personalities.
It's an astonishing story of perseverance over things going wrong and unimagined difficulties across almost 2000 miles of trail. All along the way people helped them, welcomed them, got them out of difficult situations. In long-distance hiking these kinds of people are called trail magic. He calls it trail angels.
Great book. Highly recommended, although it certainly did spur my need for an adventure of my own!