Books: Rut: The California Trail

THE CALIFORNIA TRAIL (339 pp.)—George R. Stewart — McGraw-Hill ($6.95).

George R. Stewart writes inanimate prose about inanimate heroes. His best-selling books—with titles like Storm, Fire, or U.S. 40—generally describe some vast entity of nature or engineering and its ef fect upon scores of tiny lives. His new book might have been called Rut. Its chapters are headed "1841," "1842" and "1843" and so on, as year by ox-drawn year he records the development of the overland route to California. Back and forth the reader travels, five times in the first 100 pages alone, until a pair of transcontinental grooves has...