Book: "Superlatives USA," by Melissa L. Jones (Capital Books $16.95)
Target audience: People who love "est"s.
America's oldest restaurant is in Boston, its biggest disco ball is in Utah and its largest six-pack is in Wisconsin. Its smallest basket is in Mississippi, while the largest is in Ohio (it's really a basket-shaped office building). And although Michigan has the longest porch (660 feet), the longest porch swing (a 16-seater) is in Nebraska. There's a moose sculpture in Maine made of 1,700 pounds of chocolate, and Smithfield, Va., claims a 103-year-old ham. California's Death Valley scores a hat trick: hottest, driest and lowest.
Jones searches America for extremes: huge trees, an 80-foot tire (built as a Ferris wheel) and that perennial favorite, the giant ball of twine. Books like this often condescend -- hey, cool people, look what these rubes did -- but Jones recounts her superlatives with affection. Not always with precision, though. Important facts and figures are sometimes missing, and she often finesses the issue of whether something is truly "the biggest" or merely really big. By the way, the country's largest hairball (are you sure you want to know this?) is in a Missouri veterinary museum.
-- Jerry V. Haines