By Evan Serpick
Updated June 20, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Curiosity led Jake Halpern to camp out with stranded coffins,rotting pig carcasses, and 72-year-old Thad Knight, who, unlike every other citizen of Princeville, N.C., refused to leave his house after the town was flooded with 20 feet of water in 1999. Driven by wanderlust and a relative in the airline industry, Halpern sought out other mules who refused to budge long after their homes became unlivable. He finds, among others, Alaskans in an isolated ”indoor town” accessible only by a 2.5-mile tunnel; a Hawaiian surrounded by red-hot lava in the path of an active volcano; and a cowboy clan planted near the epicenter of California’s wildfires. Though the connections between the stories are often forced, individually these are compelling, well-told tales of people living, literally, on the edge.