Posted by: Tyler Mills | May 4, 2011

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail was a delight to read. Published by Broadway Books in 1998,  we join Bill Bryson and his huffing, overweight companion on a journey into the beautiful and rugged woodlands of the Eastern United States. The trail is 2,200 miles long and neither man is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Bryson relates his experiences with honesty and beautifully clear detail.  He is extremely funny and down to earth in his observations of his companion, Stephen Katz,  and their fellow hikers on the Appalachian Trail. His cynicism is softened by the ability to laugh at himself which made the memoir a very entertaining read. I lost track of the number of times I burst out laughing while reading this book.

Bryson describes their journey with particular attention on what it looked and felt like to be where he was on the trail and what it took to get there. As a reader I felt like I understood exactly how he felt standing on top of a mountain after hours of hiking and simply rejoicing in the joy of beauty and accomplishment. He doesn’t skimp at all in describing the hardships of the experience, but he also very honestly portrays the feelings that kept him going despite them all.

Occasionally throughout the novel Bryson interjects the narrative to describe the plants, animals, geology, history, and current affairs of the places he hikes through. In a few cases I found the interjections a tad long-winded, but in most cases the information was interesting. Through his remarks I gained greater appreciation of the Appalachian Trail and the organizations that worked to make it possible and sustain it through the years.

Bryson is critical of government groups and other organizations that have been poor stewards of the precious (and in many cases dwindling) natural wildlife and wilderness areas under their charge. His arguments are well reasoned and he explains the problem clearly without being preachy. He makes counterarguments to many common errors and  assumptions about the trails and wilderness based on his experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail.

I found A Walk in the Woods to be a funny and thought provoking book. I had a great time reading it. The book has a great balance of humor, description, and opinion that brings Bryson’s experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail to life right in our hands. If you love the outdoors or simply want to laugh at the quirks of human nature I would highly recommend A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

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