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A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America…

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998)

by Bill Bryson

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There is no doubt that Bryson is a well-traveled individual, but he seems so out of his element on the Appalachian Trail. This makes for some pretty hilarious stories– his foray into a camping supply store, meeting other foolhardy hikers, his companion (Katz), crossing paths with a moose, and of course bears. If you’re familiar with Bill Bryson’s writing, then you know it’s never short on snark. Sometimes his style of humor can be exhausting, and it can make him seem pretentious. This is not the case in A Walk in the Woods. For every jeering remark he makes, it’s followed up by an anecdote of his own ineptitude. Hiking the Appalachian Trail seems like it was a humbling experience for Bryson.

Bryson’s account of the trail was satisfying enough, but the gem of the book was his discussion of human interaction with nature. The first half of the book, while it focuses on Bryson’s experience of hiking the trail, introduces the reader to the National Park Services. The NPS is a government organization created to preserve nature, though they have been known to single-handedly eradicate entire species of animal or plant. Oops! The second half of the book provides a more in-depth look at the human/nature relationship and on a broader timeline– from the European explorers first trek into the woods to modern-day ghost town made so because of a massive fire that’s been burning in a coal mine since the 1960s . You come away with the feeling that humans, who have always had a fascination with their surroundings, manage to destroy the beauty of nature out of sheer curiosity or their desire for recognition or monetary compensation.

A Walk in the Woods is the fifth book I’ve read by Bill Bryson, and I think it might be my favorite. It’s a perfect balance of everything that is typical of Bryson’s style. It’s equal parts breathtaking, informative, and hilarious. The landscapes he creates with his words makes me want to trek along over 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail myself. Then, he obsesses over bears and hantavirus-carrying mice, which immediately brings me back to reality. I am not a hardy person, and I am better suited to experiencing Mother Nature vicariously through others. Thank goodness for Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. ( )
  books_n_tea | Apr 1, 2014 |
Another quality book by Bill Bryson. It is amazing how he takes item that do not seem interesting or exciting and makes them so. ( )
  foof2you | Mar 15, 2014 |
Just reread this while on vacation in Vermont. Love it! He goes into so many things, including science, nature, society, and history. I hope the movie does it justice. ( )
  Tahleen | Feb 16, 2014 |
This was my first Bill Bryson book several years ago. I loved it! He has an engaging voice and drew me in from the very beginning. The book is written from a very honest perspective and shows the hardships and trials of a long hike in an engagingly humorous way. It made me want to hike the trail too, just to meet the people along the way. A Walk in the Woods became the first of many of Bryson's books that I have read and loved. Quite a fun read. ( )
  Jamilyn | Jan 21, 2014 |
An old man with little physical strength and no hiking training decides to travel one of the hardest and longest trails in America. Hilarity ensues.

Bill Bryson returns with... not his best narrative, but not his worst. It's not a must-read by any means, but parts of it are entertaining. Especially if you're into hiking. I am not. He experiences annoying fellow hikers, equipment quirks, and frightening himself with bear attacks. Those are entertaining parts. Then there are other parts which are pure description of the purple mountain's majesties that don't work for me, punctuated by random histories of the trail -- what it could have been and what it is.

I still like "Thunderbolt Kid" better. Once his idiot friend leaves in the first half, the book takes a nose dive into tedium. It's too bad he couldn't have deleted those parts and just left the highlights. Hiking is hard to make a compelling story, unless you have bears. Of which, there really aren't any. ( )
  theWallflower | Jan 20, 2014 |
The best way to walk the AT without actually doing it. I cant believe he just did what he did and with whom he did walk that trail. Made me think of times I spent in the woods and water trails. 5 stars.
  oldman | Jan 3, 2014 |
A very fun read. Bryson is whity and very enjoyable to listen to. The whole thing makes me want to get out and hike. ( )
  jakegest | Dec 24, 2013 |
Bryson is kind of annoying. If/when I hike the Appalachian trail I would rather meet up with any of the other "weirdos" (minus the murderers) than him or his friend. While I at first appreciated his more factual commentary on the history of various parts of the trail, his severely misguided generalities about moose made me question all the other factual details he had been bantering about. Moose can be almost as dangerous as black bears if they feel like it, although climbing trees is much more effective I would assume. I would prefer we not hunt them, but they are not cows either - for that matter, cows can seriously harm you given the right circumstances so... ( )
  Zabeth | Dec 9, 2013 |
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, narrated by Rob McQuay
4 stars

This is the of Bill Bryson's attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail which stretches from Georgia to Maine. I read his book Notes From a Small Island which was his walking England. I liked that one quite a bit. This one a little less. Mr Bryson provides besides a commentary about his experience, history of the trail, ecology and political commentary. Bill can be funny but some of his humor is a little edgy at times. I did like it more than his The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and a lot more than his A Short History of Nearly Everything. The narrator was okay. He tried to give different voices to the different people but I thought he mixed them up once in awhile and if you weren't paying attention you could end up wondering, who said that? I like travel books and I give it 4 stars but just barely. ( )
1 vote Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
It is rare that the written word makes me laugh out loud. Many thanks to Bryson - and Katz, of course - for the chuckles and outright guffaws. I learned a lot from this book, as well - the ineptitude, or worse, of the US Forest Service resulting in the loss of numerous plant and animal species; lessons in hypothermia, and a tutorial on anthracite. All very worthwhile and interestingly told. I would have given this book another star but for a glaring bit of mean-spiritedness that made me go back and question everything about the author. His riffs on Mary Ellen were fine with me; she had it coming, as did Luther, and other recipients of Bryson's acid wit. But when he steered off course and spent two pages eviscerating a couple even he acknowledged as "sweetly hesitant and wholesome-looking" for the apparent crime of saying grace before dinner, I have to wonder if Mr. Bryson's judgement is altogether sound. The book is definitely worth reading but Bryson loses a star from me for unnecessary roughness. ( )
  AmourFou | Nov 7, 2013 |
This is my favorite audiobook of all time, I would recommend it to any one. When the author announces that he is going to walk the Appalacchian trail to his editor he is committed to do it. Then he finds out how arduous it really is, and his experience is humourous, taxing and thought provoking. ( )
  Mladies | Oct 30, 2013 |
  MissJessie | Oct 16, 2013 |
Bill Bryson brings his familiar wit and humor to "A Walk in the Woods" that we’re all familiar with from such wonderful titles as "Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way" (1990), "In a Sunburned Country" (2000), and "A Short History of Nearly Everything" (2003), among many others. In it, Bryson shows a rapt preoccupation for the overwhelming landscape in which he has placed himself and his friend Katz. He also skewers other hikers, the American preoccupation with driving cars everywhere, certain historical aspects of the founding of the Appalachian Trail, the U.S. Forest Service, and of course, himself.

I would be pleased to say that he does all this with the typical humor we’ve come to expect from him, but Bryson’s funny moments are separated here by long stretches in which he recounts the physical trials of hiking the Appalachian Trail (“AT”), what he considers the misguided policies in place which govern the trail, people’s abuse of it, and his own disillusion with some of it. The result is a highly personal and believable account with flashes of charm and I’m going to say it, with some longuers as well.

Bryson almost never deals with issues in any deep or serious way, principally as a matter of choice, I assume. He does recite certain kernels of environmental orthodoxy, an area where advocates needlessly play fast and loose with fact in the service of laudable goals. In my reaction to the book, this rises above the level of quibble, but not by much.

Overall, this is an enjoyable bit of Brysonia, full of honesty, and full of Bryson’s own affable persona.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-wlk-in-woods-by-bill-bryson.html ( )
  LukeS | Oct 14, 2013 |
I had long heard great things about Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, but I had yet to read it. I had the perfect reason to finally pick up a copy when Bill Bryson came to Georgia Center for the Book to promote his new book One Summer: America, 1927. I was immediately caught up in Bryson’s storytelling with his droll sense of humor and keen, witty observations. For a middle-aged man who had never so much as gone camping to suddenly decide to tackle the Appalachian Trail is, in itself, fodder for much humor. He managed to turn a trip to the camping store into a laugh-out-loud adventure. His traveling companion provided bumbling comedy himself and, from what Bill said in his talk Friday night, has achieved his own measure of fame due to the book. First published in 1998, the book remains in print and is an official guide to the Appalachian Trail (the AT). Not only does the book contain humorous misadventures, but it is also a fascinating account of the history, geology, and ecology of the AT. I was never bored. I laughed and I learned, often simultaneously. Bryson also meets an amusing cast of characters along the trail (like Chicken John who became notorious for getting lost). I was inspired and thoroughly enjoyed the account of Bryson’s journey. He proved to be the ideal guide for the trail. Now that the fall weather has come to Georgia, I’m tempted to take a walk on the trail myself. I highly recommend this read to anyone who enjoys travel books, hiking, or just plain entertaining storytelling.

Favorite quotes:

Regarding the hike, Bryson muses: “Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really” (p.100).

An example of learning and laughter combined regarding a time in America where bounties were paid for the killing of predatory animals and wherein some became extinct or endangered as a result: “Rationality didn’t often come into it. Pennsylvania on year paid out $90,000 in bounties for the killing of 130,000 owls and hawks to save the state’s farmers a slightly less than whopping $1,875 in estimated livestock losses. (It is not very often, after all, that an owl carries off a cow.)” (p.291)

“A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old” (p. 347).

Favorite words:

peregrinations ( )
1 vote TheLoopyLibrarian | Oct 13, 2013 |
Bill Bryson writes a travel story about his adventures on the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine in the USA.

The book overall fails to deliver in the way that I have come to expect from Bryson (Having previously read and loved [b:The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America|26|The Lost Continent Travels in Small-Town America|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1156042887s/26.jpg|1888943], [b:In a Sunburned Country|24|In a Sunburned Country|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1255682275s/24.jpg|2611786] and [b:Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe|27|Neither Here nor There Travels in Europe|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1156042888s/27.jpg|3164459]).

One thing that surprised me was that Bryson avoids discussing the sites around him. Was the trail breathtakingly beautiful, were there points that left him staring speechless? I am assuming not as he never bothers to mention anything. While I have experienced the 'eyes on the trail' focus of a hiker walking from one hut to the next, I also know that in a six hour day of hiking there was ample time to pause in awe of the surroundings.

While this book has some fabulous anecdotes, the type of which fill the travel journal of ever hiker in the world, which I could read again and again. It also draws on some interesting history surrounding the trail, including chilling murders. The book did not deliver enough of these interesting stories to keep me engaged for the duration of the book. Towards the end I began to wonder why he was bothering to write the book.
( )
  alsocass | Oct 12, 2013 |
This is a wonderful book to listen to while traveling with a group of people. It will keep you interested and laughing heartily all the way to your destination.

Bryson decided one day that it would be a neat thing to hike the Appalachian Trail – all 2,160 miles of it (although the actual length varies depending on the page you might be on in the official guides or what year it is, because the trail is constantly being changed and moved).

Deciding to do a little research, he soon discovered that there are certain dangers to walking the trail, including bears, assorted diseases, and “loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities
of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex.”

Henry Thoreau, that great 18-month adventurer into the wilds a short
walk from his town, helped create a great nostalgia for the woods, even though, as Bryson notes, he could “stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”

Bryson decided to take Stephen Katz along for the trip. Katz is a character who shows up in several of Bryson’s other books. He’s fat and
lazy --he throws away their water supply to make his pack lighter-- and soon Bryson discovers that this may not be the little walk in the
woods he had expected. After several weeks on the trail, in rather miserable weather, they arrive in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There, he finds a map of the entire trail, about six inches wide and four feet long, and discovers to his horror that he and Katz have only traveled two inches on the map. “My hair had grown more than that,” he reports.

Even though it’s a very funny book, Bryson makes several serious observations, discussing the mismanagement of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that builds more roads than any construction company; it supervises and has built more than 378,000 miles of roads, more than eight times the total mileage of the interstate highway system. Most of
these are to service the needs of logging companies that need to get in to chop down more trees. Bryson also discusses the American ambivalence toward nature. We revere it, but are afraid of it as well. The woods are beautiful, but they “choke off views and leave you
muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs.”

A lot of wilderness still exists in the United States, as he discovers on a section of totally uninhabited wilderness the trail traverses in Maine (he decided to do short sections of the trail after his epiphany in Gatlinburg).

This week-long march leaves the hikers completely on their own and is nowhere near any kind of help should one get into trouble (the AT kills several people yearly). There’s still a lot of nature out there; only 2 percent of the United States is classified as built up and 15,600,000 square miles are completely wooded, without a single resident, and remain impressive despite our mismanagement of the ecology and massive logging.

Bryson ended up walking a total of 870 miles of the trail – not an inconsequential feat. Of the two thousand or so who make the attempt
every year, only about two hundred finish. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Bill, with Katz, seeks self discovery
Walking the AT
achieves partly, and in parts ( )
  deirdrebrown | Sep 16, 2013 |
Bryson is a good writer, with a welcoming style and sense of humor. I enjoyed this on the whole. What bugs me is the disingenuousness that arises again and again, as the out-of-shape duo anticipates (finally!) tackling a respectably challenging section of the trail, only to dope out on us, again. He and Katz convince theirselves that they've truly "walked the AT" when all is done, but let's be frank: uh, no you didn't. Sampled? Yes. ( )
  JamesMScott | Sep 12, 2013 |
I've always liked books about going off on your own in nature, and really enjoyed this book, even read it twice. Sometimes, I think, Bill Bryson can seem to take a "superior" attitude toward other people and places, but not with this one. While at first I worried that he was going to made Katz the butt of his jokes, he actually "wrote" him with such a sense of fondness, I could not help liking Katz very much.

By the way, I have the book "Bear Attacks" written by Stephen Herrero that Bill read "saucer-eyed" at night before he left for the Trail. It IS pretty scary. ( )
  afinch11 | Aug 26, 2013 |
Another great piece of work from Bryson. A WALK IN THE WOODS is a bit of an understatement, since it's about Bryson's walk along the Appalachian Trail. This one features his friend Stephen Katz, a singular fellow. ( )
  stacy_chambers | Aug 22, 2013 |
I picked this up from a friend who was sloughing off books before a move, because the AT has been coming up a lot lately. This is a writer's take on the 2000+ mile long trail from Georgia to Maine, and a bit sparse. I've walked portions of the trail myself, mostly in New England, and he doesn't spend a lot of time on that part, mostly on the big initial push on the first part from Springer Mt. He teams up with an old friend, both of them pretty out of shape and unfamiliar with long distance hiking, and things go better than I feared. My favourite parts are his musings on being in the wilderness, cut off from civilised life and those made me yearn for at least a week to disappear into the woods. He pads the book with lots of facts and history about the AT and the regions through which it passes, but he also skips a lot of it, ending up section hiking rather than through hiking it. It really brought home the overwhelming scale of the AT though, especially when they see a 4 foot long map of the whole thing and realise that they've only covered 2 inches. ( )
  silentq | Aug 16, 2013 |
via my blog (http://pancakesandpoodles.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/book-review-a-walk-in-the-woo...)

This book is lovely. It’s funny and personal while still being informative and historical. Bill Bryson is a seriously gifted storyteller. I laughed out loud at several bits (especially the parts about the bears) and learned a lot about the history of the trail, wild life, conservation and national park service. I seriously enjoyed this book. It lives up to it’s hype and I would recommend it.

That’s all I really have to say about it without going into too much detail about the plot itself and although it’s a short summary of my reading experience, I find it very apt. The book is what it is. It lays itself out for you, you take it in and walk away. Bryson can’t possibly convey the full experience of walking the AT, I don’t think the experience translates into words, but he does a wonderful job explaining his journey. I can say, however, that my new life goal is to definitely hike (at least part of) the Appalachian Trail, something about the way that Bryson describes it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something extremely extraordinary.

(Side Note: It’s funny reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods after reading Ron Rash’s Serena. They follow similar but opposite paths in many ways. Both written by authors with double letter names, whereas Serena was the scourge of the forest, ripping up trees to lay down train track, Bryson is it’s savoir, quietly respecting the woods, wishing there were more of them. The age, size, and unpredictability of nature is something for Serena to conquer, while Bryson sees it as something to respect and cherish. I’m more of a Bryson than a Serena, but as I read Bryson’s hopeful glee over a potential sighting of the believed-to-be-extinct Eastern Mountain Lion, I can’t help but think of Serena, George and their quest to find the last mystical beast and have the honor of taking it down.) ( )
  Emsarconi | Aug 13, 2013 |
What's it like walking the 2000-plus mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with a couple of out-of-shape middle-aged guys carrying 40-pound backpacks? Along the way the reader gets just the right doses of flora, fauna, history, sociology, and geology! ( )
  jpe9 | Aug 7, 2013 |
The first Bill Bryson book I read was A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I came away from it not really understanding the comparisons between Bryson and Dave Barry. A Short History had moments of humor, but was mostly a collection of gee-whiz facts and observations about Earth and the universe, put into perspective adroitly by the author. I loved the book, but high humor it wasn't.

About 20 pages into A Walk in the Woods, I said to myself, "This is more like it." I said that between loud laughs that were frankly embarrassing as I read on a crowded bus. To compare Bryson to Barry sells him short, I think: at worst, he's an erudite Barry, full of narrative and descriptive surprises, and sporting an impressive mastery of the language. This book was fast, hilarious without being unbelievable, and hit serious notes at all the right moments. I can't wait to read more of Bill Bryson's work. ( )
  benjamin.duffy | Jul 28, 2013 |
i loved this book! ( )
  tammyhennig | Jul 17, 2013 |
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