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Summary and book reviews of A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk In The Woods

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson

A Walk In The Woods
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  • First Published:
    Jun 1998, 274 pages
    Paperback:
    May 1999, 255 pages

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Book Summary

An adventure, a comedy, a lament, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature.

"Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire, I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town."

So begins Bill Bryson's hilarious book A Walk in the Woods. Following his return to America after twenty years in Britain, Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The AT, as it's affectionately known to thousands of hikers, offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes--and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to test his own powers of ineptitude, and to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start, there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa who accompanies the similarly unfit Bryson on the trail. Once Bryson and Katz settle into their stride, it's not long before they come across the fabulously annoying Mary Ellen, whose disappearance ruins a perfectly good slice of pie, a gang of Ralph Lauren-attired yuppies from whom Katz appropriates a key piece of equipment, and a security guard in Pennsylvania who, for no ascertainable reason, impounds Bryson's car. Mile by arduous mile these latter-day pioneers walk America, along the way surviving the threat of bear attacks, the loss of key provisions, and everything else this awe-inspiring country can throw at them.

But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this fragile and beautiful trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, a lament, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature.

We hiked till five and camped beside a tranquil spring in a small, grassy clearing in the trees just off the trail. Because it was our first day back on the trail, we were flush for food, including perishables like cheese and bread that had to be eaten before they went off or were shaken to bits in our packs, so we rather gorged ourselves, then sat around smoking and chatting idly until persistent and numerous midgelike creatures (no-see-ums, as they are universally known along the trail) drove us into our tents. It was perfect sleeping weather, cool enough to need a bag but warm enough that you could sleep in your underwear, and I was looking forward to a long night's snooze--indeed was enjoying a long night's snooze--when, at some indeterminate dark hour, there was a sound nearby that made my eyes fly open. Normally, I slept through everything--through thunderstorms, through Katz's snoring and noisy midnight pees--so something big enough or distinctive enough to wake me ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post Book World

Choke-on-your-coffee funny.

The New York Times Book Review

Bryson is . . . great company right from the start--a lumbering, droll, beatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and . . . Dave Barry.

The Boston Globe

A Walk in the Woods is an almost perfect travel book.

Reader Reviews
Jack

A must read for anyone
A travel narrative that you cannot put down. We live near the AT and encounter the individuals that Bryson talks about. I fly with this book and have read it 3 times and still laugh out loud. I have encountered many individuals on a plane that ...   Read More

Bob

Don't!
Don't read it in a day or you'll have a big chunk bitten out of things to look forward to. It is superb, very, very funny and packs enough information to make you regret the bumblings of humankind.

Eric

Excellent Book
How can one's trek through the woods and America be so interesting? Bill Bryson, author of I'm a Stranger Here Myself and A Walk in the Woods, somehow weaves together stories from his life, interesting facts, and humor into two extremely different, ...   Read More

Danielle Aird

I loved it
I have just read the reviews. It fascinates me that a few people absolutely abhored this book. Well, you never know. As far as i am concerned, it was one of the best reads I have had in a while. Light, yet very informative, and funny. Laugh-out-loud,...   Read More

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