Customer Reviews for

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

19 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

Brilliant one moment, baffling the next

This is an almost brilliant and deeply flawed work, which I nonetheless highly recommend for its humor and wealth of easily-digested historical and environmental information. One of the things that characterizes the absolute pinnacle of comedic achievement is the wi...
This is an almost brilliant and deeply flawed work, which I nonetheless highly recommend for its humor and wealth of easily-digested historical and environmental information. One of the things that characterizes the absolute pinnacle of comedic achievement is the willingness to make any and every sort of spectacle of onesself for a laugh...along with the comedic sensibility to carry it off. Gilda Radner as the girl scout. Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod. Richard Pryor as himself. Bill Bryson proves as early as page 19 that self-humiliating physical comedy can work even in print. One of the problems with this book, however, is that he gets most of his laughs by similarly humiliating everyone he encounters during his on-again, off-again hike of the Appalachian Trail. He has sadly forgotten another of the hallmarks of comedic genius: laughing with, rather than at, one's felllow human being. Bryson seems to revel in a mean-spiritedness that is all the more disturbing in light of his obvious intelligence and insight. He is talented enough to forgo the cheap shots and, besides, he should know better. I began to understand why his family was afraid of him embarassing them. Another and more baffling problem is Bryson's seeming blindness to the rich experience of the wilderness. He has a sort of generalized awe for the majesty of the forest as a whole, here and there, almost as if he occasionally remembered to take a snapshot. But he so belabors his observation that every stretch of forest is like every other, one tree just like the next, that you can't help wondering, as he very frequently does himself, what he is doing there. I personally find a small miracle every three inches along whatever trail I walk. His failure to do so, and the prohibitions he mentions against leaving the trail, made me repeatedly envision a wall of streaky glass along both sides of the path between him and the forest. Which in turn made me picture the trail eventually coming to resemble a sort of museum of the outdoors. Maybe it already is one. Bryson is certainly honest. He makes no bones about whining and wishing for Big Macs, and his clear inability to enjoy the here-and-now. Yet a wistful tone is audible when he speaks of the destruction of the forests, and he has lovingly gathered and presented such a wealth of environmental and historical facts as to nearly make this book a primer for the budding environmentalist. In the end, Bryson himself becomes as fascinating and frustrating as the trail itself. Why is such an insightful person so insensitive to the forest's small delights, and to his fellow human beings? How can he be so courageous and whiny at the same time? (Good time to mention his sidekick, Katz, who somehow actually manages to pull it off with more aplomb. Maybe because Bryson tore him apart so thoroughly at the beginning that you feel sorry for him forever after.) Despite Bill Bryson's being older than I by a number of years, he seems so like young kids now. So lost without modern 'conveniences,' mainly because that is all they know. And yet, little by little, in this book, you can see the light get in around Bryson's blinders. He begins to find civilization ugly and wish for the forest whenever he leaves it. Which is, all in all, an encouraging message.

posted by Anonymous on March 2, 2000

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

Boorish and miserable

Brysons writing talent is substantial as is his boorish hatred for most people. The first few chapters were outstanding but book becomes dark and hurtful when bryson reveals his disdain for southerners and relegion. There are so many more enjoyable reads. Bypass this on...
Brysons writing talent is substantial as is his boorish hatred for most people. The first few chapters were outstanding but book becomes dark and hurtful when bryson reveals his disdain for southerners and relegion. There are so many more enjoyable reads. Bypass this one.

posted by 16915615 on February 5, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2000

    Brilliant one moment, baffling the next

    This is an almost brilliant and deeply flawed work, which I nonetheless highly recommend for its humor and wealth of easily-digested historical and environmental information. One of the things that characterizes the absolute pinnacle of comedic achievement is the willingness to make any and every sort of spectacle of onesself for a laugh...along with the comedic sensibility to carry it off. Gilda Radner as the girl scout. Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod. Richard Pryor as himself. Bill Bryson proves as early as page 19 that self-humiliating physical comedy can work even in print. One of the problems with this book, however, is that he gets most of his laughs by similarly humiliating everyone he encounters during his on-again, off-again hike of the Appalachian Trail. He has sadly forgotten another of the hallmarks of comedic genius: laughing with, rather than at, one's felllow human being. Bryson seems to revel in a mean-spiritedness that is all the more disturbing in light of his obvious intelligence and insight. He is talented enough to forgo the cheap shots and, besides, he should know better. I began to understand why his family was afraid of him embarassing them. Another and more baffling problem is Bryson's seeming blindness to the rich experience of the wilderness. He has a sort of generalized awe for the majesty of the forest as a whole, here and there, almost as if he occasionally remembered to take a snapshot. But he so belabors his observation that every stretch of forest is like every other, one tree just like the next, that you can't help wondering, as he very frequently does himself, what he is doing there. I personally find a small miracle every three inches along whatever trail I walk. His failure to do so, and the prohibitions he mentions against leaving the trail, made me repeatedly envision a wall of streaky glass along both sides of the path between him and the forest. Which in turn made me picture the trail eventually coming to resemble a sort of museum of the outdoors. Maybe it already is one. Bryson is certainly honest. He makes no bones about whining and wishing for Big Macs, and his clear inability to enjoy the here-and-now. Yet a wistful tone is audible when he speaks of the destruction of the forests, and he has lovingly gathered and presented such a wealth of environmental and historical facts as to nearly make this book a primer for the budding environmentalist. In the end, Bryson himself becomes as fascinating and frustrating as the trail itself. Why is such an insightful person so insensitive to the forest's small delights, and to his fellow human beings? How can he be so courageous and whiny at the same time? (Good time to mention his sidekick, Katz, who somehow actually manages to pull it off with more aplomb. Maybe because Bryson tore him apart so thoroughly at the beginning that you feel sorry for him forever after.) Despite Bill Bryson's being older than I by a number of years, he seems so like young kids now. So lost without modern 'conveniences,' mainly because that is all they know. And yet, little by little, in this book, you can see the light get in around Bryson's blinders. He begins to find civilization ugly and wish for the forest whenever he leaves it. Which is, all in all, an encouraging message.

    19 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bryson makes you want to grab your pack and hit the trail

    I cannot remember the last time I read a book that had me laughing so hard. In fact, I would be laughing so much that people would ask me what I was laughing about. While it took Bryson's excellent writing to put the story on paper, it took Katz to make it worth reading. This is the story of two college buddies who reunite in their 40s to walk the Appalachian Trail. Neither one are in shape for their endeavor but that doesn't deter them. Along the way they meet some interesting people (Mary Ellen for one) and find themselves in some funny situations. This is a must read for anyone. In fact, it should be required academic reading.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bryson takes you on a ride (more or less a walk) without leaving your arm chair.

    Bill Bryson found a perfect way to portray voyaging across the AT with ease. Bryson lays out his journey in an entertaining matter that will suck the reader in and make you feel like you are right beside him. Bryson's adventures make you laugh and give you the urge to walk the AT yourself - if not the whole thing at least a portion of it. Excellent reading for anyone, especially those with a passion for outdoors.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Boorish and miserable

    Brysons writing talent is substantial as is his boorish hatred for most people. The first few chapters were outstanding but book becomes dark and hurtful when bryson reveals his disdain for southerners and relegion. There are so many more enjoyable reads. Bypass this one.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2009

    I flippin' LOVE this book

    This is a GREAT book and everyone must read it it. It is not only hilarious, but incredibly informative, which are not two things that usually go together. I've been reading this book in my quiet house only to laugh right out loud and then go in search of someone so I can read the passage out loud! I am a hiker as well, and can greatly appreciate Bryson's experiences. I know it is not a new release, but I don;t care. Go get it and then pass it along. I am on my way to get In a Sunburned Country because I am almost done with this one.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2012

    A Fun Book - Well Worth the read

    Bill Bryson laces funny events with the history of the Appalachian Trail. You hear a lot about hiking the trail but Mr. Bryson puts the difficulty of the venture into real perspective. He also gives the reader insight into the changing face of the Appalachian trail over the centuries. This book was as much a history lesson as it was a light hearted read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    You'll Read it again and again...

    Perhaps the most entertaining, funny,witty and insiteful story ever written.My favorite book by Bill Bryson!! You will laugh out loud and you may even be inspired to get into the great outdoors.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    G R C

    This is a wonderful book. I learned so much and laughed so hard l would love to meet Byson & Katz on any trail,

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2013

    Funny and entertaining!

    This is the second Bill Bryson book I have read recently, and I am definitely a new fan. Bill's travel writing takes me there in vivid and hilarious detail. A friend let me borrow "In a Sunburned Country", and after reading it I felt as if I had traveled to Australia myself. So after perusing the choices of his other books, I decided I next wanted to walk the Appalachian Trail (from the comfort of cozy couch - chips and drink right next to me). He did not disappoint. I felt hot, tired and thirsty when he did, felt angered by his description of past and present environmental stupidities, and laughed out loud at the characters he met along his journey. I can hardly wait to read my next choice, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America. I'm sure he'll take me to all the quirky American places I never knew I wanted to visit! Thank you, Bill!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Good balance of telling the story of his walk and adding history and science to make it interesting. His friend Katz also added much to make the story interesting. I found myself rooting for Katz and liking him. I live near the Trail and learned more from this book than I could have learned locally.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Underwhelming

    The first half of this book was good enough to keep me interested. I was bored by the second half. I expected to read about an exciting adventure, but his journey was actually pretty boring.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    Hate it

    Hate it. It reads like a non-fiction book. It has some funny parts but if your looking for a good story, don't read this book.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

    Author has intellectual superiority complex

    This author tainted the value of this book by showing a bias against religious people and the South.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2007

    A Protracted Whine

    As a hiker laying in a strategy to thru-hike the AT in a couple years, I was looking forward to a light and lively tale. Boy was I disappointed. Grumping about the cold, rain, mud, vermin, tourons, monotony, ugly people and places, and an inept hiking partner didn't let up. Oh, and Bryson has a pathological fear of being eatten by a bear. He goes on about grizzly bears, for crying out loud, at the beginning of the book. Then, on the next to last page relates regret he never actually saw one. He's also hung up about being murdered on the trail. More likely that he'll die in a home invasion in his snug New Hampshire parlor. I found the political commentary about the Park Service and the Corps off-putting. Yeah, policy makers and bureaucrats could use a collective thump on the head. I work for a gov't agency, I know. But Bryson's observations about lack of funding and tragicly misguided agency priorities aren't inspiring or galvanizing, they come off as no more than unhelpful complaining. There is humor that gestures towards the pain and discomfort we all live with, and invites laughter for heart's ease. And there is whining or snarling that rubs a raw spot, like a badly fitting boot, and then pokes at it. I found 'Walk in the Woods' to be the latter.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    I was very disappointed to know that the author did not complete

    I was very disappointed to know that the author did not complete the appalachian trail, did not even come close.  His stereotypical descriptions of encounters with southerners was not so shocking,being that he is from New Hampshire, but appeared typically ignorant.   He meanders from topic to topic, and spends much time on the history of his home area, in the northeast, most of which he probably learned in grade school.  I feel thoroughly ripped off, and only completed reading the book because I paid 16.00 for it.  It is not a book for hikers.    

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Still doesn't want to go hiking!

    I would never go hiking, so I don't even know what made me want to read this book. But I'm so glad I did. It was so interesting, so effortless to read, so funny, so touching so... I can't say enough about it.
    Bill bryson is everyman and yet he is so unique. I love the way he draws you into his persona and whatever he is passionately writing about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    I REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK

    This was a very entertaining book. I thoughly enjoyed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Great read for the mountain man or woman inside of us.

    I highly reccomend this to anyone considering the 5 month adventure that is the Appalachian Trail.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Had to read more!

    After a friend let me borrow this, I went on a Bryson binge. Get hooked!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Funny!

    I have by-passed this book several times. I remember reading a similar book about a hiker in Alaska who dies, which was very depressing. This book is FUNNY! Two essential couch potatoes decide to hike the Appalachian Trail. Many times I've laughed out loud. My husband wants to know what I'm laughing about! Very good read; good to give as a gift. In fact, I was going to email my sister and niece about this book today! I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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