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352 of 380 found the following review helpful:
More than a hiking narative.May 10, 2000
By Jerry Clyde Phillips
This is much more than a travelogue of two neophyte hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and readers looking for a blow by blow account of the travails of Bill Bryson and his companion, Stephen Katz, will be disappointed. Hiking provides only a backdrop to a heartfelt discourse on the social condition of America, local history, the environment, and the complexities of friendship. The pretext for the book was Bryson's return to the United States after twenty years in Britain, and his interest in "rediscovering America" after such a lengthy absence.
The vast majority of the reviews of the book cite its hilarity (one reviewer called it "choke-on-your-coffee funny"), and indeed there are very many funny parts. However, the deeper I got into the book, I detected a strong shift in the author's sentiment from satire to deep introspection. His observations became more acute, more angry, and more individualized as his long hike constantly brings to his mind the fragile environment of the Trail, the insanity of bureacrats entrusted with the AT, and his own personal limitations.
This was my first encounter with Bill Bryson, and while I found him entertaining, a beautiful writer, and an astute observer, some readers will be put off my his sharp satiric wit. It is certain that he will offend somebody. A friend of mine, who also read the book, was very much upset by the fact that Bryson and Katz didn't hike all 2,200 miles of the Trail, and that somehow their "failure" should prevent the telling of the story. This is utter nonsense and just throws more manure onto the present dung heap that has accumulated from the participants involved in peak bagging, wilderness races, and experiential therapy groups.
Bryson and Katz at least tried to hike the entire AT, and they returned from their hike as changed men who learned many lessons about the wilderness and friendship. Towards the end of the book, the two men are talking about the hike. When Katz remarks that "we did it," Bryson reminds him that they didn't even see Mount Katahdin, much less climb it. Katz says, "Another mountain. How many do you need to see, Bryson?" I agree with Katz (and ultimately Bryson). They hiked the Appalachian Trail.
125 of 137 found the following review helpful:
Interesting history of the trail, second half less compelling than the first.Sep 23, 2006
As both a Bill Bryson fan and a long distance hiker myself (although I have not done the Appalachian Trail yet) I really expected to love A Walk in the Woods. I was a little bit concerned, since when my partner handed it to me (he finished the book first) he said, "I don't think you're going to like it..." But still, I was really looking forward to reading it.
For the first half of the book, I also really did enjoy the book. I wasn't bothered by the fact that they were unprepared or out of shape. Nobody is really prepared for their first long distance hiking trip until they are a few weeks into the trail. I remember my own experience of staggering along under my overly ambitious pack. I also enjoyed that he talked honestly about the experience of hiking, and I liked the way that he interspersed history and facts about the trail with the travel writing.
The second half, however, got much less interesting. The day trips and the abortive Maine portion were actually kind of disheartening. The whole feel of the prose got sort of mean spirited. He didn't have to walk the whole trail to feel like he walked it, but I honestly would have preferred to see him expand the first half and leave the second half out completely.
There is still quite a bit of good stuff in here, particularly if you are interested in the southern part of the trail. There is also quite a bit of truth about the culture of the long distance hikers. I laughed quite a bit while I read. I guess that the complaints boiled down to not quite being as good as it could have been.
137 of 156 found the following review helpful:
I strongly recommend it to anyoneFeb 08, 2000
By Jeff Obayashi
A Walk in the Woods is a travel memoir on the Appalachian Trail, one of America's greatest hiking routes. The author, Bill Bryson lived in England for 20 years and came back to the United States with the urge to go on a long hike. Stephen Katz, an old college friend, and a former alcoholic accompanies him. Both men are out of shape, and beginners at hiking, so it is a wonder how they can endure such hardships along the trail. They had to carry a pack that contained their tents, food, water, clothes and other items. Katz and other interesting characters provide the book with much comic relief to keep the reader involved. At some points in the book I was laughing out loud. Along the journey they meet many people including Mary Ellen a slow-minded woman who follows them around, and Beulah, a fat woman with a very angry husband. The commentary about the long, rich history of the Appalachian Trail brings insight on the wilderness that we hardly know about. It also speaks for the preservation of the forestry and animals that we take for granted in the city. After reading this book I have more appreciation of the wilderness, and an interest in going hiking myself. One downside of the book was that some points in the book the author expanded the book with knowledge that made it a little less interesting, then the actual story. But I liked how Bryson went back and forth to discuss his journey and the history, creating a balance of interests. This book will offer something to any type of reader because it is funny, and contains a lot of historical information, and is interesting enough to keep the reader to keep going. But for someone who wishes to go on a hike, this is not a how to guide. It is also not an amazing adventure of two men and the great outdoors. What this book has to offer is an entertaining journey of two regular guys, who decide to go on a hike along one of the most difficult trails in the United States. I am highly recommending this book, and it will truly leave the reader entertained.
31 of 35 found the following review helpful:
Downhill from the mid-pointFeb 23, 2004
By Mike Hays
The book starts off well and I must admit I had a hard time putting it down until about half way through. But it seemed once he and Katz quit the trail, he had a hard time knowing what to do next or how to end the book. The first half was immensely entertaining however, but it too had some severe drawbacks.
First of all, I grew very weary of hearing how everyone was an idiot except for him. Yet it was very clear that our characters where far from the brightest guys on the trail. To be so arrogant is bad enough, but to be arrogant from a position of such incompetence is particularly annoying. The author also displayed his stupidity through frequent departures about the Forest Service, Park Service, Stonewall Jackson, tree anotomy, his childish fear of bears and much much more. Whenever he left the tale of the trail to spout off on a subject, he showed he knows just enough to be dangerous about a few things, but not enough to be fair or accurate. Sometimes he was completely incorrect or showed a total lack of understanding of what he was talking about.
The sad thing is that so many people will believe the diatribe simply because its printed in a book. An author should have the responsibility to do some minimal research before bashing people, places or things in a book. Bryson clearly did not do much homework, but just went with his personal and often uninformed opinions presented as facts. Quite unfortunate.
39 of 45 found the following review helpful:
Nature writing and a travelogue with "oomph"!Aug 18, 2007
By Paul Weiss
Perhaps it was a fit of angst dealing with his own personal version of a mid-life crisis that led Bill Bryson to tackle the challenge of hiking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail! It was certainly a solid understanding of his own personality and clear recognition of his own physical and mental limitations that prompted him to invite his friend, Stephen Katz, an overweight and out of shape recovering alcoholic with an inordinate fondness for snack foods and cream soda to accompany him on this daunting challenge. The demands of the AT ultimately proved too much for Bryson and Katz who sensibly (and with an almost relieved sense of philosophical acceptance) decided to abandon the notion of a complete through hike. But the resulting story, drawn from Bryson's daily journal of the summer's efforts, is an overwhelming success and pure joy in the reading.
"A Walk in the Woods" is an extraordinary, entertaining travelogue on both the AT - the Appalachian Trail - and the people and places of small town America that dot the trail's path along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. At the same time, it is much, much more. Bryson is scathing in his political commentary and almost enraged criticism of the ongoing state of mismanagement and the sadly misguided policies of both the Parks and Forest Services of the US government. "A Walk in the Woods" is also a deeply moving introspective examination on the nature of friendship, family, perseverance, joy and despondency. As he and Katz amble along rock strewn trails dappled with sunlight broken by the leafy forest canopy, Bryson frequently, effortlessly and almost without our even noticing the change, wanders metaphorically off the main trail and onto a side path of lightweight but nonetheless informative and educational sidebars of nature writing on an amazingly wide variety of topics. Glaciation, bears, bugs, ecology, continental drift, hypothermia, hypoxia and weather are only a few examples of the topics which he elucidates for the lay reader with his clear, concise prose.
Then there is the humour! It is perhaps an understatement to say that, in this regard, Bryson has a rare gift. He has treated his readers to laughs originating in every imaginable corner of the vast world of humour - wry sardonic wit; biting satire; slapstick; self effacement; sarcasm and insults; fear; and even extended comedy sketches worthy of stage or television. His description of the astonishingly stupid and entirely self-absorbed fellow hiker Mary Ellen who has the annoying habit of constantly clearing her sinuses with a grating honk is definitely laugh-out-loud material.
Pure entertainment and enjoyment from first page to last. I believe Bill Bryson would consider it a compliment if I suggested that "A Walk in the Woods" is the first book I've ever read with a smile on my face during every single moment of the reading. Highly recommended - even if you've never spent a single night under nylon in the woods.
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