Book Report: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


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A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
May 1999
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
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The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America: majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way; and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Thoughts

Good gravy! All I really want to say is, “OMG! GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!”. But, that doesn’t really make for an interesting review. Does anyone else find it challenging to write a review for a book that you absolutely loved?

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.

Read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson if– OMG! JUST GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!

8 responses to “Book Report: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson”

  1. Rinn @ Rinn Reads Avatar
    Rinn @ Rinn Reads

    I love Bill Bryson’s books, and I definitely do not see them enough in the book blogging community, so I’m glad to see this review =) It really is hard to write reviews for amazing books, because all you want to do is praise it and sometimes you can’t explain why – it was just that good, or this was really great, etc etc!

    I loved his dynamic with Katz. The guy was hilarious, eating all their rations within a matter of days and completely disappearing at times. And that bit about Centralia? Fascinating, I had to obviously go and read more about it, which lead to reading about other ghost towns and similar events…

    Which other Bryson books have you read? I think I’ve read all his travel books except the Africa one now. And I’ve read his autobiography =)


    1. Jackie G. Avatar
      Jackie G.

      I looked up other ghost towns too after reading about Centralia!

      Notes from a Small Island was my gateway book, and I’ve also read The Lost Continent, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. I just started In a Sunburned Country. I also just received his new book, One Summer: America, 1927 for Christmas (this one sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to read!) I’m slowly working my way through all of his books.


      1. Rinn @ Rinn Reads Avatar
        Rinn @ Rinn Reads

        We actually had an excerpt from one of his books (the columns about the USA, can’t remember the title now!) in my final English exam when I was 16, which was pretty cool!


  2. Anahera Avatar

    I’ve never read anything by Bryson, but I love nature trails so this book sounds like a great way for me to read about this trail. I really want to hike it sometime and the humour is a real drawpoint for me. 😀 Great review!


  3. Crushingcinders Avatar

    This has to be the funniest of his books! I loved it! Laughed out loud all the way through 🙂
    Great review.


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Hello, my name is Jackie. I’m a thirty-something mother of a rambunctious toddler from a small town in Michigan. When I’m not toddler-wrangling, I’m often seeking refuge from life’s most chaotic moments in a cup of hot tea. I also love getting lost in stories—both in books and virtually. I enjoy speculative fiction the most, and I am especially eager to read fantasy novels and horror novels. When I’m feeling especially indulgent (usually after everyone in the house has gone to sleep), I like to dive into video games and explore the sprawling worlds in Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect.

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