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Walk in the Woods (Review)

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A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson, 1999
274 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
July 2007

Think of your favorite buddy movie, combine it with City Slickers, and you’ve got the idea behind Bryson’s book.

Two urban hetero’s, both out of shape and on the pudgy side (one woefully so), tackle the hardships of the Appalachian Trail. That’s the set-up for what follows, and much of it is very, very funny. Title aside, this is no walk in the woods. The AT is unexpectedly, gaspingly rugged. The men, with 40 pounds on their backs, begin their journey at the southern-most tip of the 2,100-mile trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. Bryson eventually finds his stride, but his friend Katz struggles every step of the way, usually a good 45 minutes behind. Katz is the butt of much of the humor: he’s whiney, inept, usually hungry, sometimes devious, but always loyal.

Interspersed with frustrations over Katz and his own obsessive fear of disease and wild beasts, Bryson provides valuable lessons in history, geology, botany, zoology, meteorology, and bureaucratic failures. He’s a "walking" encyclopedia and endlessly fascinating.

Some have commented that Bryson’s jeremiads on politics, commercialism, and rural southerners are unreasonable and unfair. They may be right, but Bryson’s love for wild spaces is genuine. What he fears most is the glacial-like inevitability of sprawl encroaching on these precious spaces. It’s hard to blame a man for his passions—or find fault with his fears.

See our Readers' Guide for A Walk in the Woods.

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