Book Review: On Trails

May 5, 2017

  This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of "On Trails” by Robert Moor.

At ten, Robert Moor began dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  By the time he was eighteen, he howled with indignation while reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” – not about Bryson’s writing, but the “cheating” by skipping portions of the trail.  His New Yorker piece, “Why the Most Popular Hiking Memoirs Don’t Go the Distance,” is a charming exploration of how someone can utterly fail as a hiker, while still succeed as a writer. In 2009, with careful preparation, five-months set aside, and a purist’s attitude, Moor completed his Appalachian Trail thru-hike.  And, he’s now written his own award winning book: “On Trails: An Exploration.”  Fortunately, Moor is both an eclectic thinker and a gifted writer, and his meandering rumination on all things trail are absolutely fascinating.  

It’s not just the challenge of the thru-hike – his Appalachian Trail adventures become almost a reoccurring footnote to these interconnected essays.  Moor reflects on what ants and sheep show us about the origins of trails.  How trails require trust, or at least, a suspension of disbelief.  He dissects the desire lines, those short-cuts off the main path where people's feet mark dissenting choices.  He traces connections as varied as the fossilized trail of animal life, our interstate highway system, and the origins of the Internet.

Moor argues the case that we need the wisdom of trails – literal and metaphorical – to help us navigate our ever more complex world.  And it’s done with grace and charm and elegant sentences like: “To deftly navigate this world, we will need to understand how we make trails, and how trails make us.”

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing "On Trails” by Robert Moor.