A Walk in the Woods

by

Bill Bryson

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A Walk in the Woods Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Bill Bryson

Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Here, he met his friend Matt Angerer, who features under the pseudonym Stephen Katz as Bryson’s travel companion in A Walk in the Woods. As a young adult, Bryson dropped out of college to travel in Europe and ended up settling in the United Kingdom. During that time, Bryson worked as a journalist, ending up as high-ranking writer for The Times and editor for The Independent. Bryson also began writing memoirs centered on travel. His first travel memoir, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America documented his experiences exploring the United States in the 1980s. Bryson subsequently wrote several travel memoirs based on his experiences traveling in Europe, notably Notes from a Small Island (set in the United Kingdom), before returning to the United States. A Walk in the Woods documents Bryson’s attempt to get reacquainted with his native land after spending many years abroad. Consequently, in the memoir, Bryson often compares his experiences in Europe with those in Appalachia. Bryson has also written many nonfiction books on a range of topics, including science and language. Bryson has earned numerous writing awards, accolades, and honorary doctorate degrees for his contributions to literary culture—and he was also knighted in the United Kingdom. Bryson lives in Hampshire, England with his wife, Cynthia.
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Historical Context of A Walk in the Woods

Bryson explores the Appalachian Trail in 1996, and he explores the history since its construction in his memoir. Conservationist Benton MacKaye conceived of the Appalachian Trail in the 1920s, and construction was completed on the project in 1937. Bryson also addresses the history of logging and deforestation in Appalachia, particularly focusing on the railroad boom of the late 1800s, which prompted many timber merchants to engage in mass deforestation until preservation efforts resumed in the 1930s. Bryson also criticizes the preservation efforts of the National Park Service, especially their botched preservation efforts in Appalachia during the 1940s and 50s.

Other Books Related to A Walk in the Woods

Bryson is known for his many travel memoirs, notably his 1996 memoir about Britain, Notes on a Small Island. This book, like A Walk in the Woods, fuses personal experiences, cultural history, and amusing anecdotes. Bryson’s other travelogues include Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1992) and In a Sunburned Country (2000). In A Walk in the Woods, Bryson alludes to several historical authors, particularly those who glorified the American wild. This includes 19th-century naturalist John Muir, whose wrote nonfiction books A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf (1916) and Our National Parks (1901). Bryson also discusses Henry David Thoreau, who famously extolled the American wilderness in Walden (1854), but actually (as Bryson wryly notes) disliked straying too far from the comforts of home. In A Walk in the Woods, Bryson reflects at length on the reckless ways in which human beings exploit nature and drive other creatures to extinction, which are both themes he takes up at length in his subsequent science book A Short History of Nearly Everything (2005). Bryson is known for infusing everything he writes with humor, a trait he learned from reading books like P.G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves (1909) and James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).
Key Facts about A Walk in the Woods
  • Full Title: A Walk in the Woods
  • When Written: 1997
  • Where Written: New Hampshire
  • When Published: 1998
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: The Appalachian Trail
  • Climax: Bryson concludes that although he didn’t complete the Appalachian Trail, he still hiked part of it—and in doing so, he learned a lot about his home country.
  • Antagonist: Ecological destruction
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for A Walk in the Woods

Silver Screen. Bryson’s memoir was adapted into a movie in 2015 starring Robert Redford as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Bryson’s travel companion Stephen Katz.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story. In 2017, CNN named A Walk in the Woods the funniest travel memoir ever written.