A Peek Into Bill Bryson’s Classics
Excerpts from three of his most-loved books
Stretching from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail offers some of America’s most breathtaking scenery. After living for many years in England, Bill Bryson moved back to the United States and decided to reacquaint himself with his country by taking to this uninterrupted “hiker’s highway.” Before long, Bryson and his infamous walking companion, Stephen Katz, are stocking up on insulated long johns, noodles and manuals for avoiding bear attacks as they prepare to set off on a walk that is both amusingly ill-conceived and surprisingly adventurous. John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Peter Jenkins never took a hike like this.
A Walk in the Woods showcases Bryson at the height of his comic powers. Meeting up with characters such as Beulah and her fearsome husband, “Bubba T. Flubba,” readers risk snakebite and hantavirus to trudge through swollen rivers, traipse up mountainsteps, and develop a new reverence for cream sodas and hot showers. But Bryson also uses his acute powers of observation to conjure a poignant backdrop of silent forests and sparkling lakes, thereby making a gentle but unforgettable plea for the ecological treasures we are in danger of losing. Fresh, illuminating, and uproariously funny, A Walk in the Woods is travel writing at its very best.
Bill’s next adventure takes him all the way Down Under to Australia, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet.
In a Sunburned Country is his report on what he found there–a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.
Australia is a country that exists on a vast scale. It is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. Despite being the most desiccated, infertile, and climatically aggressive of all inhabited continents, it teems with life. In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the ten most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish (don’t ask). The dangerous riptides of the sea and the sun-baked wastes of the outback both lie in wait for the unwary. It’s one tough country.
Bill Bryson adores it, of course, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond the beaten tourist path.
In his biggest book, Bill confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest.