I'm torn between three and four stars on this one. I guess I'll round up to four, although to be honest, I'm not entirely sure why. I guess Bryson is a (mostly) compelling writer. I didn't find this book nearly as humorous – let alone “hilarious” – as the book jacket and some reviews seem to state. Bryson's humor seemed grasping at the beginning, though he eventually found his groove, but far too much of his groove seemed to be aimed at mocking people. I absolutely did not appreciate his “hillbilly” and Deliverance descriptions of the South and almost put the book down because of it. Ultimately, I'm glad I continued on, but I feel he really missed out on – and robbed us of – a real look into the South and true Southern hospitality, which is all too readily available on the trail.
It's an insightful look into the Appalachian Trail, though not nearly as insightful as what you might read from people who actually thru-hiked it (see TrailJournals for much better recountings). My favorite parts were of Bill and Katz on the trail, and I would have loved a whole book of it and a real travelogue of the trail as a whole. Sadly, Bill and Katz gave up far too early, and so with little else to write about, he starts throwing in history lessons that only vaguely tie into the trail and which were too often boring. He does advocate for better conservancy, but he doesn't really offer any concrete moves to take and instead just relentlessly puts down the Parks Service.
Still, it was a mostly enjoyable read about a subject I love and am passionate about. I feel he missed out on a lot the trail has to offer, and it saddens me that most of his encounters are of people he deems worthy of mockery (for all that he hypocritically does many of the same things he mocks them for). Some of his descriptions were lovely though, and he doesn't sugar-coat the experience for others who may be considering an AT thru-hike. It's a decent read if one is at all interested in the Appalachian Trail or long-distance hiking. You might like his humor better than I did. Seems a lot of people do.