Bill Bryson: A Walk in the Woods (and Centralia, Pennsylvania)

I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.

The Book

It’s a very good read. The story takes some unexpected turns, and even ends with a nice extra touch of drama (nice not to have been there, that is). As with most of Bill Bryson’s books, it wanders off into all sorts of unexpected places (much like the Appalachian Trail itself), giving you some nice little insights into such diverse things as bird extinctions, the structure of trees, and Centralia in Pennsylvania.

If you’ve read any of his other books, this is a very similar style, and if you liked them, you’ll like this. Several chunks get skipped over, but otherwise, lots of it would probably read along the lines of…

Day 1. Got up. Walked a lot. Went to sleep.

Day 2. Got up. Walked a lot. Went to sleep.

Day 3. Got up. Walked a lot. Went to sleep.

Day 4. Got up. Met Michael Flatley, and danced Riverdance through the woods. Only kidding. Walked a lot. Went to sleep.

…and so on. The most interesting part to me was the story of Centralia. It was one of those stories that once I’d read it, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d got this far through life without hearing about. It’s one of the most fascinating places on earth, and I’d never even heard of it.

Centralia

Centralia was a thriving mining town, in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania. In May of 1962, a fire outside town set light to a coal seam. It’s still burning. Over forty years later.

Now, almost everyone has moved out, but the last notes I’ve found still say there’s a few people refusing to leave, even though the ground is hot to the touch, and parts of the town keep collapsing into the ground. Sulphurous smoke rises from the ground all over, and there are cracks pouring smoke and steam in the roads.

For pictures and more info, see Offroaders’ guide, Michael and Justina’s photo shot there, and roadsideamerica’s guide.

Buying the Book

If you want a copy of A Walk in the Woods, you can use these links to buy it from Amazon.com or from Amazon.co.uk, and we’ll get a little cut. Thanks.