Friday 8 January 2016

Outdoor Books Review 2015

Reading and walking go together! On the Pacific Crest Trail in 1982

Every year I read many books – though never as many as planned. Some are old favourites, some new. Not all are about the outdoors. Of those that were, here, in no particular order, are ones I enjoyed. Some were in electronic form and read in camps and on trains. Others were real physical books (and some of those went travelling too). I’m happy to recommend all of them. I reviewed some on this blog last year too and I’ve put in links.
John Muir: The Scotsman Who Saved America’s Wild Places by Mary Colwell

This is a straightforward biography concentrating on his upbringing and influences rather than his later activist years that are well-covered by others. It’s easy to read and a good introduction to one of the most significant figures in the history of conservation and wild land. Longer review here.

Balancing on Blue: A Dromomaniac Hiking by Keith Foskett

The story of the author’s hike along the Appalachian Trail this book is as much about the entertaining and sometimes downright weird people he shared the trail with or met along the way as it is about the actual environment and landscape, though there is enough about the last to let would-be hikers know what to expect. The physical and mental effort needed to undertake such a long hike comes through too.

All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West by David Gessner

Combining a travel book with a literary study David Gessner journeys across the USA in search of the places, people and landscapes that inspired and influenced two great and influential but very different writers on conservation and the outdoors. The result is an interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking book.

Doubling Back: Ten Paths Trodden In Memory by Linda Cracknell

Beautifully written this book describes ten walks undertaken by the author and the memories they
bring back and the emotional importance and impact they have. The walks vary widely and include an alpine mountaineering adventure, a 200-mile solo backpack in the Scottish Highlands, and a trek with friends in Norway. Longer review here.

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure On The Pacific Crest Trail by Carrot Quinn

Written in a fast emotional style that reads as though the events are happening at that very moment this long distance hiking memoir is a blow by blow account about the physical and emotional experience of undertaking such a journey. The author’s mental state and her relationships with the hikers she travels with dominate the story with the landscape and the trail itself very much in the background.

The Carbon Cycle: Crossing The Great Divide by Kate Rawles

Long-distance road cycling has never appealed to me either as an activity or something to read about. However this book about a trip through the Western USA to Alaska caught my attention from the start as the author undertook the journey in order to talk to people along the way about climate change (hence the pun in the title). The story of the ride is entertaining too but it’s the conversations and the author’s reactions to them that make this book stand out.

The Cairngorms: A Secret History by Patrick Baker

Rather than the landscape or natural history this book is about journeys into the hills in search of human influences – gem mining, aircraft crashes, artistic communes and more. The stories are fascinating, as are the author’s adventures and detective work. Longer review here.

Roads Were Not Built For Cars: How Cyclists Were The First To Push For Good Roads & Became The Pioneers of Motoring by Carlton Reid
Fascinating, exhaustive, polemical and eye-opening this history of modern roads by cycling writer Carlton Reid tells a story that really ought to be far better known, which is that the smooth roads we have today came about due to cyclists not motorists. There’s a huge range of colourful characters involved, much curious detail and a really interesting story.

Nature’s Housekeeper: An Eco-Comedy by Michael Gurnow

This unusual and entertaining book is the story of a man discovering and learning to love nature in the forests of Missouri in the USA. Whilst it is funny and there are many hilarious episodes the book does have a serious and profound message. Longer review here.

Between The Sunset And The Sea: A View Of 16 British Mountains by Simon Ingram

Whilst the heart of this book is the author’s description of his adventures on the mountains he weaves history, geology, art, science and more around his personal journey to produce an entertaining and informative volume. I finished this right at the end of the year – a fuller review will follow.

The Adventure Game: A Cameraman’s Tales From Films At The Edge by Keith Partridge

This is an astonishing book, a series of exciting and often hair-raising adventures all over the world in pursuit of film-making. The author has taken his camera deep into caves in Papua New Guinea and to the summit of Everest and just about everywhere inbetween. His stories are thrilling and entertaining and the book is illustrated with dramatic and beautiful photos.

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

Having seen the film of this book last autumn I reread this account of Bill Bryson’s misadventures on the Appalachian Trail and found it better than I remembered from when I first read it back in 1998. I was also surprised at how many of the events in the film replicate almost exactly those in the book. It is funny and also informative but not an accurate description of long-distance hiking!

The Grahams & The Donalds: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide edited by Rab Anderson and Tom Prentice.
This is a book to dip into and dream and plan. It’s a wonderful guide to Scotland’s lower hills with beautiful pictures, helpful maps and good descriptions. The SMC now needs to bring its Munros and Corbetts guides up to the same standard!

Finally, I don’t only read outdoor books. For those interested my other reading included some big books – Susanna Clarke’s unusual and entertaining Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, read after watching the TV series, which was one of my TV highlights of the year; Margaret MacMillan’s monumental, intriguing and disturbing The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace For The First World War; and Darwin by Adrian Desmond and James R. Moore, a fascinating and detailed biography of the great scientist that I haven’t yet finished. I’m also rereading A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R.Martin, in part because I can’t remember which events in the TV series are the same as those in the books! I’m only a little way into volume two however. I may not finish before the end of this year.


  1. Thank you! always in the market for a good book / story about the outdoors / hiking and this list is very useful! Best regards

  2. Hi Chris, I've not long finished Ghost Riders by Richard Grant? An excellent account of the history of nomadism in the USA. I would thoroughly recommend it if you haven't already. Thanks for the list. There's a couple there that I'll pick up this year. I absolutely love BB's A Walk in the Woods but would have to say I was very disappointed with the film version.

  3. Hi Chris, I've not long finished Ghost Riders by Richard Grant? An excellent account of the history of nomadism in the USA. I would thoroughly recommend it if you haven't already. Thanks for the list. There's a couple there that I'll pick up this year. I absolutely love BB's A Walk in the Woods but would have to say I was very disappointed with the film version.