Each biographical capsule is, of course, only as fascinating as the life it recounts; which is to say, your mileage may vary. The passage of a bill through Congress, or of a report through federal agencies, can be as slow and trudgy as a hike through some of the A.T.’s Pennsylvania sections. On the other hand, the story of a 66-year-old Appalachian grandmother (that’s Gatewood), survivor of a three-decades-long abusive marriage, who impulsively decides to become the first woman to thru-hike the trail, with only sneakers and a duffel for gear, is nothing short of rousing, a soul-popper ... D’Anieri is a steady, level guide to these lives ... D’Anieri is sensitive to this historical monochrome. Still, excluded from his sketch of Guyot are the geographer’s crackpot Aryanist theories about racial geography and his esteem for his own white race ... One might argue, I suppose, that Guyot’s racist theories aren’t explicitly relevant to his intersection with the history of the Appalachian Mountains, and that Avery, born in 1899, was parroting his era. But one must also contend—and D’Anieri does do this, if fleetingly, in his final first-person chapter—with the fact that, according to surveys by the hiking website The Trek, roughly 95 percent of A.T. thru-hikers identify as white.
Superbly rendered biographies of the adventurers who were instrumental in conceiving, building, popularizing, and sustaining the storied Appalachian Trail ... His character studies are uniformly fascinating, as readers learn far more than expected about these obsessive, sometimes cranky creators. No romanticist, D’Anieri also asks, and usually answers, salient if seldom-asked questions ... In exploring the trail’s 'collage of aspirations and associations,' D’Anieri has gone a long way toward discovering its identity. Thankfully, the tone is by no means academic but rather as accessible as the author believes the AT should be ... An incisive take on an American treasure that shines with illuminating detail and insight.