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Blue Highways (The Travel Trilogy #1)

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  13,932 Ratings  ·  782 Reviews
Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation's backroads. William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about "those little towns that get on the map-if they get on at all-only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon ...more
Paperback, 428 pages
Published October 19th 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I feel awfully guilty not taking the time to give back to this book what it gave to me; its carefully shaped and caressed words of observation and wisdom. It deserves much more, but, like Heat-Moon, I am on my own journey right now, writing my own inner book. In it, he sets out in a spartan van named "Ghost Dancing," roughly following the "blue highways" (the most rural of rural roads) along the entire border of the Lower 48 to discover himself, the country, or, whatever, after losing his job an ...more

I started this book about a month ago and tried to fit it into a hectic schedule. This weekend I decided to give it a serious go and see where it would end up.

The author decided to do a circle route of America when his life was destined to fall apart. He lost his job and his marriage was in trouble. Broke both in wallet and heart, he started putting together the trip he wanted to do for several years. He always wondered whether he could cross the United States by auto without ever using a federa
May 04, 2011 Scott rated it did not like it
What a huge disappointment.

I am predisposed to enjoy this kind of book. I love to travel and to take the roads less traveled. I've been to many places in America and I throughly enjoy exploring everywhere I haven't yet been. Back in High School, I would read Michael Crichton's Travels, some parts many times over, just imagining what it would be like to be able to visit the places he wrote about. Since then, I've read quite a few recollections of random journeys...and I can safely say that Blue
Jason Pettus
the classic hippie travel tale of a shrinking rural america, far from feeling dated blue highways seems to become more and more relevant with each passing generation. heat-moon (a professor at my college, the university of missouri, in the '80s when i was a student) traveled the country in the 1970s taking only the "blue highways" of his antique road map -- the non-interstate back roads, that is. what he found was a cultural america rapidly disappearing, being replaced with the ka-chings of a mi ...more
On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk - times neither day nor night - the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it's that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.
(p 1)

I love open road bo
Aug 01, 2007 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: americana
Author Bill Trogden/Least Heat-Moon travels across America in the 1980s, travelling via the highways marked in blue on the map. These smaller roards take him into out-of-the way communities far away from the interstates. This is a really fascinating read, giving you a look at bits and pieces of America from North to South and East to West. I imagine much of it has since vanished. The travelogue is skillfully interspersed with Trogden's own personal struggles: he decides to take the trip because ...more
Ned Mozier
Sep 27, 2015 Ned Mozier rated it really liked it
William is from my home state, traveled the outside of our country on only back roads in his beat up van, collecting experiences from random Americans. He works in a lot of history and either has the best ear for remembering dialogue or had a tape recorder well concealed. This is told factually, but fresh with interior dialogue, as he works his readings of Black Elk Speaks, Leaves of Grass and Lewis and Clark's account of their adventure. William only hints at what drove him to this three year s ...more
Jan 19, 2008 Steve rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with wanderlust
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
Actually, I first read this book about 15 years ago, but I was sick, it was there, and one thing leads to another..

The first time I read this, it was a great road trip, full of interesting places to visit and cool people to talk to and relics of a disappearing America. Now I'm older and much closer to the author's age when he wrote this, and a bit more familiar with how things don't always work out the way you expect.

It's still a great book, but the extra layer of the personal journey makes the
Mar 18, 2015 Howard rated it it was amazing
Third Reading
Webster Bull
Dec 28, 2014 Webster Bull rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An elegy for back-roads America before its surrender to Walmart, this so-called "deep map" travel writing includes wonderful profiles. Quoting Whitman and Black Elk in equal measure, Heat-Moon, part Osage, part English, sings of a land already lost to Anglicization.

My full review is available over at my blog, "Witness," here
Oct 06, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have finally read this book! It has been in my basement for a number of years. It was recommended to me by my sister and when I ran across a copy, I bought it. It's the story of a man who drove across the US in his van, avoiding interstates whenever possible and talking to people along the way. He wanted to see America before it all got paved over with shopping malls and all the mom-and-pops were run out of town and sometimes it was too late.

I spent quite a bit of time reading this book. It di
Feb 06, 2009 James rated it did not like it

I didn't mind Into the Wild, and I couldn't make it through Zen & the Art....

But when I think back, what I liked about ItW, the most, was when he was working in the fields in Idaho.

And it was written by Krakauer -not first person.

So, here's one of the other warhorses of the male-discovery-road-trip canon.

In discussing reading this book with other people, one person pointed out that what makes for interesting discovery-road-trip writings are when the character is forced to set out (I'
Jun 19, 2008 Blueskies18 rated it liked it
Another travelog. A little slow and quite serious. Yet I learned a few things and found myself consulting goodgle maps to locate some of the more interesting small towns he encountered. But it took me a long time to finish it. I could only handle a half dozen pages at one sitting. I like travelogs, but I prefer Bill Bryson's books because I can breeze through them as if I were reading a 'beach book' with interesting information and a bunch of belly laughs to boot. No one does it better than Brys ...more
Larry Bassett
Dec 11, 2015 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, kindle
I read this such a long time ago when it was first published. I am old enough to remember the days BEFORE the Interstates when the Blue Highways were THE Highways. I remember this being one of those books that I thought changed my life in one of those very middle class ways. Maybe I will try to search it out again one day and see if my lingering fondness in my memory is warranted. Would it be wrong to read a book like this as an ebook?
Mar 05, 2008 Ruth rated it it was amazing
How disappointed I was, on driving across the country on the interstates (by necessity) that my trip was nothing like this one. To take a trip on blue highways still remains an ambition of mine.

Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Two stars instead of three for this book, because it starts with a dishonest premise. We are told that the author lost his marriage and his job, and "just decided" to take a road trip to find himself or whatever. He lived in his van--feasible in 1978, but dangerous if not foolhardy today. The idea held for a portion of the book...until I read all those verbatim conversations. How could he remember all that? I asked myself. One or two conversations that really spoke to you, maybe--but dozens? The ...more
Rex Fuller
May 03, 2014 Rex Fuller rated it it was amazing
“The night had been full of dreams moving though my sleep like schools of ocean fish that dart this way, turn suddenly another way, and...the currents bending and enfolding me as the sea does fronds of eelgrass.”

That’s one example of why I should have read this years ago, as I intended.

And the vocabulary! Wen. Quodlibet. Tumulus. Helot. Numen. Coppice. Drupe. And a good many I leave for your discovery. Histories, both tribal and immigrant. But most of all, the stories. “A sheriff [near Jonesboro
Patrick Gibson
Mar 28, 2011 Patrick Gibson rated it really liked it
Shelves: truth_sort-of
William Least-Heat Moon, writes of a journey taken away from the "interstates" of the human experience. In the near-forgotten places and continental corners he passes through, life manages to persist in ways that it does not in the change-racked "fast lane" so many of us are swept into. Nearly three decades have passed and the book is no less relevant in what it says about modernity: In the chain-store franchise, places increasingly appear like every other place, and local color and richness fad ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
I have mixed feelings about this book. It has taken me forever to read, and not because I was just savoring it. It's not a particularly long book, I could just only stand to read so much of it at a time. Least Heat Moon tells interesting stories and meets some fabulous people in this journey, but he tends to be long-winded.

After losing his wife and his job, and figuring he has nothing holding him back, William Least Heat Moon turns his van into a somewhat camper and decides to just drive. As a u
Tom M
Jun 14, 2011 Tom M rated it really liked it
The Good: A 13,000 mile, three month journey using U.S. and State Routes (and on a rare occasion, the interstate). Least Heat Moon experiences a vivid collection of people, personalities and locations on his journey. His descriptions of the people he meets are fantastic, and he captures their regional linguistic quirks perfectly. He also provides detailed information in the roads he used, so you can follow along on a map. It's interesting to see some of the places he describes in 1978 on Google ...more
May 08, 2016 Deborah rated it it was ok
I expected to love this book. I guess I just love the idea of it.

Driving around the country using back highways - “blue highways” on maps, rather than the interstates drawn in red - would be a spectacular thing to do. Living out of your vehicle, or even camping where you could - also awesome.

This journey, though, or perhaps just the retelling of it, is a bit monotonous for me. The writing is lovely, make no mistake, but every town he passes through and all the people he meets sound exactly the s
Oct 28, 2015 Lisa rated it it was ok
Here is a summary of the book so far: Least-Moon travels the back roads in his Wagoneer to a small town in the middle of nowhere, such as "Nameless, Tennessee." Then, you wade through much detailed description of the man-made and natural structures. Next, he meets a local, asking about the history of the town. A long, very specific re-telling of some minor player in American history ensues, ending with "Then, the government [or national chain] came in and took all the land. Things ain't like the ...more
Kaitlyn Barrett
May 28, 2012 Kaitlyn Barrett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-related
This book was on the NY Times bestseller list for 42 weeks. I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s good. It’s well written and thoughtful but it’s also lonesome. Least Heat Moon writes about travel in a way that feels like the last precinct of a desperate man and I'm not sure what about that appeals to the armchair travelers of the USA.

All good travel books have an interior journey wedded to an exterior journey. His exterior journey is a several week road trip around the outskirts of the US c
Nov 08, 2012 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm a sucker for travel memoirs. I just love hearing about the author's trip and the people they meet along the way. But a travel memoir is only as good as the author's writing and this one is wonderful. It reminded me a lot of Steinbeck's Travels With Charley.

Heat-Moon loses his job as a professor and separates from his wife. These two events motivate him to take a van and drive around the entire country. He tries to stick to the back roads instead of the interstates. He is truly gifted at des
Feb 09, 2013 Sean rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure why it took me 20 years after first receiving this to read (a different copy). But I'm glad I waited until I'd made my own cross-country pilgrimage, and that it was fresh in my mind.

The downside of this is that the America Heat-Moon describes has receded that much further into the past. But change - and often an accompanying feeling of loss - is perhaps the one thing about America that's eternal. Heat-Moon reminds us what's really interesting are the varieties of ways that people an
Adam K
Apr 29, 2009 Adam K added it
When I'm not traveling, anticipating traveling, or traveling, travelogues are one of my favorite things to read. It occurred to me that I had never read one that involved traveling through the US, so I picked this book up.

The title refers to the smaller, one-lane, back-country highways being depicted in blue on road maps (the interstates represented with red). Heat-Moon was experiencing a turbulent time in his personal life, and decided to take some time to see if he could travel around the coun
Feb 25, 2015 Denise rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Denise by: 104
Just came across this book again after several years. It was full of such wonderful stories that I thought I should mention it to anyone who hasn't already read it. William Least Heat-Moon takes his American trip using only the "blue highways," the smallest roads on the map, colored in with a pale blue. Along the way, he hears plenty of interesting tales and he himself is an excellent storyteller.
May 23, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was what I like to call a "Spirit Book" - a spirit guide, only in book form. I began this book right when I started my life as a touring musician, and unbeknownst to me, ended up travelling to many of the places Least Heat-Moon writes about in mostly the same order. I read about how these places were in the 80s as I traveled through them in 2012. The synchronicity of that experience was downright magical.

All the woo-woo aside, Least Heat-Moon has the art of storytelling down. His descr
Jan 10, 2009 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“Other than to amuse himself, why should a man pretend to know where he’s going or to understand what he sees?” writes author William Least Heat-Moon. Indeed.

On the cover of my copy of Blue Highways, Robert Penn Warren is quoted as calling the book “a masterpiece.” Yes. It’s a magnificent ramble across America, a visit with some of its most curious places and people. It’s also a journey of self-discovery, made at a time when the author needed to take stock in his life and redirect his course.

Apr 22, 2011 Karen rated it it was amazing
Oh, I just love this beautifully written book. It is my dream to travel the back roads of America some day in a self-contained van, as he does (easier for a young man than an old woman, I know.) Least Heat-Moon paints gorgeous images of the scenery, tells hilarious stories about the quirky places he visits, subtly teaches the reader some geography and science, and writes touchingly of his own reactions to his journey and to the people he meets along the way. Although he only writes a few short p ...more
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From wikipedia:

William Least Heat-Moon, byname of William Trogdon is an American travel writer of English, Irish and Osage Nation ancestry. He is the author of a bestselling trilogy of topographical U.S. travel writing.

His pen name came from his father saying, "I call myself Heat Moon, your elder brother is Little Heat Moon. You, coming last, therefore, are Least." Born in Kansas City, Missouri, H
More about William Least Heat-Moon...

Other Books in the Series

The Travel Trilogy (3 books)
  • PrairyErth (A Deep Map)
  • River-Horse

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“What you've done becomes the judge of what you're going to do - especially in other people's minds. When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” 49 likes
“Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.” 24 likes
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