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On Trails: An Exploration

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  5,470 ratings  ·  711 reviews
In 2009, while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor began to wonder about the paths that lie beneath our feet: How do they form? Why do some improve over time while others fade? What makes us follow or strike off on our own?

Over the course of the next seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the miniscule to the massive. He learn
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 12th 2016 by Simon Schuster
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  5,470 ratings  ·  711 reviews

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Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is endlessly fascinating, but don't expect it to follow a straight line. Instead, it pursues its own meandering road.

When Robert Moor hiked the Appalachian Trail back in 2009, he became interested in the history of the trail itself, and in all other kinds of trails humans follow. He wondered why we like trails, why we build so many of them, and why some paths survive and others don't. After a lot of research and a fair amount of hiking, he arrived at this book, which isn't really a hik
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Man is built to walk. Actually, man is built to jog, slowly, speaking from a physiological point of view. However you ambulate, our bones and muscles are constructed to move and keep moving. Sedentary life is no life at all (he says while sitting in a chair, typing up this review). I love to walk. If you have been reading my reviews or blog for long enough, you'll know that. This is part of the reason I was so worried when I blew my back out in late 2014 and was so relieved when my surgery in 20 ...more
This wide-ranging study examines many aspects and types of trail-making. Along the way Moor thru-hikes the Appalachian Trail, herds sheep in Arizona, observes elephants, follows ancient Native American paths on deer hunting vigils, and travels to Morocco to scope out new sections for the International Appalachian Trail. At times I had trouble seeing the connections between all the disparate elements (everything from ant behavior to Cherokee language and the Internet); Moor tries for an overarchi ...more
"Complete freedom is not what a trail offers. Quite the opposite; a trail is a tactful reduction of options."

Moor states in the very first chapter that this book is not a ladder and does not lead up to any sort of conclusion, but like the trail, it winds and meanders. By and large, the wandering on this book trail was great fun: Moor recounting his through-hike on the Appalachian Trail (although this is more of a stage setter, it is definitely not the theme of the book like A Walk in the Woo
James Murphy
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My incentive in reading Moor's On Trails is my own enjoyment of hiking. The book delivers so much more than an examination of walking in the woods, though. Moor is a hiker himself, what he calls a thru-hiker, one who hikes long distances over established trails of great length. He describes some of his own experiences in spending 5 months hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from its beginning in Georgia to the ending on Maine's Mount Katahdin. Moor writes interestingly on why people hike and wha ...more
Dylan Blanchard
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because I figured it was about hiking, and I was in a dope bookstore that I wanted to support. Best of both worlds.

I got waaaay more from this book than I was expecting. It was an incredible exploration straight from day 0 of trails (ediacaran trails), to ants, to animal's migratory paths, to first nation's paths to wow. wow.

This was a delicious read.
Jul 30, 2016 marked it as to-read-nonfiction
Shelves: next-up
I have a feeling I'm going to love this book.

Note to self: read this on next hiking trip.
Moor is a long distance walker, he took five months completing the Appalachian Trail, but rather than just the exhilaration in completing this 2190 mile journey he realised that he now had questions about just why we create trails. In exploring this phenomena he is shown some of the oldest fossil trails, he learns how and why animals do the same thing, from ants that use pheromones to guide others from the nest to sources of food. He has a go a shepherding to see how sheep make trails, and manag ...more
Brendan Monroe
I love hiking trails. It's one of those things that's hard to explain when someone asks. Or it was, before I read this book.

I love hiking because there's a trail. There's a direction, a path, to follow. You just have to keep walking and eventually, sooner or later, you will get there.

Hiking isn't something that I necessarily enjoy when I'm doing it. I'm too set on reaching my destination. On achieving the goal.

A trail, for me, is like happiness. I'm rarely if ever happy in the moment, but I'm
Gretchen Lida
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ranks with the likes of Annie Dillard and Edward Abbey, an important book for the modern nature reader: Read my review in Chicago Review of Books.
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good book that admittedly I was stopped from appreciating to its fullest by the second worst narrator I’ve ever listened to. Let’s get that out of the way then- the audiobook was poorly edited, the sound was not normalized, many sentences were repeated, and the narrator did “accents” which were almost ALWAYS inappropriate to the speaker and were often too nasally and/or quiet. The narrator treated the audiobook like an acting reel, and that probably also explains why I’d never heard of him bef ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
A slow, plodding, occasionally thought-provoking slog that meanders not entirely unpleasantly. Much like the trails it discusses, this book does not take a direct route to its subject. Instead, the reader is compelled to follow the author down tiny alleyways, which feel constricted and boring but then open up into vast and glorious vistas that eloquently capture the magnificence of The Trail. Like the trail, too, it often seems like it will never end! The best part, to me, was the Epilogue, in w ...more

Like the very best of trails, this book meanders through a layered landscape connecting the personal within a historical and cultural context, with lots detours for philosophical observations, both the authors and the dozens of people he tracks down to visit.
Even nicer, he invites reader participation. RM is no fly-by-night journalist. He does not so much interview his experts, he tags along, often assuming a small but crucial role in the process of grounding himself solidly in experience.
I really did not know what to expect from this book. It was highly recommended to my by an older man (he was probably about my age -- ha ha) I encountered on a trail while backpacking in the High Uintas of Utah. "Just read it," he said. "There's no way I can describe it."

The man was quite the salesman. Shortly after getting home from my trip I ordered it from Amazon (my small-town public library doesn't seem to have funds to buy books like this). Unfortunately, I was not as enthralled with it a
The Overdrive audio for this returned to the library as I was on the final chapter - I'm reserving final judgement until I get to hear those last words! ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Show-offy in a juvenile, self-admiring, college-y way. Only truly compelling when discussing actual hiking trails and hiking. Otherwise, an overwritten, trying-too-hard hash of random topics in which the author has no expertise, gratuitous name-droppy quotes from Han-shan, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Thoreau, Aristotle, et al., and Ted-Talk-style restatements of banalities as purportedly profound insight. At least half of this book should have been cut by a competent editor.

There must be a word for th
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read. A beautiful compilation of personal, scientific, historical, and philosophical writings that wanders from interesting to funny to incredibly moving. It's the kind of book that makes you want to stop and think almost every paragraph, and also to keep going and going so that you can hear more about what the author has to say. ...more
Dave Kaylor
May 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book tried to be too many things that all individually could have made for very compelling stories, but by trying to tackle everything, it came across as a muddled mess.

The author's voice could have benefited from more vigorous editor oversight. He often reminded me of the tone of a first year English graduate student, unfortunately
Matthew Huff
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in a while and definitely my favorite non-fiction in years. Fantastic writer! Everyone should read this. ...more
Ruthie Perlman
May 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Favorite book I’ve read this year.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
the path of humanity is ever branching. all roads need not lead to times square.
a meditative, yet active inquiry into the nature of trails (human, animal, and technological), robert moor's on trails: an exploration seamlessly blends science, history, philosophy, and a poet's unerringly observational eye to create a varied and constantly engaging work that spans several genres. like a long meandering hike where one is gifted with myriad overlooks, disparate perspectives, and plenty of thought
Caitie Rossman
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was just incredible. Beautifully written; lovely and lyrical. Fascinating dive into not only the nature of trails and what we consider "wilderness" but also on what they provide us. Can't recommend it enough. ...more
Rex Fuller
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a meditation on the nature of trails. Maybe every living creature trails. People do of course, and elephants, and ants. To point out the size spectrum of trail makers and users. And it’s seemingly second nature to all of them. The author decides trails are at bottom a string of signs, “go here,” “don’t go there.” You have to be credentialed to pronounce such things. And as a through-hiker (all in one go) of the Appalachian Trail and others he is.

But maybe the highlight of the book is the
Aug 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“What Hammou and I were lacking, it seems, was not sufficient contact, but sufficient context. The rifts between two people can easily appear unbridgeable at first, like the void between two peaks. But when we peer deeper into the chasm- down through the complex strata of culture, technology, and happenstance- we often find a shared point from which one could start scaling the summit.”

Moor begins his book with science and philosophy and ends with personal anecdotes and an even better gandering d
Kevin Wojciechowski
Apr 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Not exactly what I was expecting. I really enjoyed the interview he did on an episode of “The Art of Manliness” podcast. I was led to believe this book would be a series of reflections on trails based on his experience walking the Appalachian trail. That was covered pretty much only in the prologue and last fourth of the book. The first half of the book was basically a recounting of the different random people he’s met who have taught him some things about science, nature, animals, etc. Some of ...more
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More than just a book about hiking, while it also had enough hiking and outdoorsy stuff in there to keep it cool. Some chapters were extremely cool (like the first one about the first ever moving creature) and others dragged a bit (mostly the epilogue with some philosophy that only related to trails in the vaguest sense). Overall a very enjoyable read!
Sep 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh man, I enjoyes this book so much. I learned such random, wonderful facts. I got insight into hiking long trails, and short trails and just, insight into TRAILS! Definitelt has become my favourite non-fiction read of the year.
Victoria Simpson
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audio book, and while the narrator possessed greater enthusiasm than skill with regard to accents, the content of the book is really interesting. It's a free wheeling exploration and I think it's a great read for anyone interested in hiking, the natural world, history, philosophy and sociology. ...more
Taylor Bullock
Sep 25, 2020 rated it liked it
You can tell he did a lot of research and had some really cool fact tidbits from a variety of fields (history, science, philosophy, biology), but he didn’t really tie it all together. Still was worth a read for some of the interesting factoids
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“We are born to wander through a chaos field. And yet we do not become hopelessly lost, because each walker who comes before us leaves behind a trace for us to follow.”

“In walking, we acquire more of less.”
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Praise for Robert Moor! 1 10 Jan 29, 2018 07:26AM  
Unfortunately, it is nearly silent on the harm done by trail-building 1 11 Sep 13, 2017 05:53AM  

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Robert Moor has written for Harper’s, n+1, New York, and GQ, among other publications. A recipient of the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, he has won multiple awards for his nonfiction writing. He lives in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

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“We are born to wander through a chaos field. And yet we do not become hopelessly lost, because each walker who comes before us leaves behind a trace for us to follow.” 10 likes
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