New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award • Winner of the Saroyan International Prize for Writing • Winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award • “The best outdoors book of the year.” —Sierra Club
From a talent who’s been compared to Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, David Quammen, and Jared Diamond, On Trails is a wondrous exploration of how trails help us understand the world—from invisible ant trails to hiking paths that span continents, from interstate highways to the Internet.
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 seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the miniscule to the massive. He learned the tricks of master trail-builders, hunted down long-lost Cherokee trails, and traced the origins of our road networks and the Internet. In each chapter, Moor interweaves his adventures with findings from science, history, philosophy, and nature writing.
Throughout, Moor reveals how this single topic—the oft-overlooked trail—sheds new light on a wealth of age-old questions: How does order emerge out of chaos? How did animals first crawl forth from the seas and spread across continents? How has humanity’s relationship with nature and technology shaped world around us? And, ultimately, how does each of us pick a path through life?
Moor has the essayist’s gift for making new connections, the adventurer’s love for paths untaken, and the philosopher’s knack for asking big questions. With a breathtaking arc that spans from the dawn of animal life to the digital era, On Trails is a book that makes us see our world, our history, our species, and our ways of life anew.
In this engrossing meditation on trails in animal and human societies, journalist Moor surveys the natural and social histories of trail-making, from the half-billion-year-old fossilized trails of Ediacaran blobs to the pheromone trails of ants, the well-judged and emotionally meaningful trails of elephants (they may carve routes to the graves of relatives), and the ancient Native American trails that underlie much of the modern U.S. road network. He styles these disparate trails as a kind of "external memory" whereby, as one individual follows in the tracks of another for prosaic reasons, a larger template for collective movement is unwittingly constructed. In fine participant-journalist fashion, the author dives into the trail-blazing himself, doing a stint as a shepherd trying to guide wayward sheep and goats through the countryside; mapping out hiking trails in Morocco, where the locals are baffled by the notion of foreigners traipsing around on barren mountainsides; and walking the Appalachian Trail, where exhaustion and rain are leavened by intense camaraderie. Moor combines vivid reportage told in supple prose with lucid explorations of science and history in an absorbing account of how travelers shape and are shaped by the land they pass through.