“The definitive book on camping in America. . . . A passionate, witty, and deeply engaging examination of why humans venture into the wild.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
From the Sierras to the Adirondacks and the Everglades, Dan White travels the nation to experience firsthand—and sometimes face first—how the American wilderness transformed from the devil’s playground into a source of adventure, relaxation, and renewal.
Whether he’s camping nude in cougar country, being attacked by wildlife while “glamping,” or crashing a girls-only adventure for urban teens, Dan White seeks to animate the evolution of outdoor recreation. In the process, he demonstrates how the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, Roosevelt, and Muir—along with visionaries such as Adirondack Murray, Horace Kephart, and Juliette Gordon Low—helped blaze a trail from Transcendentalism to Leave No Trace.
Wide-ranging in research, enthusiasm, and geography, Under the Stars reveals a vast population of nature seekers, a country still in love with its wild places.
Mixing history and firsthand account, White (The Cactus Eaters) traces the evolution and various iterations of recreational camping in the U.S. He begins, unsurprisingly, with Henry David Thoreau, the "father of the backyard campout." From there, White undertakes his own adventures recreate camping history. He hires a wilderness guide and camps in the Adirondacks, a popular approach for 19th-century Romantic campers. He undertakes a "naked survival campout" to get a taste of the experience of Joe Knowles, who in 1913 entered the Maine woods with nothing and lived for two months simply for the challenge. The writing is light and humorous even as White explores social and cultural issues surrounding camping: the roots and implications of the "ethnicity gap" in camping and outdoor activities; the initial exclusion of women from the outdoors, and the women who pushed against those barriers, using the outdoors to "make a political statement." The history is engaging, featuring familiar and unknown characters, and White does justice to camping in all its forms, including woodcraft, leave-no-trace backpacking, car camping, glamping, and RVing. The book does not purport to be a comprehensive history. Rather, it is a quite enjoyable stroll through the past, led by a talented writer who clearly appreciates the benefits of getting outside.