My book, The Appalachian Trail: A Biography, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June 2021. It looks at the AT from the perspective of the people who created it over the last 100 years–what these people hoped to accomplish, and why. In understanding the ambitions behind the trail, the book aims to shed some light on the evolution of American thinking about the environment.
There are several excellent sources out there on the history of the trail, only a few of which are described below.
- Brian King, The Appalachian Trail: Celebrating America’s Hiking Trail, Rizzoli, 2012.
- This coffee-table book, published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, provides an overview of the trail’s development, hundreds of gorgeous images, a brief and gracious foreword by Bill Bryson, and a nice 3-foot-long poster map of the entire trail.
- Sarah Mittlefehldt, Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics, University of Washington Press, 2013.
- A scholarly history that investigates the AT as a model of public-private cooperation, researched in part by the author’s thru-hiking the trail. (Certainly not the easiest way to write a dissertation, but I’m guessing a pretty rewarding one.) Foreword by the eminent historian of environment William Cronon.
- Larry Anderson, Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner, and Creator of the Appalachian Trail, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
- MacKaye is a fascinating and complex character, and Anderson’s book is the authoritative portrait. Deeply researched, appreciatively written, it provides a fond but by no means uncritical look at MacKaye, for whom the AT was just one of several major contributions to 20th-century American environmentalism. This is a great source on the trail’s founding and earliest years, but also puts the AT in a broader context.
- Laura and Guy Waterman, Forest and Crag: A History of Hiking, Trail Blazing, and Adventure in the Northeast Mountains, Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 1989.
- The Watermans richly portray the New York and New England hiking scenes that provided the AT’s essential early building blocks.
- Jeffrey Ryan, Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and the Rivalry That Built the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2017.
- The portrait of Myron Avery here is the most thorough I have encountered, capturing the fiercely abrasive personality that shepherded the AT to completion in the 1930s.
- Silas Chamberlin, On the Trail: A History of American Hiking, Yale University Press, 2016.
- Provides an interesting thesis about the evolution of hiking from a collectively produced activity to a more privately consumed one.
- Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration, Simon and Schuster, 2016.
- This book is difficult to categorize, which is what makes it so valuable. It is not directly about the AT itself, though Moor’s thru-hike kicked off his interest in the subject. It is about the deeper meanings of trails—where they come from, and why. On the backbone of a series of travel essays, Moor explores trails as biological creations, and literary ones; sources of wisdom and reflections of it.