Book Review: “On Trails: An Exploration”
On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
336 pages, Simon & Schuster, $25
What does a “trail” actually mean? Where did they come from? What is the historical significance of trails throughout history?
On Trails: An Exploration delves into those questions, and more, in an examination of a trail’s place in our culture.
Let me further explain- this is not a book about a specific trail or even trails as we tend to think of them, but a detailed history of how things move.
The book is separated into six main sections, including:
- World’s oldest fossil trails (Precambrian)
- Insect colonies following trails to create collective intelligence (mostly ants)
- Movements of mammals such as elephants and sheep
- Ancient humans
- Appalachian Trail and other modern trails
- International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and somewhat surprisingly, the book also looks at technology, such as the internet, as a trail
The strength of this book lies in the author’s ability to connect a vast array of stories and topics into a single theme. The author himself completed an AT thru-hike and brings his personal experience to the book. After his hike, Moor was inspired to learn more about the history of trails, and took an experiential path to get there. His curiosities led him around the world: from herding sheep with the Cherokee tribe to hiking across the grasslands of Tanzania. Moor even lent a hand helping the IAT to expand through Morocco.
Recently, I have found myself retelling some of the anecdotes while hiking. Did you know that slime molds can solve problems by leaving a trail for others not to follow? Ants are actually not very bright when left alone. Their intelligence is tied to the collective knowledge using pheromones as a guide. Elephants create long-standing trails leading to water, and even to the remains of loved ones. Many of today’s roads were at one time Native American trails. I could go on and on… there is so much interesting information in each section.
While the stories and tidbits are fascinating, at times it can be challenging to follow how the stories fit together. The book covers such a wide array of topics that as a reader it can be difficult to see how everything relates. The rabbit holes are vast and deep.
Overall, I enjoyed reading On Trails. It is not a hiking book or an AT book. It is a deep, philosophical review of why we go where we go and at some level, why we do what we do. Personally, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, culture, anthropology, or science.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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