Full disclosure: A very nice PR person sent us a copy of this book to review, and we promised that we'd review it.
When we get a chance to look over a book like "Walks of a Lifetime" by Robert and Martha Manning, the first thing we do is check the list of walks. If the list doesn't include things like the John Muir Trail, the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu, The Milford Track, and the Camino de Santiago, how good can it be?
Oops. This is their second book about long walks. Doh. Their first book, "Walking Distance," included all of those plus a bunch more that we really liked. This one picks where "Walking Distance" leaves off, and takes us on a whole range of hikes from the wilderness of Denali to the streets of Paris, New York, Sydney and San Francisco.
So let's start again. The Mannings have a really nice approach to this whole topic of walking. They like it. They are not after epic adventures on the edge that test them to their limits, and they admit it. These walks are supposed to be enjoyable, and they do a good job of communicating the real attractions of every walk in the book. But this isn't a mile-by-mile guide. You won't want to take it along on these hikes. For on thing, it's too heavy :^)
Nope, this is a menu: designed to make every dish seem interesting enough that you want to order it. And it's completely successful at that. In each case the Mannings give you enough detail to get you started, and point out a few things they don't want you to miss. And then they tell you to go do the hike yourself. We like that approach. There are enough details to allow you to find the place, and enough flexibility to encourage you to hike your own hike, whether you are a twenty-something peak bagger or a golden years stroller.
In between the chapters, they offer their comments on everything from leaving no trace to the philosophy of seeing the world from a pedestrian perspective. And their approach to these is particularly brilliant. By that we mean that they agree with our approach completely. Thus, they must be geniuses. Best of all, they can write. Their sentences are clear, clean, and well-crafted. In fact, the whole book reads like a very pleasant conversation around a campfire (or in a pub?) with a couple of well-educated and thoughtful people who love to hike. Sign us up!
The photographs are in a similar vein. These are not gloriously staged professional shots done under perfect conditions and lighting. They are photos taken by Robert on the walks as they did them. So while the photos won't wow you with special effects, they probably give you a much more realistic view of what you are doing to see on the hike than some of the coffee table books we've seen. And they are nice photos.
We were particularly happy to see a few hikes from the American Southwest--an area we are hoping to explore in a lot more detail next year. Now we have a few more items on our list, thanks to the Mannings.
Would we buy this book if we saw it in a bookstore? Probably not. We're cheapskates, and we'd probably just leaf through it and then make a mental note to check if the library has a copy. But if someone in our family gave it to us as a gift, we'd be delighted. And we'd go back to it more than once as we think about the adventures we'd like to have in the future, and relive some of the ones in our past.
We suspect that's exactly what the Mannings had in mind when they wrote it.
"Walks of a Lifetime" by Robert and Martha Manning, Falcon Press. $35.
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