The longest continuous footpath in the world, the Appalachian Trail stretches along the East Coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine, through some of the most arresting and celebrated landscapes in America.
At the age of forty-four, in the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike through the vast tangled woods which have been frightening sensible people for three hundred years. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and - perhaps most alarming of all - people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.
Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime's ambition - not to die outdoors.
Bill Bryson's first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither here Nor there he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hamemrfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.
Whether braving the homicidal motorists of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.
There is more than a slight malaise in the air these days about French food and cooking. While the rest of the world delights in the intricacies of molecular gastronomy and even Britain is revelling in a culinary renaissance, in France the years of worship at the temple of the great god Michelin seem to have blinded them to change and evolution. Why is this? What is it about the French that causes them to be so blinkered about their food?
Plats du Jour is an attempt to answer that question, as William Black explores the highways and byways of French cooking. Taking as his starting point the great tradition of French food, William tackles years of received wisdom and parochial food snobbery head on, though with his mind (and his mouth) firmly open... He eats tête de veau and fried cow's udder with his French wife's family near Orléans. He samples the dubious (and illegal) delights of ortolan in the south west and has the most painfully disappointing gastronomic experience of his life. He combs the beaches of Brittany for seafood and is chased away from a festival by an enraged Basque villager. His dedication to the culinary cause knows few bounds.
Plats du Jour is a book which the French aren't going to like very much. That said, it's a highly entertaining and irreverent look at the world's greatest culinary tradition which will be required reading for anyone with an interest in food and cooking...
Having spent two years alone in France, doing his best to survive in a foreign land, and failing miserably to woo a dishy French copine, Michael Wright has everything he ever wanted. Yet he is still alone and - in a moment of rare self-knowledge - decides that the only way to find the girl of his dreams is to stop looking for her.
The first man to set foot on the summit of Everest, the man who led a team of tractors to the South Pole, the man who jetboated up the Ganges from the ocean to the sky has, for the first time, gathered all the remarkable adventures of a long life into one volume. But there is more to Edmund Hillary than this. He is also the man who repaid his debt of fame to the Himalayas by inaugurating a programme of building schools, clinics, airstrips and bridges in Nepal. With his still active support, these have gone from strength to strength in the 50 years since he himself mastered the Hillary Step and led his companion Tenzing Norgay up Everest's final summit ridge.
View from the Summit is a thoughtful and honest reappraisal of a life spent pushing human ability to its limits and relishing the challenges thrown down by the elements. It is also the story of a man whom the world has taken to its heart.
In the dead of winter, Polly Evans ventures to the remote Yukon Territory in Canada's far northwest, where temperatures plunge to minus forty and the sun rises for just a few hours each day. Her mission: to learn to drive sled dogs. But when she arrives, she finds there's more to this unspoilt wilderness than deathly cold.
In a pristine landscape patrolled by wolves and caribou, Polly takes her first bruising lessons in the art of mushing. But before the snows melt in spring, she hones her skills and becomes infatuated with this brutal, beautiful land where jagged gems of hoar frost glisten on the spruce boughs and the northern lights weave green and red across the skies. Above all, she discovers a deep affection for the loving, mischievous huskies who with such courage and enthusiasm escort her through the lone white trails of the unforgiving north.
When she learnt that the Chinese had built enough new roads to circle the equator sixteen times, Polly Evans decided to go and witness for herself the way this vast nation was hurtling into the technological age. But on arriving in China she found the building work wasn't quite finished.
Squeezed up against Buddhist monks, squawking chickens and on one happy occasion a soldier named Hero, Polly clattered along pot-holed tracks from the snow-capped mountains of Shangri-La to the bear-infested jungles of the south. She braved encounters with a sadistic masseur, a ridiculously flexible kung-fu teacher, and a terrified child who screamed at the sight of her.
In quieter moments, Polly contemplated China's long and colourful history - the seven-foot-tall eunuch commander who sailed the globe in search of treasure; the empress that chopped off her rivals' hands and feet and boiled them to make soup - and pondered the bizarre traits of the modern mandarins. And, as she travelled, she attempted to solve the ultimate gastronomic conundrum: just how does one eat a soft-fried egg with chopsticks?