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August 28, 2012

On the surface, Following Atticus by Tom Ryan is the story of an overweight, independent, muckraking newspaper guy hiking a bunch of mountains in all seasons with his small schauzer — first just to do it, then the raise money for charity. Ultimately, however, it’s also the tale of seeking the kind of love, peace, and spiritual boost perhaps we didn’t find in childhood or elsewhere in life. I won’t mince words: Following Atticus is as close to perfect as a memoir (including a dog or not) gets.

Truly. Kudos to Tom Ryan … and Atticus

I loved Following Atticus not only for the man + dog relationship and the mountain adventures but also for the hilarious insights into small town politics from his newspaper days.

best dog blog, champion of my heart, book review following atticus by tom ryanI’ll be honest. I did giggle and tease the book’s publicist since the peaks Tom and Atticus climb all top 4,000 feet in New Hampshire.

Why so funny?

Well, I live at about 8,500 feet and some of our regular hikes in the “neighborhood” top 10,000 feet. Here in Colorado, lots of people climb peaks over 14,000 (known as 14ers).

Take my high school friends Pat and Shelley Flood. They recently climbed Gray’s Peak here in Colorado. The summit sits 14,270 feet above sea level. When I asked Pat if I could borrow this photo he had posted on Facebook, he told me that someone hiked the peak that same day with a couple of Daschunds. He joked everyone called them the “14er-wieners.” Sorry, no pix of that. Can you imagine that kind of climb with such short legs? Daschunds do have trememdous stamina, so maybe it was OK.

summit of gray's peak, colorado 14er

Yes, I know it’s all about elevation gain and terrain. After reading Following Atticus, I understand how harrowing many of these journeys were for Tom and his small dog, but it still made me chuckle.

All kidding aside, Following Atticus hits all the right balances of:

  • Backstory and archetype
  • Action and suspense
  • Danger and resolution
  • Meaning and humor
  • Pace and personality

Several near-peak encounters with incredulous fellow hikers cracked me up, as they wondered — often aloud — how Tom and Atticus got up there. I even read those parts aloud to my Tom so that we could laugh together.

Beyond his brilliant writing, I also respect Tom for ALWAYS putting Atticus first. If Atticus ever balked, they skipped the hike or turned back. If the peak-top weather reports looked too dicey, they stayed home. Tom always had food, water, and protective gear for both of them.

This is important because other people have NO COMMON SENSE. There is a man in Colorado who is currently facing animal cruelty charges for taking his dog up on a mountain and then abandoning her there when she could no longer hike out because her paws were too damaged.

DAYS LATER other hikers found the dog near death, but they too could not carry her out alone. When local authorities refused to use rescue resources to get the dog, these other hikers organized their own rescue team and got the dog down the mountain. She is being cared for at a local veterinary hospital.

Tom was always VERY careful to bring protective clothing and footwear for Atticus, if weather and terrain demanded it. He’d done his research and knew how temperatures and other conditions might affect Atticus.

Even if the two of them did ever get into trouble, I truly cannot imagine Tom leaving his four-legged friend injured on a mountain.


You’ll find some interesting dog training and dog socialization examples in the book as well. Of interest to longtime readers of Champion of My Heart will be the fact that Atticus was a singleton puppy. He was the only puppy in his litter.

I’m tired and distracted so I cannot remember for sure where I read about singleton pups in all the dog training books over the years, but unless they are handled well from the get-go, singleton pups can have all sorts of behavior problems. Personally, I’d never knowingly adopt a singleton pup, but that’s me, and I’ve already been through a lot on the dog training front.

Atticus’ breeder and Tom must have done something right because he turned out with a solid temperament, including being calm and confident enough to go on book tours with Tom (something I’d NEVER be able to do with my fearful Lilly).

Tom clearly adores his canine soul mate. Call it kismet or luck, but they were somehow destined to be together and to take this journey.

Be warned, however, Tom is NOT a pookey-schmookey kind of dog lover. You’ll never see Tom deign to speak for Atticus or even jokingly put words in his mouth. Tom also is not a make-things-happen-through-dog-sport guy either. Tom simply lets Atticus be his own dog … 99% of the time off leash, even in public.


Loving dogs aside, I think you’ll like this book as much as I did …

  • If you’ve ever worked at a newspaper covering small town politics (or like me live in a small community where it’s not unheard of for people to get death threats or to paint graffiti on rocks saying things like, “Suck it, <name of enemy>!)
  • If you’ve ever loved to hike mountains (or at least been curious)
  • If you’ve ever sought and been disappointed in family relationships
  • If you’ve ever realized you needed to make a big change in your life


FTC Disclosure

Trish, the publicist for Following Atticus sent me a review copy for free. Otherwise, we were not compensated in any way for this review, and we voluntarily took part on the book’s virtual blog book tour.

I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do with the review copy of the book. I may pass it off in the veterinary hospital lobby to the next schnauzer family I see.



About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. I’m almost finished with the book, love Tom and Atticus! Got it at the bookshop I work at. This post is much more recent than the others, I’m hoping Atticus is still with us, too afraid to google it. I have a little dog Cadbury who doesn’t have the stamina of Atticus (he has hepatitis) but is a great little fellow too.

  2. 14-er wieners made me LOL.

    You really seem to have captured the essence of this book, and I got teary just reading your review! I know the book would make me cry because I would be so happy.

  3. I’m so glad to know that Tom took the proper care of Atticus – I was a bit concerned, what with all that hiking!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour. It sounds like you really enjoyed it!

  4. I also highly recommend listening to Tom tell the story! I read the book in one afternoon and loved every word of it! When I found out it was available on CD I purchased it so my husband and I could listen to it when we travel to New Hampshire in October. I started listening to it immediately and loved it even more than the book alone.

  5. WOW!
    What a generous review! I am a “Following Atticus” Follower and that is how I have come here…
    You captured it all and more….
    Thank you so much,
    Ojai, CA

    1. I don’t know about generous. I’m honest in my book reviews. If I like something, I say so. If I don’t, I say that too. In this case, I didn’t have any bones to pick … as it were. Thanks for dropping by, Pam.

  6. Review has captured the essence of the “spirit” of Following Atticus. Best read to recommend to all!
    To watch them interact at a book signing shows their deep relationship, trust and respect. Add Will to the family and it’s all good!

  7. Roxanne, what a kind, generous, and genuine review. By this point I’ve seen many so far, but I’m alway impressed when a writer goes to extremes to talk about Following Atticus in a way in which no one else does. You’ve done that in various ways throughout your post.

    I appreciate you picking up so easily on my relationship with Atticus. His safety was indeed paramount to me, and you are correct, I don’t do the “puppy talk/baby talk” thing with him. He’s an equal, not some cute accessory to my life.

    Thank you again for a review that is not only positive, but exhibits a different way of looking at our book. As I was reading through it I found myself saying, “She gets it,” or “I like how she pointed this (or that) out.”

    I also want to thank everyone who has commented here, especially those from our Following Atticus page. (You guys are the best.)

    Have a great day.
    Tom (& Atticus)

  8. I loved reading Following Atticus for the same candid reasons you have stated in your most down to earth review. Enjoyed the book~enjoyed your review.

  9. Excellent review of a great book. I enjoyed “Following Atticus” immensely for all the reasons you have listed and I’ve already recommended it to several friends.

  10. Good review. I live vicariously through Tom and Atticus and have NEVER in 65 years been so entranced with the writing, the story, the HEART, that was put into this book. I look forward to Atti and Will’s next chapter in their life with Tom Ryan. All of my friends in rescue will receive a copy for Christmas-little do they know what a treat it will be.

  11. This book has replaced what was my number one to recommend (First You Have to Row a Little Boat), for all the reasons you state. It inspires, encourages, challenges, warms, incites laughter and tears, and just draws you in. Thank goodness for the facebook page, or I would have gone through dreadful withdrawal. Tom and Atticus rock!

  12. Anyone who enjoyed the book as much as I did deserves a comment. Very well said!

  13. I must say, I am a Mini-Shnauzer owner & a White Mts. enthusiast, so for me, this was a win/win read from the outset. That being said, I am also a lover of prose & poetry & Tom Ryan’s writing does not disappoint. His imagery is often coupled with passages from favorite authors/poets & constantly adds to the joy of the read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, originally purchased for my husband, the avid hiker, for his birthday. Definitely a “keeper.”

  14. This is an excellent love story. i just downloaded it as an ebook, after reading it in the early spring. I was excited to start it over again, listening to Tom speak his book. His Massachusetts accent adds so much to his story. Atticus was truly a “lucky dog” to have been able to be found by Tom, and likewise Tom was a lucky man to have found Atticus, it truly is an inpirational story in many ways.

    1. I hadn’t thought about Tom’s voice / accent adding so much to the narrative, but I bet is really does add a whole layer to the story. Enjoy. Beyond the hiking aspects, I also admire Tom for his weight-loss work and especially is LONG juice fast. The longest I’ve juiced is about 14-15 days.

  15. I grew up in Vermont, climbing the White Mountains and now live in Colorado. Thank you for the wonderful review of Following Atticus. I have been following Tom and Atti for 7 months now and they only continue to inspire. I look forward to following you and this blog now. THANK YOU!

  16. I, too, absolutely loved this book. The relationship between Atticus and Tom is amazing. They are so lucky to have found each other.

    It almost (almost!) made me want to go climb mountains. (Sixty-eight years old, with injured knees – ummm, maybe not! LOL)

    1. Trust me. We see a lot of people older than us on the trails. I’m not going to kid you … even I hurt sometimes after a long hike, but it’s so nice to get away for even an hour or two.

  17. As an Easterner whose “mountains” make you giggle, I’m glad you had something to laugh about. I know you could use it. 🙂

    I also loved this book and will be reviewing it on the virtual book tour this Thursday. It’s a real gem.

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