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Old Ways, The [Hardcover]

Robert Macfarlane
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

July 31 2012
The "Old Ways" is the stunning new book by acclaimed nature writer Robert Macfarlane Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize 2012. In "The Old Ways" Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. Above all this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Told in Macfarlane's distinctive and celebrated voice, the book folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His tracks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird-islands of the Scottish northwest, and from the disputed territories of Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he walks stride for stride with a 5000-year-old man near Liverpool, follows the 'deadliest path in Britain', sails an open boat out into the Atlantic at night, and crosses paths with walkers of many kinds - wanderers, wayfarers, pilgrims, guides, shamans, poets, trespassers and devouts. He discovers that paths offer not just means of traversing space, but also of feeling, knowing and thinking. The old ways lead us unexpectedly to the new, and the voyage out is always a voyage inwards. "Really do love it. He has a rare physical intelligence and affords total immersion in place, elements and the passage of time: wonderful". (Antony Gormley). "A marvellous marriage of scholarship, imagination and evocation of place. I always feel exhilarated after reading Macfarlane". (Penelope Lively). "Macfarlane immerses himself in regions we may have thought familiar, resurrecting them newly potent and sometimes beautifully strange. In a moving achievement, he returns our heritage to us". (Colin Thubron). "Every Robert MacFarlane book offers beautiful writing, bold journeys...With its global reach and mysterious Sebaldian structure, this is MacFarlane's most important book yet". (David Rothenberg, author of "Survival of the Beautiful" and "Thousand Mile Song"). "Luminous, possessing a seemingly paradoxical combination of the dream-like and the hyper-vigilant, "The Old Ways" is, as with all of Macfarlane's work, a magnificent read. Each sentence can carry astonishing discovery". (Rick Bass, US novelist and nature writer). "The "Old Ways" confirms Robert Macfarlane's reputation as one of the most eloquent and observant of contemporary writers about nature". ("Scotland on Sunday"). "Sublime writing ...sets the imagination tingling...Macfarlane's way of writing [is] free, exploratory, rambling and haphazard but resourceful, individual, following his own whims, and laying an irresistible trail for readers to follow". ("Sunday Times"). "Macfarlane relishes wild, as well as old, places. He writes about both beautifully...I love to read Macfarlane". (John Sutherland, "Financial Times"). "Read this and it will be impossible to take an unremarkable walk again". ("Metro"). Robert Macfarlane won the "Guardian" First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the "Sunday Times" Young Writer of the Year Award for his first book, "Mountains of the Mind" (2003). His second, "The Wild Places" (2007), was similarly celebrated, winning three prizes and being shortlisted for six more. Both books were adapted for television by the BBC. He is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

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A wonderful book: Macfarlane has a rare physical intelligence, and his writing affords total immersion in place, elements and the passage of time -- Antony Gormley A naturalist who can unfurl a sentence with the breathless ease of a master angler, a writer whose ideas and reach far transcend the physical region he explores The New York Times Book Review [Mountains of the Mind is] a distinguished book that jolted my heart. Adventurous, passionate, intensely romantic ... fizzes with insights -- Roger Deakin A new naturalist to set beside the classics in our literature Evening Standard

About the Author

Robert Macfarlane won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award for his first book, Mountains of the Mind (2003). His second, The Wild Places (2007), was similarly celebrated, winning three prizes and being shortlisted for six more. Both books were adapted for television by the BBC. He is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Time to walk May 17 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book takes you on a wonderful journey, if you love walking, love to think when walking, this book will drive you to pop on your boots and start to dream again. You will look at every path as a new adventure.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  76 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking, seeing, thinking, writing Dec 30 2012
By Interested Reader - Published on
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is a stunning book. The author walks, talks to people, but most of all sees deeply the natural history and human history of the places he walks. I was captivated by the intensity of his observations, the beauty of his writing, and the astonishing range of his knowledge (and vocabulary!). He sees and writes like a poet and a naturalist. He also makes friends with people who know the terrain and the history; people he meets along the way, but even more, people of knowledge and creativity themselves who are deeply tied to the landscapes he walks.

Another reviewer asked for maps. I read this book, in retrospect, in the best way possible. Reading it in the Kindle app on my iPad, I could easily look up the flowers and birds he sees, and the geological and local terms he uses. When he writes a lengthy meditation on the art of a painter of the British Downs, I could Google the artist and see examples of his art.

Best of all, by far, I used Google Earth to not only track his path but to see what he saw. When he describes a mountain in Tibet as having three intersecting ridges, I could move around a three dimensional image of the mountain, and also of the valley from which MacFarlane was looking. When he walked across a Scottish Isle, I could track his path around a lake, past a mountain, and across the heath. When he talked about the terraced hillsides outside Ramallah and the Israeli settlements, I could see those, too: the hills circled by ancient terracing, and the subdivision-like streets lined with identical houses and lots under construction.

I'm now going to buy the hardcover version, because this is a book to keep and to re-read. But I highly recommend reading it with the Internet, especially Google Earth, at hand.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book Nov. 23 2012
By Bibi - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I just got back from walking the Camino de Santiago and found this book from a review in The New Yorker. I read the sample chapter and was hooked! I just wish that I'd read it before embarking on my 500 mile/35 day walk! It isn't even about the Camino - instead it is about every walk or trail... for anyone that enjoys walking... whether you are an armchair adventurer or a global wanderer, this is a magical book about the philosophy, magic, myths, geology, and history of walking your Way.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Walking Muse Nov. 30 2012
By W. A. Carpenter - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot is the third book in his trilogy about landscape; it also stands alone as an extended musing about walking old paths. The author recounts walks in England, Scotland, the Middle East, Spain, and Tibet - as well as two accounts of sailing in the Outer Hebrides, which seem a bit out of place in a book about journeying by foot. There are also two chapters devoted to Edward Thomas, an English walker, writer, and poet who died in WWI and who is clearly the author's muse.

These chapters describe how walking is a way to explore both the walker's outer landscape and inner landscape. You can learn about yourself by walking the old paths and the old ways. The author, a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, is obviously both an accomplished walker and a scholar.

This academic background shows itself in the author's erudition. The book is full of interesting words, references to interesting books, and meetings with interesting people. It comes with the usual academic additions that I like in a book - glossary, bibliography, notes, and a really wonderful subject index organized by categories such as birds, maps and map-making, and weather. The only thing I didn't like about this hardcover book is its very odd dust jacket. It is attractive but manufactured in some material that feels very odd in the hands. I finally just took it off the book and then settled down to enjoy my reading.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot Feb. 3 2013
By Joanne K. - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I came across a review of this book and thought it sounded interesting.. It turned out to be fascinating. The language is beautiful, and the author convincingly draws the reader into his premise that a landscape's (and seascape's) past and present can be felt by a thoughtful and aware traveler who takes the time beforehand to learn about the territory to be covered, and is physically in touch with the land paths and sea lanes being travelled. This book truly exemplifies Oliver Wendell Holmes' quote that one's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take Me Along Jan. 13 2013
By Karen A. Charbonneau - Published on
My criteria for giving a book five stars is that during the day I think on what I've read, and look forward to continuing my adventure with the author at the end of day; and the writing must be good. MacFarlane's writing is lyrical and masculine, too. Maps? You don't need maps; he's not writing a guide book for you, but inviting you to come along with him over old and ancient paths. Why would he recommend you walk the treacherous Broomway, where incoming tides over foggy quicksand have drowned hundreds? Simply walk beside him as he attempts it. My favorite treks with him were through England and Scotland, as he relates history, anecdotes and the natural beauty surrounding him. But Palestine and Tibet would have had me at the edge of my seat, if I hadn't been lying back in bed. Sail with him along the ancient water roads through the Hebrides. Meet his adventuresome friends, including Isle of Harris sculptor, Steve Dilworth, whom I did look up on the Internet so I could admire his work. The best writing for me was MacFarlane's description of his ritual walk across the Cairngorm massif in Scotland, south to north, to attend the funeral of his grandfather, a mountaineer. I will be reading his earlier book, Mountains of the Mind, in which his grandfather is featured. He follows the Icknield Way and other paths of England in the footsteps of Edward Thomas,a writer and poet, who was killed during World War I in France. As an American, I was not familiar with Thomas' writings, but found MacFarlane's delving into his life and jaunts interesting, and that he was a friend of Robert Frost, who inspired him to become a poet. This book is full of little surprises. A joyful read.

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