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Wanderlust: A History of Walking [Paperback]

Rebecca Solnit
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 7 2001
Drawing together many histories-of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores-Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers. She profiles some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction-from Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet to Andre Breton's Nadja-finding a profound relationship between walking and thinking and walking and culture. Solnit argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in our ever more car-dependent and accelerated world.

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The ability to walk on two legs over long distances distinguishes Homo sapiens from other primates, and indeed from every other species on earth. That ability has also yielded some of the best creative work of our species: the lyrical ballads of the English romantic poets, composed on long walks over hill and dale; the speculations of the peripatetic philosophers; the meditations of footloose Chinese and Japanese poets; the exhortations of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Rebecca Solnit, a thoughtful writer and spirited walker, takes her readers on a leisurely journey through the prehistory, history, and natural history of bipedal motion. Walking, she observes, affords its practitioners an immediate reward--the ability to observe the world at a relaxed gait, one that allows us to take in sights, sounds, and smells that we might otherwise pass by. It provides a vehicle for much-needed solitude and private thought. For the health-minded, walking affords a low-impact and usually pleasant way of shedding a few pounds and stretching a few muscles. It is an essential part of the human adventure--and one that has, until now, been too little documented.

Written in a time when landscapes and cities alike are designed to accommodate automobiles and not pedestrians, Solnit's extraordinary book is an enticement to lace up shoes and set out on an aimless, meditative stroll of one's own. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Walking, as Thoreau said and Solnit elegantly demonstrates, inevitably leads to other subjects. This pleasing and enlightening history of pedestrianism unfolds like a walking conversation with a particularly well-informed companion with wide-ranging interests. Walking, says Solnit (Savage Dreams; A Book of Migrations), is the state in which the mind, the body and the world are aligned; thus she begins with the long historical association between walking and philosophizing. She briefly looks at the fossil evidence of human evolution, pointing to the ability to move upright on two legs as the very characteristic that separated humans from the other beasts and has allowed us to dominate them. She looks at pilgrims, poets, streetwalkers and demonstrators, and ends up, surprisingly, in Las Vegas--or maybe not so surprisingly in that city of tourists, since "Tourism itself is one of the last major outposts of walking." Inevitably, as these words suggest, Solnit's focus isn't pedestrianism's past but its prognosis--the way in which the culture of walking has evolved out of the disembodiment of everyday life resulting from "automobilization and suburbanization." Familiar as that message sounds, Solnit delivers it without the usual ecological and ideological pieties. Her book captures, in the ease and cadences of its prose, the rhythms of a good walk. The relationship between walking and thought and its expression in words is the underlying theme to which she repeatedly returns. "Language is like a road," she writes; "it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read." Agent: Bonnie Nadell. 4-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not pedestrian at all Nov. 28 2001
When I walk, which is often, I like the serendipity of the experience, the unknown that meets me, the new perspective that greets me, the unexpected that grows from the experience. Reading this book has been like a walk.
At times I was enthused at what I read (on how Las Vegas is becoming more of a walker's world). At times I was encumbered with laborious literary chronicling of walkers and walking (the writings of Rousseau and Wordsworth). At times I was ecstatic with a simple relationship (the mind at three miles per hour). At times I was educated (the role of walking in the Paris revolutions). And at times I was given a new perspective (how women have dealt with the male's use of walking to control them).
While not quite knowing what to expect when I first saw this book, I thought it would be a great read because a history of something so common as walking could be so interesting. And this book is that. The author looks at the relationship between walking and thinking, between walking and culture, between walking and history, between walking and nature. And she delves into the interplay between walking and how the body uses it to jar the imagination and creativity to enable the walker to see the world around her in a different way.
The book drags at parts because I don't have a particular interest in that subject, just like at times a walk will become tedious. But, overall, this book is much like a walk: a discovery by accident.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Other reviewers lost their way Jan. 30 2001
The worst that can be said of this piercing inquiry is that the broad forest of walking it depicts -- walking's effects on the pilgrim, the protester, the gawker in Las Vegas; its evolution from garden to countryside to modern city; its relation to writing and thinking itself -- left some readers bumping into the trees, and seeing only stars and not the bigger picture. But the bigger picture is here, laid out in stunning detail (she doesn't just say that labyrinths have made a recent comeback, but describes their makers and impacts in a variety of disciplines(art, garden design, spirituality) and countries, and what it feels like to walk on a replica of the Chartres labyrinth). I cannot recall reading a work that so seamlessly melded personal experience with a broad but profound reading of literature and history. Reminds me of Terry Tempest Williams, and in some of the same terrain. I'm headed back to read Solnit's earlier work "Migrations," about Irish history. I'll bet it's another forest well worth meandering through.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Misnomer Oct. 17 2003
"Wanderlust" is a German word meaning "joy of walking". Nowhere in the book could the joy of walking be found. Solnit creates a thin trail that connects walking with philosophy, politics, revolution, sexism, prostitution, and literature. Her disjointed rambles sidestep the topic with dull, uninteresting anecdotes that dissuaded this reader from turning the pages.
But there are pleasant intervals. The most interesting parts of the book are when Solnit writes of her walking experiences. Her first person narratives draw the reader into a lively cadence when she describes her inner-city walks in San Francisco, her pilgrimage to Chimayo and her people-watching jaunt along the Las Vegas Strip.
Solnit is a gifted writer who is extremely fluent. It's unfortunate that she ambled about unrelated activities and chose the experiences and words of others when she could write much more interestingly about her own walks. As an avid walker, I was disappointed with her book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pilgrimage is a liminal state July 8 2003
The history of walking is unwritten. Walking allows us to be in our bodies in the world. The motions of the mind cannot be traced, but the feet can. The author walks us through an old Nike missile range. She protests with others at a Nevada test site. With Thoreau, Rebecca Solnit is both a poet of nature and a critic of society. Walking as a conscious cultural act begins with Rousseau. Nietzsche turned to solitary walks for recreation. In Rousseau's ideology walking is the emblem of the simple man. Rousseau portrays walking as both an exercise of simplicity and an opportunity for contemplation. Walking encourages a kind of unstructured associative thinking. A lone walker is both present and detached. Kierkegaard found himself in such a state. He proposed that the mind works best when surrounded by distraction. Husserl claimed that by walking we understand our bodies in relationship to the world. Walking upright preceded the development of the large brain in man. The pilgrimage is one of the basic modes of walking. There is a symbiosis between journey and arrival in pilgrimage. The Civil Rights Movement was tempered with the imagery of pilgrimage more than most struggles. The first fund-raising walk, a walkathon for the March of Dimes, began in 1970. On a religious pilgrimage in New Mexico the author encountered a Cadillac with the stations of the cross painted on it. The promenade is a subset of walking. Then there is the customized car and the cruise--low riders.
William and Dorothy Wordsworth were vigorous walkers. Wordsworth and his peers seem to be the founders of a tradition. The English landscape garden asked to be explored. The emphasis on the pictorial and the existence of scenic tourism were invented in the eighteenth century.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the slowest walks you'll ever take...
Getting past the first chapter was extremely difficult and continuing to "walk" through the rest of the book was impossible! Read more
Published on July 25 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Not pedestrian at all
When I walk, which is often, I like the serendipity of the experience, the unknown that meets me, the new perspective that greets me, the unexpected that grows from the experience. Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2001 by Larry S. Bonura
5.0 out of 5 stars Guide book to the restless
When I picked up this book at the local bookstore it was an impulse. But after reading this book i found that it was exactly what I had been looking for. Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2001 by "getknotted83"
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Enjoyed Solnit's Perspective
I found this book to be a fascinating read because of Solnit's writing style and because of her commentary on the subject of walking. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
This looks at walking from a philosophical point of view. There are many viewpoints on something so ordinarily extraordinary but this did not address the questions I had about... Read more
Published on May 9 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars A Clipbook
Eagerly anticipating reading this book, I found myself repelled by an endless pastiche of regurgitated "clippings" from other writers and micro-histories and interesting... Read more
Published on May 4 2000
1.0 out of 5 stars A magpie book
Eagerly anticipating reading this book, I found myself repelled by an endless pastiche of regurgitated "clippings" from other writers and micro-histories and interesting... Read more
Published on May 4 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely idea
This book fulfils that vital function of art to make you re-evaluate something that might have seemed simple and ordinary. Read more
Published on April 24 2000 by Purple Ink
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Outlook
This book made me want to walk accross country. The author makes walking seem exciting and exotic. Our bipedialism makes us superior to our primate cousins on the evolution scale. Read more
Published on April 22 2000 by Emily Barrett
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