The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism Paperback – Nov 3 2009
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"A leisurely, entirely delightful ramble through the history and lore of walking."
-"Washington Post Book Review"
"This book is no mere miscellany, but the story of a man's love affair with the oldest means of locomotion: one foot in front of the other..."
"Perfect for the armchair walker."
-"The New York Times Book Review"
"Anyone who enjoys excellent nonfiction should enjoy."
?A leisurely, entirely delightful ramble through the history and lore of walking.?
?"Washington Post Book Review"
?This book is no mere miscellany, but the story of a man's love affair with the oldest means of locomotion: one foot in front of the other
?Perfect for the armchair walker.?
?"The New York Times Book Review"
?Anyone who enjoys excellent nonfiction should enjoy.?
About the Author
Geoff Nicholson is the author of twenty books, including Sex Collectors, Hunters and Gatherers, The Food Chain, and Bleeding London, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. He divides his time between Los Angeles and London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you have about four free hours available you could either read this book or go for an extended walk. Provided your surroundings are sufficiently inviting and it is a pleasant day, you may prefer the walk.
Nicholson is not promoting walking as a social cause. He believes we cannot expect grand changes in people's willingness to walk when they have more convenient alternatives available. He says that he himself walks not because it is environmentally correct, but because it keeps him sane and it helps him write.
The book is a ramble, a wandering. Do not expect systematic accounts of the history, science, philosophy, or literature of pedestrianism, as the subtitle suggests. Instead, what you will get is a potpourri of ruminations, many only tangentially related to walking, held together only by the thread of Nicholson's own idiosyncratic preoccupations.
Fortunately, Nicholson seems to be an interesting fellow, one you might want to accompany on a good walk. His polished and lightly humorous essay style keeps things moving.
Some of the author's material comes from his own walks. I found his chapter on walking in Los Angles more compelling than those on New York and London, perhaps partly because walking in Los Angeles is not an activity that is often commended. It will help sustain your interest if you are at least vaguely familiar with his featured locations.
Nicholson also draws from literature, film, music, photography, and painting. A few of his choices may enhance your understanding or appreciation for walking; most likely will not. He writes in an ironic tone about several concept art endeavors that have involved walking, in some cases only marginally, at best.
There is a chapter on the accomplishments of several notable obsessive walkers, the kind whose achievements we might read about in a book of world records (I think it is to Nicholson's credit that he resisted entitling this chapter "Walking Feats"). Unless you are quite well-versed in this history of eccentric walkers already, you will probably be amused or astounded (or both) by at least a few of them.
The book includes a possibly useful bibliography. Nicholson provides the web address if you would like to view over 60 photos (of people, mostly) he has taken on his walks.
Starting with the nature of the word "walk" itself, and ending with significant journeys of all kinds (from epic walks across Africa and walking on the moon to how Albert Speer kept himself sane during his years in prison by pacing off the distance between Berlin and Heidleberg), Nicholson's book is a joy to read. It is crammed full of the kind of anecdotes and tales that make your eyes open wider (did you know that an avid walker discovered the idea behind Velcro because of his walks?) and sometimes cause you to laugh out loud. He points to his favorite "walking songs" (and notes that Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way' is really about sex, not walking), and his favorite walks in movies (Fred Astaire strolling through Paris in Funny Face makes the grade, for instance.) Street photography and psychogeography come in for their share of attention, too. His knowledge feels encylopaediac, but he never sounds pompous. Rather, the reader ends up feeling Nicholson's urge is to share these tidbits to spread the enjoyment around rather than to show off.
Particularly intriguing is the lost art of competitive pedestrianism, a phenomeonon of the 18th and 19th centuries during which its practitioners undertook such feats as walking one mile an hour (and only one mile each hour) for a thousand straight hours. Nicholson explores these characters and then tries his own 15-hour challenge in the English countryside, despite fearing that his neighbors may summon the police or conclude he is insane.
Ultimately, Nicholson does draw some kind of lesson out of his ruminations on walking; that it is a kind of metaphor for life itself. "There'll be missteps and stumbles, journeys into dead ends; the reluctant retracing of your steps. And you have to tell yourself that's just fine, that it's a necessary and not wholly unenjoyable, part of the process. It's an exploration." But as with any good walk, this unsurprising revelation isn't the point -- it's all about the journey. And Nicholson has taken us on a delightful one.
Overall, one of the best in what I think of as the "Who Knew?" genre, books devoted to quirky subjects that people didn't even know they were interested in until they read them.
Walking in L.A., walking in New York City, and walking in London are also covered. Beyond that, almost any walking topic you can imagine, such as walking on the moon or labyrinth walking, are also touched on.
This may all sound rather dull but it isn't. Nicholson has a lively writing style, though he does get bogged down in a few places. This book is quite fun.