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On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes Hardcover – January 8, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It is charming to take a walk with Horowitz. Engaging, amusing, and relatable, the psychology professor guides readers through 11 urban walks in the company of various experts. Beyond simply looking, this is about what makes up the world around us and the foundations of human perception. Horowitz brings the same attention to the human brain as she brought to our canine companions in Inside of a Dog (2010). She makes cognitive functioning eminently understandable by unraveling the role expectation plays in limiting what we see. The experts she walks with, from scientists to a toddler and a dog, reveal the underpinnings of a wide range of urban phenomena, such as the uncanny ability of rats to avoid traps. The descriptions of the walks are detailed but not overlong, with just enough information to give a taste of a geologist’s or typographer’s expertise. Even when relying only on your own inexpert eyes, you will look at the world with more attention after reading these fascinating essays, though it’s likely you still won’t be able to find millennia-old worm tracks or recognize the fishlike behavior of pedestrians. --Bridget Thoreson


"Supplemented by recent research in cognitive psychology and biology, her book is an informative and often charming 21st-century Thoreauvian guide on how to transform physical transport into mental and sensory transportation -- and 'be here now.'"
- Glenn C. Altschuler, The Oregonian

"In this elegant, entertaining book, Horowitz exhorts readers to learn, or to re-learn, how to see what we pass as we walk through our cities and towns."
- Boston Globe

“Horowitz writes like a poet, thinks like a scientist, and ventures like an explorer. Her book will have you looking in a new way at the world around you, and make you glad you did.” (Susan Orlean Rin Tin Tin)

"These eleven exquisite, clever and and tenderly recounted small adventures remind me of something I learned back when I lived in India: the need to perceive "the scent behind the smell." Alexandra Horowitz has attempted much the same thing with her eyes - much aided by the seeing of others - and has in consequence become increasingly successful in perceiving what one might call "the sight behind the scene." Her resulting epiphanies are available to us all, if we take care to learn from her, in this lovely book, just how it is done." (Simon Winchester author of The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa)

"Alexandra Horowitz's new book is as wonderful as her first. Inside of a Dog helped us to imagine the worlds of our beagles, collies, greyhounds and mutts. On Looking teaches us that the world is just as rich, strange and charmed when seen through the eyes of our local artists, doctors, architects and toddlers. On Looking also teaches us that Alexandra Horowitz is a writer to watch." (Jonathan Weiner author of Beak of the Finch and Long for this World)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439191255
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439191255
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alexandra Horowitz is the author of the #1 New York Times best-selling "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know". She teaches psychology, animal behavior, and canine cognition at Barnard College, Columbia University. In New York City, Alexandra walks with her husband, the writer Ammon Shea, her son, and two large, non-heeling dogs.

Customer Reviews

You can bet I'm going to invite some of them to walk out loud with me very soon.
Patrece Powers
There was too much about the author herself, which seriously detracts from the main idea of the book.
This book as well as the previous were read in one day because I could not put the book down!
Andrew L. Yee Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By George M on January 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
At first glance, you might think that this book's premise is a bit of a stretch. But in taking walks with experts in sociology and geology, a physician, a sound designer, and even the artist Maira Kalman, Horowitz brings a sense of wonder to the simple act of observation and perception. She gives cognitive science a good name--and more importantly, she makes it fun.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on May 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A blurb on the back of my book quotes Susan Orlean as saying: "Horowitz writes like a poet, thinks like a scientist .....". I would agree, but cannot get enthusiastic about this book. The poetry is not pervasive enough to consistently enliven what is often dull. The science rarely answer questions a walker already has. It can be stimulating, but if the science were extracted, it would add up to one author's survey of popular science - in that format the reader could more easily skip sections based on interest or previous exposure, and perhaps the articles would go into more depth.

Horowitz is very likable, and I did learn some interesting things. Chapters I particularly enjoyed were walking with a toddler, walking with a geologist (although this chapter really suffered from a lack of pictures), and walking with a blind person. Perhaps all parents with young children should read the toddler chapter. The chapter on urban animals covered a subject I am deeply interested in but it was disappointing - perhaps the walk should have been done at night, when we learn encounters would have been more likely, and perhaps there is just not enough known (Horowitz is told by her expert that there is surprisingly little known about wild rats, for example). One question which was answered: pigeons bob their heads to gain depth perception, compensating for a physiological lack; but how do they find enough to eat, when they spend so much time pecking at sidewalks which have no apparent food spillage?

The material on walking in crowds is better read in the original (a chapter or two in William H. Whyte's "City: Rediscovering the Center"). I have to disagree with Alexandra's conclusion that walkers with mobile phones are a particular problem: it is counter intuitive, but they seem to look up frequently enough, and make enough early adjustments, so that even mild collisions seem very rare.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By by Dustin on February 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A woman walks around New York with strangers: looking for people with unhealthy gaits, turning over leaves to find parasitized flies, and critiquing unseemly awning lettering. Alexandra Horowitz takes walks with both experts--among them a geologist and a sound engineer--and with amateurs--among them her nineteen month-old son and a blind woman--to see her everyday world with new eyes.

In the narrative Horowitz states, "Sometimes we see least the things we see most." Through her walks the author brings attention to our inattention. In our world of social networking, we are often not present in the spaces we move through. Horowitz uses the expertise of her co-strollers to illustrate the wisdom of age-old maxims about being aware and living in the present moment. Some passages contain excellent scientific descriptions, such as why birds sing at dawn, and then Horowitz effortlessly turns to vivid prose that captures the imagery and simple beauty of the flight of pigeons.

In On Looking, Horowitz wrote a narrative that reads like Malcolm Gladwell infused with eastern philosophy. Although everyone could benefit from the lessons Horowitz presents, the book will best serve those readers perceptive enough to realize their current lack of perception.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By I Know What You Should Read on January 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The idea is a good one, but the execution is terrible.

The book is subtitled “Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.” Even loosely defined, simply being a dog or a youngster or blind does not make you an expert. I’m sorry.

But the biggest problem is simply that Horowitz is annoying . . . and she goes on all the walks.

I have a few specific beefs with her. First, she’s condescending. She has an annoying habit of using words and defining them in the text (like “I was seeing a glimmer of animism in my son—the attribution of life to the inanimate,” and “My son’s neophilia—love of the new . . .”).

Second, she is extremely self-centered. The point of the book as presented was for Horowitz to gain new and interesting perspectives on her everyday walk. Unfortunately, too much of the book is focused on her own observations and research. And that wasn’t nearly as interesting as the information and observations provided by the experts.

Third and finally, she is untrustworthy. Remember when Oprah got so pissed at James Frey when The Smoking Gun report came out revealing that A Million Little Pieces wasn’t the memoir he claimed it was? That’s because you have to be able to trust your non-fiction author (whereas, when reading fiction, you know that you have the potential to be tricked by an unreliable narrator).

Horowitz got some things straight-up wrong, so I couldn’t trust her. Here’s an example: she talks about Tetris at one point, describing the “Tetris Effect”: "Four simple shapes floated down from the top of the screen, and all one had to do was rotate them and send them scurrying to the left or right in an attempt to fill all the bins at the bottom of the screen before the shape landed, clumsily, on its edge." The problem?
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