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On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation Kindle Edition

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Length: 325 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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


"Elegant and entertaining." (Boston Globe)

"Alexandra Horowitz does more than open our eyes in On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. She opens our hearts and minds, too, gently awakening us to a world — in fact, many worlds — we've been missing...The pages hum and shine as a result, warmly reflecting the author's genuine enthusiasm for her work and its revelations." (USA Today)

"A refreshing celebration of the rewards of trying to see the world through the eyes of others.” (Chicago Tribune)

"Insightful." (Publishers Weekly)

“Engaging, amusing, and relatable…”


“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 author of 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)

"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)

“Undoubtedly one of the most stimulating books of the year, if not the decade, and the most enchanting thing I’ve read in ages.” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings)

Product Details

  • File Size: 7284 KB
  • Print Length: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Publication Date: January 8, 2013
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008J4N5ZQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,789 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Greg 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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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By traveler on January 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
On Looking is a very intelligently written book. There is a saying that 'some people see more in a walk around the block then others see in a trip around the world'. This book reminds us that for the most part we see only what we expect to see. That is why it is so easy to hide something in plain view! It also reminds us that for the most part we sleep walk through our day - which isn't always a bad thing.
The author takes walks with experts in geology or sound production or insects and finds that these people are aware of things that she is not - not unless they point them out to her.
The world is full of sights, sounds, smells, textures, spaces, and invisible winds just to name a few. This books allows one to sample some of the unseen, unheard, un-felt magnificence the outside world has to offer most of all because it reminds us that MORE is OUT THERE!
This book is interesting and well written. The only dull walk the author takes us on is the first one where she does a solo trip around the block. After that the book is quite special! Enjoy!
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Jackson on November 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world," said Schopenhauer. So what's the cure? It could have been this book. The author walks with experts and ordinary people who have a variety of perspectives to see what they notice and how they perceive an urban landscape.

Unfortunately, the promise of the book wasn't fulfilled. For example, Ms. Horowitz walks with a doctor who claims to be able to give a medical diagnosis of a stranger based on that person's physical appearance, gait, and other attributes.

But Ms. Horowitz only reports the doctor's assessment of two pedestrians: one who needs a hip replacement and another who may have an unspecified genetic problem. Instead of focusing on her walking companion and his observations, the author writes about mirror neurons in monkeys, a certain "look" that she feels is characteristic of Philadelphians, and a previous walk she took with a physical therapist. The chapter on urban wildlife was equally disappointing.

Moreover the book is repetitious. In describing the walk she took with a blind woman Ms. Horowitz describes the hazards of pedestrians chatting on their cell phones SEVEN different times.

I did learn a few things, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. Three stars.
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20 of 22 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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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Written with a great sense of humor and a huge dose of curiosity, I enjoyed this book immensely. Purchased with a trip to NYC in mind (the site of the author's "Onlooking"), I am enjoying the approach immediately in my own home and neighborhoods!
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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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