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River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004104
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the 1870s, at a racetrack built by railroad baron Leland Stanford, Eadweard Muybridge invented high-speed photography. With his camera, he cut time into fractions of a second and laid it out in slices. Never before had human eyes seen a trotting horse distinctly, and the photographs astounded horsemen and artists, especially when Muybridge set the film in motion and the horse reeled fluidly across the screen. Today it is difficult to understand the pictures' impact, but 2001 NBCC finalist Solnit (As Eve Said to the Serpent) vividly recreates the wonder that greeted those primitive movies. Although she points her lens at Muybridge, her true subject is the perceptual revolution of the 19th century when the railroad, the telegraph and the camera transformed the experience of space and time. English-born Muybridge launched his career in 1867 with scenes of Yosemite and San Francisco. He soon began the experiments with "instantaneous" photography that led to the famous motion studies. Except for its most dramatic moments-the murder of his wife's lover, a suit against Stanford-the photographer's life remains obscure. Insistent on writing a biography nonetheless, Solnit pads the book with an account of workers' strikes, an aside on Victorian geology and other irrelevant details. Left to speculate about Muybridge's inspirations, she attributes much to a head injury resulting from a stagecoach accident. Her claims about Stanford and Muybridge as the progenitors of Silicon Valley and Hollywood are equally unsubstantiated. If the book fails as biography, however, it succeeds as a critical essay on Muybridge's art and a reflection on the meaning of space and time. B&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Cultural historian Solnit, an original and penetrating thinker with a gift for inventive metaphors and syntactical grace whose previous books include Wanderlust (2000), brings her fascination with the American West, photography, and technology's impact on the environment and culture to the story of the man who made motion pictures possible, photographer Eadweard Muybridge. An Englishman turned California bookseller, superb landscape photographer, inventor, murderer (he killed his wife's lover), and pioneer in stop-action photography and the study of animals, including humans, in motion, Muybridge is fascinating and significant, as is his turbulent milieu. Solnit recounts Muybridge's strange life and immensely influential work within the context of the tragic war against Native Americans, and ties his achievements to the world-changing repercussions of photography and the railroads in particular, and industrialization in general. Her exhilarating argument leads her to declare that California, home of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, is the true capital of modernism, and to claim that we haven't even begun to come to terms with its legacy: our estrangement from nature and utter immersion in the mesmerizing "river of shadows," the endless stream of images generated via film, video, and computer. Masterly and creative, Solnit's far-roaming synthesis is as unsettling as it is compelling. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

San Francisco writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of thirteen books about art, landscape, community, ecology, politics, hope, and memory. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she has worked with Native American land rights, antinuclear, human rights, antiwar and other issues as an activist and journalist.

Her new book is a departure from the previous 12 solo projects, a tall book of 22 colorful maps and 19 essays titled Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, made with 27 artists, writers, and cartographers.

She shops regularly at Amazon for books she can't get at her local independent bookstores, but she loves the local independents, frequents them constantly, particularly the Green Arcade and City Lights. She is very grateful to her readers, for writers are nothing without readers and books are dormant treasures that come alive when they're open and read; they live inside your head....

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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So read this book, you'll enjoy it, and maybe learn a bit too.
Harold Davis
Rebecca Solnit is an interesting character aside from her accessibility and easy readable style.
Larry Darnell
This is a splendid book, intelligent,stimulating, the best kind of cultural history.
Naomi Diamant

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Everyone knows about the inventions of such men as Edison and Marconi, the sorts of inventions that truly brought us to the modern age. It sounds like a stretch to claim that the man who definitively answered the question of whether a trotting horse ever completely leaves the ground also changed the world. However, Rebecca Solnit has written an original biography of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, _River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West_ (Viking) which centers on how Muybridge, by splitting motion into split-second bits, changed the nature of our perception of time and space in a way that brought us inevitably to Hollywood and to Silicon Valley. She writes, "Muybridge was a doorway, a pivot between that old world and ours, and to follow him is to follow the choices that got us here." As biography, the book is inevitably thin. Muybridge kept no journals and there are few letters, and details about his remarkable life are hard to come by; the basics, of course, are here. Solnit says, "Most of what is known about Muybridge makes him seem a hollow conduit for his work, with only a few vain remarks to personalize the prodigal accomplishments." Rather than biography, as a series of essays on the importance of his work, the book is original and fun.
Muybridge's life and work are inextricably bound with the brand-new state of California, but he was born in 1830 over a family shop in England, in Kingston-upon-Thames. He lit out for San Francisco, where he worked as a bookseller. He made a name for himself in photography, however, which was a relatively new and demanding art. He was among the first to photograph the wilderness of Yosemite, using huge plates for images that are still dramatic.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Rebecca Solnit has created a provocative masterpiece! This is not a simple biography about one of the great innovators of the field of photography. It is a richly, intellectually layered work that explores the big ideas of time and our relationship to it; the fusion of politics, science and industry in the 19th century; and links today's Silicon West to what we call the Wild West of our past. She possesses exceptional writing skills. This is book well worth reading by those seeking inspiration to invent the future, or for those who wish insight into the concept of progress.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By And You May Find Yourself on August 31, 2005
Format: Paperback
Rebecca Solnit achieves two things in this book. First, she gives us a vivid portrait of a pioneer photographer, despite the paucity of biographical detail available to her, and spells out the significance of his achievement. Secondly, she evokes the perceptual universe of the 19th century. Solnit encourages us to imagine what it must have been like to see for the first time that which is too fast for the eye to discern (such as the pattern of water droplets in Muybridge's motion studies); or to travel for the first time at a speed that removes the traveller from her surroundings (train travel); or to receive news of an event as it happens (the telegraphic announcement of the transcontinental railroad link).

A suggestion for Ms Solnit (or her publisher/agent): how about taking on a history of noise? Between Edison's mechanical reproduction of sound, the internal combustion engine and industry, I'd wager that our age is just as different acoustically from the early 19th century as it is visually.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Appelbaum on May 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
Like many people, I had seen Muybridge's motion studies before, but had never considered the man behind the pictures. Solnit presents a compelling portrait of a man who is at the same time probably certifiably nuts, a genius years ahead of his time, a lousy husband and father, and a murderer. As Solnit points out, his groundbreaking work was really the basis for motion pictures and much of other technology we take for granted today.
I took this book with me on an overnight flight to Brazil and compulsively read it cover to cover while I should have been sleeping.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 1, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wasn't especially interested in Muybridge, but this book is a good deal more than that. Though not stinting on detail, Solnit's writing and intellectual abilities provide a grasp of the transformations of time and space that occurred in the past century and a half; she addresses, and conquers, the challenges of making another age vivid and profound as has no book I've yet encountered. "She writes like an angel," one critic said, and it's quite true; through her supple and sensitive prose she reflects on Muybridge's life and times, examining them from every angle, and in so doing gives a clinic in how history of any kind may be most richly approached.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ravel on July 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Certainly much more than a biography, this book on Muybridge is full of other subjects. Solnit angle on time is quite special, as it comes back again and again. We tend to forget how everythig has thoroughly changed since the victorian era. This book confronts our acquired attitudes and what we take for granted today.

It is always a surprise and an experience to read on a subject and find much more on the way.

This book is a mind expander.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ImageMD VINE VOICE on January 9, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Few authors have tied together the many facets of the post civil war, pre-modern West as well as Rebecca Solnit. Her literary vehicle is a man as strange as his name, Eadweard Muybridge. Of course you can also read this book to learn about the early days of photography and the technology which preceeds motion pictures. For either reason this is an excellent biography and will serve the inteerests of many readers.
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