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Wanderlust: A History of Walking [Hardcover]

by Rebecca Solnit
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 10, 2000 0670882097 978-0670882090 First Edition
A unique and captivating exploration of the cultural, psychological, and creative uses of walking, from "a writer of startling freshness and precision" (The New York Times Book Review)

What does it mean to be out walking in the world, whether in a landscape or a metropolis, on a pilgrimage or a protest march? In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit draws together many histories--of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores--to create a portrait of the range of possibilities for this most basic act. Arguing that walking as history means walking for pleasure and for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit homes in on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece to the poets of the Romantic Age, from the perambulations of the Surrealists to the ascents of mountaineers.

The first general history of walking, Solnit's book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in an ever-more automobile-dependent and accelerated world. With delightful profiles of some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction--from Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Rousseau to Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet to Andre Breton's Nadja--Wanderlust offers a provocative examination of the interplay between the body, the imagination, and the world around the walker.

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670882097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670882090
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #720,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely idea April 24, 2000
This book fulfils that vital function of art to make you re-evaluate something that might have seemed simple and ordinary. For a few days after reading this book, I could not stop thinking about walking - its history, implications, value etc. For my taste, I would have wanted the author to tell me more about what she thought of walking, rather than always relying on great names (Wordsworth, Benjamin, Long etc); but I love the idea of the book and the personality of the author that comes through - radical, humane, witty, sometimes wonderfully dandyish, at other times, impassioned and serious.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Other reviewers lost their way January 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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Solnit's "history of walking" is a surprising excursion in a vast and unsystematised subject area. Indeed, like eating and playing, walking is one of these emblematic human activities that are invested with wildly different cultural meanings. I picked up the book because I am an avid walker and mountaineer and, as I learned, an adherent to the British walking tour ethos. For me there is something fundamentally cleansing, wholesome and right about spending time in the great outdoors. However, this smug romanticism, this adhering to an "established religion for the middle class" is sternly criticised by the author of this book.

For Solnit walking is a quintessentially political activity. And the politics play out at different levels. First, walking is a bulwark against the erosion of the mind by the incessant contemporary rethoric of efficiency and functionality. The walker exposes herself to the accidental, the unexpected, the random and unscreened, and by doing so rebels against the speed and alienation endemic in our postindustrial world. Second, walking is also a reclamation of a physical and public space that is increasingly suburbanised and privatised. Solnit discusses how the early 20th century city was an arena for aesthetic experimentation and political agitation. Walkers and flaneurs, starting with De Quincey in London and Baudelaire in Paris, experimented with an urban underground culture suffused with eroticism and desire. Protest marchers all over the world and throughout the ages have relied on the democratic functions of the street to make their voices heard. Today, the scope for these kinds of trespasses are increasingly rare due to encroaching private property rights and a soulless, panoptic urban architecture.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Enjoyed Solnit's Perspective December 14, 2000
By A Customer
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. Although I have always enjoyed walking myself Solnit helped me understand some of the more philosophical reasons why. Contrary to the views of other reviewers Solnit does include her own commentary such as her experience on the Chimayo pilgrimage and as a woman walking down the streets of her own neighborhood in San Francisco. One may say Why not read the people Solnit quotes rather than Wanderlust, but the fact is Wanderlust increased my exposure to such works and helped me understand their context. Her perspective on the history of the freedom to walk is truly eye-opening; we take it for granted that these days we can pretty much walk anywhere we want to.
But, it's really an extended essay.
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230 of 296 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Walk to Forget December 5, 2007
Let me preface this somewhat negative review by stating that I come from a family of walking enthusiasts and I myself am an avid collector of all literature dealing with personal locomotion. I must therefore judge this effort via comparison to the great pantheon of walking literature and not merely as an isolated effort. If you are a walking neophyte this book may well be the catalyst that sparks your interest for further study but I would not suggest this work as a thorough or exhaustive study of two legged ambulation. Indeed, this scant 335 page work rarely delves beyond walking and completely fails to examine other forms of personal transport such as tottering, strolling, or even waddling. It must therefore suffer in comparison to the exquisite detail in Sarah Bernhardt's "One leg too few: A history of hopping", in which the author painstakingly details and diagrams the kinetics achieved by Anthony Cumia, the only one legged person capable of moseying. It also suffers from a very sparse history of walking and does not cover any of the critical walking related achievements from our rich colonial times. I believe that most readers will be greatly displeased to know that no mention is made of Margaret Brent's trailblazing non-stop saunter from Philadelphia to Boston or the ensuing legal trials that resulted in her conviction and lengthy incarceration for inciting civil unrest by "walking in a salacious and wanton manner". While most historical treatises on American women's suffragist movements make no mention of the early campaigners for equal walking rights I certainly expect more from a novel claiming to be a "History of Walking". I know that the casual reader may take offense to such detailed scrutiny but it is a great sense of passion for the subject which guides my critical eye.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars One foot after the other
I like the writing and the concept of this book but found it too pedestrian to engage me for long.
Published 2 months ago by Professor Cassandra Pybus
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a history, but a sense of "being" in walking
Solnit has just become a favorite author of mine. She writes with a compelling intertextualization that includes philosophy and history. Read more
Published 4 months ago by ishouldbepainting
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cornucopia of Delights
Rebecca Solnit is a marvel. In this book about walking, what it means to walk, changing views about walking, different kinds of walking, she has created a beautiful weaving... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Lady Fancifull
5.0 out of 5 stars Now I know why I love walking
The free writing style fits the content well. As a compulsive walker, she speaks to what moves me to move, As an advocate for active transportation, it speaks to the reason to... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Terry Preston
3.0 out of 5 stars Not reliable about facts
The book is enjoyable, but has early signs of being untrustworthy. The author wants to be elegiac and exquisite, but on page 7 (the 5th page of text), in describing a walk through... Read more
Published 15 months ago by M. P. Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wanderlust: A History of Walking
To read Solnit is to be intertwined with your lover after an afternoon tryst. You see the sunshine through the open window and you know there is no place you would rather be.
Published on April 10, 2012 by Joe F
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven
I walk every day for pleasure and had high hopes for this book. However, it just kind of meandered from place to place. Read more
Published on March 27, 2012 by C. Hurwitz
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanders Along
Lots to ponder in this book. From the evolutionary beginnings a few million years ago--to the ultimate death of the walking lifestyle with the creation of the automobile dependent... Read more
Published on October 2, 2011 by Allan Stellar
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
I bought it for my friend and she loves it.
She said it is a great book and helps her for painting.
Published on February 5, 2011 by Ick Soo Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
This book expounds upon something I've discovered over the years: that my creative ideas tend to come more easily while walking. Read more
Published on August 14, 2010 by Sean S. Hoskins
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