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A Field Guide to Getting Lost Hardcover – July 7, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The virtues of being open to new and transformative experiences are rhapsodized but not really illuminated in this discursive and somewhat gauzy set of linked essays. Cultural historian Solnit, an NBCC award winner for River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, allows the subject of getting lost to lead her where it will, from early American captivity narratives to the avant-garde artist Yves Klein. She interlaces personal and familial histories of disorientation and reinvention, writing of her Russian Jewish forebears' arrival in the New World, her experiences driving around the American west and listening to country music, and her youthful immersion in the punk rock demimonde. Unfortunately, the conceit of embracing the unknown is not enough to impart thematic unity to these essays; one piece ties together the author's love affair with a reclusive man, desert fauna, Hitchcock's Vertigo and the blind seer Tiresias in ways that will indeed leave readers feeling lost. Solnit's writing is as abstract and intangible as her subject, veering between oceanic lyricism ("Blue is the color of longing for the distance you never arrive in") and pensées about the limitations of human understanding ("Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map's information is what's left out, the unmapped and unmappable") that seem profound but are actually banal once you think about them.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

This meditation on the pleasures and terrors of getting lost is-as befits its subject-less a coherent argument than a series of peregrinations, leading the reader to unexpected vistas. The word "lost," Solnit informs us, derives from the Old Norse for disbanding an army, and she extrapolates from this the idea of striking "a truce with the wide world." It's the wideness of the world that entices: a map of this deceptively slender volume would include hermit crabs, who live in scavenged shells; marauding conquistadors; an immigrant grandmother committed to an asylum; white frontier children kidnapped by Indians; and Hitchcock's "Vertigo." Solnit imagines a long-distance runner accumulating moments when neither foot is on the ground, "tiny fragments of levitation," and argues, by analogy, that in relinquishing certainty we approach, if only fleetingly, the divine.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034215
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #716,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anna Mills on June 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
The first question is, what is a field guide to getting lost? Field guides help us with finding, not losing or getting lost. We use them to classify the unfamiliar and figure out what surrounds us. They reassure us that the bewildering array of natural phenomena has an underlying order. Solnit's title suggests we might also want our schemas to break down. Can we catalogue the various ways of getting lost as we might catalogue songbirds? The paradox feels whimsical, mocking, alluring. Like the title, the tone of the book will hover between the urge to know and the urge not to know, between rationality and mystery.

In the middle of the first chapter, Solnit gives us a manifesto: "Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction." "Lost," for her, means we lack a narrative for what we are experiencing. Getting lost is a kind of Zen rebirth because "to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty." Getting lost also has connotations of spiritual longing. Solnit titles every other chapter "The Blue of Distance." Blue "represents the spirit, the sky, and water, the immaterial and the remote, so that however tactile ansd close-up it is, it is always about distance and disembodiment." Voila the tone of the book--grand, abstract, sensual, yearning and inexorably aloof.

With a topic like the beauty of longing and loss, it is surprising how rarely Solnit lapses into cliché. Her prose is as smooth and bare as polished stone. It creates the feeling of waking from a dream and encountering the world, dazed and receptive. If Thoreau is the most cerebral of the philosopher-poets and Whitman the most sensual, Rebecca Solnit belongs at the midpoint.
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Format: Hardcover
Solnit's book is as the title suggests--a discursive reflectoin on the many nuances of the idea of 'getting lost.' You find out that 'lost' is from the Norse meaning 'the dispersal of armies,' and that early Renaissance painters use blue to designate distance, that children are better (i.e., less likely to die) at getting lost because they don't rationalize the way adults do--all in just a few pages where the insight garnered is both spun out by the author, but left to the reader to stop and pursue in his/her own reflections. Of the twenty or so books of all genres which I've read in the last few weeks--and of those I will read in the next several I suspect--this book incarnates why I read: erudite, entertaining, entrancing. Solnit's book reaches out toward Wordsworth, Dillard, Thoreau--and the Clash, Plato, Robert Hass. The voice and perspective, though, are her own. The essays here can not be read in great, long gulps; switching metaphors, there is hearty sustenance here--you take in only so much, and you are sated with good things which you must digest before moving on. Side note: whoever edited the book did a disservice--occasional glaring errors, such as 'form' being spelled out 'from' and 'good' repeated a second time in a context where the repetition makes no sense (and when you know the author would have easily used another expression to capture the nuance intended over against using something as clunky as redundancy of such a limited word).
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Format: Hardcover
With a prodigious breadth and fearless depth, she takes the segue to a high art. Anything can be the occasion for connection. Any sentence can break your mind or heart wide open. Her most personal, and my personal favorite. Reading this book makes me feel alive.
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Format: Hardcover
Rebecca Solnit has created what is in my mind what we all seek. Peace. In the notion of accepting that we are all "Lost", and that is where we are meant to be she has captured what the human condition is. Her prose is exceptional and thick. Her attachment to the natural world is a beacon of light in a society that is truly hopelessly lost. Lost from what is real. Brilliant work

Ken Wylie

Calgary Canada
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Format: Paperback
In this ‚field guide’ Rebecca Solnit - activist, poet, philosopher, polymath - ruminates on a question that rankles our solution-obsessed and risk-averse society: how to get lost? At the least to get lost enough to offer yourself the opportunity to discover the truly transformative things in life. The leading question emerged at some point from a Plato dialogue: „How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” Solnit argues that there is no sure-fire method to find an answer to that question. The motto is: school yourself in Keats’ ‚Negative Capability’ to be in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after truth and reason.

Obviously this is not a self-help book, far from it. It is an echo of a most adventurous and idiosyncratic life journey. Solnit merely redraws her own maps, re-opening sore wounds, reassessing facts, revisiting places, revitalizing relationships. In that process possible meanings of ‚getting lost’ are holographically revealed and refracted. Impressive how the narrative doesn’t cease to change register. Seemingly effortlessly it traverses a motley of topographies, human pursuits and intellectual disciplines. The prose is, as always, accessible, limpid and infused with a genuine poetic sensibility. At heart, Solnit is a naturalist. Many of her stories and similes are drawn from the natural world. As, for instance, here where she dwells on our inability to predict the future: „People look into the future and expect that the forces of the present will unfold in a coherent and predictable way, but any examination of the past reveals that the circuitous routes of change are unimaginably strange.
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