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Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places Paperback – April 1, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Without the usual accretions of academic writing, the author, a respected Harvard architectural and landscape historian, attempts a highly personal narrative, calling for his readers to become more aware of the quickly disappearing world around them. Stilgoe manifests keen observational skills on his diverse, peculiar topics?utility and rail lines, postal service, interstate highways, fences, small-town main streets, and motels. Disappointingly, however, his collection of brief essays fails to deliver an integrated whole. The text, written from the perspective of an anonymous "explorer" bicycling around the country, frequently carries a tone of arrogance despite Stilgoe's veneer of familiarity, and his failure to supply substance and details for many of his intriguing generalizations proves troublesome. In his effort to write an accessible plea, the author delivers part jeremiad, part motivational pep talk, and part how-to guide, with occasional brilliant perceptions such as one countering the assumption that Americans are more visually sophisticated today than in previous generations. However, Stilgoe generally fails to elaborate on human causes within an institutional context for the changes he observes. Not recommended.?Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

<div><div>John R. Stilgoe is Orchard Professor of Landscape History at Harvard University. He is the author of Alongshore; Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene; Borderland: Origins of the American Suburb; and Common Landscape of America, 1540 to 1845. He lives in Norwell, Massachusetts.</div></div> --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (April 1, 1999)
  • ASIN: B001FA23MC
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,763,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book should please anyone who enjoys spending time walking, in-line skating, or bicycling around the margins of the landscape that Americans have crafted (and often later abandoned or forgotten) during the last few centuries. Stilgoe seems to believe that such casual observation is a far rarer pastime than I suspect it is (and perhaps that it should be less a mere pastime than a virtuous calling).
That doubtless accounts for the excess of zeal that I think has crept into his text. Stilgoe is unquestionably right, however, that further inquiry into the little puzzles encountered in these marginal landscapes will reward anyone with a mildly inquisitive bent. Stilgoe himself rewards the reader with insights into the interplay of diverse forces that can be read in the patina of an inhabited landscape (e.g., the less-than-obvious relationship between a townscape of tree-lined streets and an economic base sufficient to support municipal fire-suppression services).
I doubt that Stilgoe was trying to prescribe a program of action to "rescue" or "restore" the landscape, or in fact to do anything but to "regain awareness," as the subtitle puts it.
Should this book be the start for a reader interested in such things? The story that Stilgoe tells about the experience of close observation should make it an accessible beginning. But some readers might wish to begin with one of the other writers and scholars closely associated with observation of the American landscape, e.g.
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By A Customer on July 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A thought-provoking introduction to reading the built environment by close observation. However, Stilgoe's attitude is a bit elitist. The "explorer" in his parlance is vastly superior to us ordinary humans. I don't think as few people as he imagines pay attention to the edges and fringes of highways, strip malls and industrial parks.
The thing that really threw me? He twice mentions "Fragmenties", an invasive introduced plant. Unless fragmenties is a really localized phenomenon - localized to where Stilgoe bicycles only, I think he's referring to Phragmites a native grass gone invasive at least partly due to reduced salinity in salt marshes cut off from the twice daily tidal flooding. So, take what he says with a grain of salt and check other references.
If you want inspiration to go out there and look around in the urban clutter to see what's really there, try One Square Mile on the Atlantic Coast: An Artist's Journal of the New Jersey Shore by John R. Quinn.
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Format: Hardcover
John Stilgoe once again captures the imagination of the reader and encourages us to truly "see", not just "inhabit" the world that lies all around us.
As in his other works, he teaches us that history and archaeology are not just a part of musty museums, but of the every day built environment. There is a history behind everything that we come across in our daily lives and he wants us to take a second as a child might and think about the environment in which we live.
Having had the opportunity to take classes he taught at Harvard, this book enabled me to reenter his world of delicate insight and deep knowledge about what many in our society simply overlook or have forgotten.
If you like pop culture, history, walking down forgotten railroad beds or simply enjoy driving down unknown roads, Stilgoe will capture you.
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By A Customer on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Good introduction book on observing the world around us. It seems like there should be so much more written on this topic.
I recommend this book although I admit also that the writer's style can get to you sometimes (however, I wouldn't go so far as to say the author is overly pretentious).
Anyway, I also recommend "The Meadowlands" if you are interested in this type of book.
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Format: Hardcover
Though you may get more detailed info on some of the specific subjects covered in this book, the point really is that if you get out on foot or bicycle you can begin to relearn visual acuity. It is not the end all be all guide to the visual landscape but rather a call to arms. Most people wonder at the keen perception demonstrated by observers in previous centuries, Stilgoe spells out why we have lost this and how we may regain it. His chapters are inticements and not academic. For proof of Stilgoe's total mastery of landscape history read any of his previous works. I can't think of a similar book on the market today that addresses the urban landcsape, the everyday and does not romanticize the wilderness "preserves" of the park service. Excellent. Don't read it unless you plan to get off your butt.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The fact that Stilgoe is a Harvard professor led me to presume that this book would have some factual content, in addition to the obvious exhortation to dreamily explore the built environment. This is not the case. The book is a rambling series of idle musings on the theme of "I wonder", with precious little information to substantiate or give grounding to questions of "the explorer." The narrative style is a huge annoyance too, with nearly every sentence outlining the putative thoughts going through the mind of " the explorer," Stilgoe's galling device for illuminating questions, often silly questions, about the woefully under-examined "outside." One final complaint concerns Stilgoe's self-aggrandizing description of his previous students' countless testimonials as to his tremendous positive influence on their perception and exploration of the world around them. Save it for the tenure committee, Prof. Stilgoe - not really appropriate here. If you're looking for a starting point in reading about the ordinary landscape, I'd start with J.B. Jackson's "Discovering the Vernacular Landscape" and skip this book entirely. Not recommended.
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