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Wanderlust: A History of Walking Paperback – January, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (January 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844675580
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844675586
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #683,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
When I walk, which is often, I like the serendipity of the experience, the unknown that meets me, the new perspective that greets me, the unexpected that grows from the experience. Reading this book has been like a walk.
At times I was enthused at what I read (on how Las Vegas is becoming more of a walker's world). At times I was encumbered with laborious literary chronicling of walkers and walking (the writings of Rousseau and Wordsworth). At times I was ecstatic with a simple relationship (the mind at three miles per hour). At times I was educated (the role of walking in the Paris revolutions). And at times I was given a new perspective (how women have dealt with the male's use of walking to control them).
While not quite knowing what to expect when I first saw this book, I thought it would be a great read because a history of something so common as walking could be so interesting. And this book is that. The author looks at the relationship between walking and thinking, between walking and culture, between walking and history, between walking and nature. And she delves into the interplay between walking and how the body uses it to jar the imagination and creativity to enable the walker to see the world around her in a different way.
The book drags at parts because I don't have a particular interest in that subject, just like at times a walk will become tedious. But, overall, this book is much like a walk: a discovery by accident.
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Format: Hardcover
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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