Wanderlust: A History of Walking [ WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING ] by Solnit, Rebecca (Author) Jun-01-2001 [ Paperback ] Unknown Binding – 1 Jun 2001
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I read this book with a permanent smile fixed on my face, in delight at the fascinating ideas she unfolds, whilst wearing her extensive research extremely lightly and gracefully.
Its a book you could either devour, cover to cover, or dip into, to explore aspects which particularly fascinate you.
Make sure you read it with a pen/highlighter in hand, as you may feel the need to mark and highlight lots. Her writing is erudite, beautiful and inspired.
The author writes with tremendous enthusiasm on something that many of us take for granted. In the process she draws some deep insights going to the heart of what it is to be bipedal in the world that the human race has created for itself. Parallels are drawn between the ability to walk upright and the evolution of the human intellect. Great philosophers and writers are mentioned who themselves walked as a means of stimulating their ideas and writings. Great thinkers such as Rousseau, Kierkegaard, and writers like William Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen to name but a few of those cited in the book who have walked and thought and wrote. Rebecca Solnit provides rich food for our imagination and understanding of walking in all its forms: from pilgrimage, procession, revolutionary marches and protests, urban street walking, rural walking, mountaineering (vertical walking!), walking as an art form; and more.
Indeed walking is seen as integral to our humanity - a basic 'right' to identify with, and explore our surrounding landscapes and cityscapes. The author identifies the conflict between this right and the 'privatization' of public space, and the spread of suburbia. Walking is the common language that animates our cities and streets, without which they would die.
This is a very personal view of walking, with many deep insights and marvellous quotes. One of my favourites is by the historian G M Trevelyan (1913):
"I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (...) I know that I shall have only to call on my doctors and I shall be well again."
It is gratifying also, that the Scottish Rights of Way Society is acknowledged within the book as being the oldest surviving society contributing to safeguarding the public right of access.
This is a fascinating and thought provoking read, which will challenge whatever assumptions you may have about the subject matter. Expect to negotiate the "meadowlands of your imagination."
A history this book is rich and wide ranging. Yes we do get an almost Chatwin-esque detail of how walking has entered the western consciousness, but we also gain some wonderful insights into both the society of yesterday and today.
Consider just one little fragment: the significance of womens' love of shopping! Apparently, walking to the shops was virtually the only activity which Victorian society felt it appropriate that allowed women to venture out of the home on their own. So 'doing shopping' is about liberation, about revolution and gentle rebellion. Radical walking is certainly a feature of this book.
For me, there is nothing like walking hiking or treking. As Chatwin used to suggest, it is the most natural means of movement and transport. Even Bruce Chatwin at his most fantastical would have been astonished by the scope of this book.
Since Wanderlust's publication I have bought this for several walkers and the first thing they have done after finishing it is to have bought another copy for a friend. If you are a walker then this is an essential text.
But just because this is about walking doesn't mean that this is somehow boring or of a certain nice. Consider some of the Chapter headings. yes they include titles like 'The Legs of William Wordsworth' and 'Of Walking Clubs and Land Wars'. But here there is also 'Paris, or Botanizing on the Ashphalt', 'The Mind at Three Miles an Hour', 'Walking After Midnight: Women, Sex and Public Space' and, lastly, 'Las Vegas, or the Longest Distance Between Two Points'.
This is unique. It is fascinating, authoritative, quirky and entertaining.
If you like walking, over mountains or just strolling after lunch, than this is a book for you. Truly original.
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