on 18 November 2003
This book is rather humbly subtitled a history of walking. But it is much more than that, this is a wonderful work of philosophy, imagination and wonder.
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.
on 4 October 2009
I have always enjoyed walking: I walk to work every morning and back home in the evening, I adore walking in the mountains and the outdoors in general, when we still had a dog I used to take him out for a walk twice a day, ... but somehow, I never gave this a second thought. After all, what could be more natural for 'bipedal mammals' such as ourselves than to walk? But Rebecca Solnit's wonderful book utterly convinced me that there's loads to be said about walking. In the very first chapter of 'Moby-Dick', Melville claims that 'meditation and water are wedded for ever.' Well, I am now convinced (or perhaps I should say 'have become conscious of the fact') that walking can claim the very same.
'Wanderlust' was a real eye-opener to me. Solnit covers a myriad different aspects of the history of walking: I discovered how the act of walking can express dozens of different things and serve dozens of different purposes, how the meaning attributed to walking changed over time and differs from one nation to the other, how modern cities are designed to accommodate primarily cars instead of people (people walking, that is), and loads of other things. I never imagined how so simple an act could have such a deep connection to the very essence of being human.
Clearly, Solnit has done her research thoroughly, and knows her subject in and out. On the upside: what you get is an astonishingly wide and knowledgeable discussion of walking in every shape, colour and texture. The downside (perhaps logically) is that this is no easy reading: the language is, at times, very learned, and you need to keep your wits about you when reading about people 'less acculturated to the northern European romantic tradition' or 'the spatial and sensual engagement with the terrain'. However, that is a minor quip of mine, and undoubtedly largely due to the fact that I am not nor ever will be a native speaker of English.
All in all, a very good book, one of the kind that suddenly gives you completely new insights into what was until then just an everyday act. Heartily recommended!
on 9 September 2009
Where can one start in reviewing this excellent, wide-ranging, and fresh perspective on something as basic as walking?
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."
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 together of all sorts of topics, from evolutionary development - which came first, being bipedal, or cognition; the development of gardens, and what that said about European society; literature, the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement; reading the landscape as an artwork; womens' freedom to walk; the sexualising of walking - streetwalkers; the spirituality of walking - pilgrimages, labyrinths. And more. Much more.
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.
on 19 November 2015
Brilliant read. Solnit weaves together huge amounts of historical and cultural research with warm relevant anecdote to create this very enjoyable read. I've given to several others as a gift. The joy of walking without leaving the warmth of the sofa.
on 12 February 2013
I cannot believe the one star that someone has given this book. They clearly have no imagination or understanding of walking, mindfulness and how lazy our society has become, this book is brilliant - I even bought it for my brother for his birthday after already purchasing my own copy. Interwoven with history and thought provoking writing - makes you want to go off walking alone with no headphones, mobiles,or anyone yapping to you - get back to nature instead of sitting on your arse thinking about going outside and complaining there is nothing on tv. I think the one star review is ridiculous
on 8 April 2016
I love walking, but I've never read an awful lot about it. I just do it. I've seen Solnit's name come up quite a lot in the small amount of walking literature I have read and so decided to read her work, which I understood to be a collection of essays on the subject of walking.
I must note that the editors put in a lovely touch. The book is printed in fairly small print, so the reader is forced to take their time, almost squinting at the page, in order to read. This slows the reader and evokes the slowing to a walking pace from the rush of everyday life. At the bottom of every page there is a quote in some way related to walking. But they are not restricted to a single page, some run over for a few pages, as they only include one per page, in what looks like an old fashioned share price ticker. So as you read the text, underneath it is a steady stream of words of beauty that evoke the feeling of walking by a river, with the words flowing like the water.
What of the content of the book?
Solnit’s work covers a huge range of subjects, which one might not expect for a book about walking, but it is a fascinating and enlightening work, written with prose of the highest calibre. She covers the romantic poets (in particular Wordsworth), the peripatetic philosophers, urbanisation, the flaneurs of Paris, walking as a leisure activity, as an act of protest (e.g. through Reclaim The Streets), an act of pilgrimage, as art and a whole host of other things. It is so wide-ranging, it’s quite staggering that one person could so confidently and adroitly write with such wit and grace on these, intertwined with her own reflections on some personal encounters while walking in the western United States.
This may all sound rather gushing, as though I had lost all my critical senses, but let me assure you that such high praise is well deserved. From page to page, one has (in the proper sense of the word) an apocalypse, an unveiling of a world we may have been faintly aware was there, but which is revealed to us now in splendid glory. I thought I liked walking and am generally regarded as “a walker” but I can see that I have had such a narrow definition that it seems hardly anyone can be. My walking is restricted to a little urban travel when I have the time, some long distance paths in sunny weather and the occasional protest.
In reading through the book, there are some paths we wander down several times. The one most frequently trod is the one marked ‘social history’, but there are other than are near parallel such as ‘politics’ and ‘culture’, while at times we may go off in other directions entirely. Yet with this range of topics, there is a risk that the book could lack cohesion, but it doesn’t. It all hangs together as one. Given the small print, and the fact that it runs for some 300 pages, it’s not a thin book to read over the course of a weekend. It is a book to be savoured.
on 4 May 2016
There is a rolling list of quotes from the good, great and the random that ticker tapes throughout the bottom of the pages all the way through this book, the sentiments varying from the tenuous to the profound. You may find this distracting or interesting.
Using feminism, art, architecture, psychology, sociology, history, politics, philosophy and geology to back up her work and citing Rousseau and Wordsworth as the earliest pioneers of walking for the sake of walking, Solnit has clearly done her research focusing particularly on Paris, UK and the USA and at times this reads beautifully though there are also some dry and woolly parts that tend to drag and deviate from the point but she raises so many interesting and thought provoking points, allowing us to see walking and its benefits in so many refreshing and inspiring ways that you cannot help but be won over in the end.
on 16 May 2016
A book which, despite occasional insights, often loses its way. Perhaps the author sees this meandering and self-indulgent style as a good metaphor for walking; I found it a painful waste of time. Anyone who prizes clear writing should avoid taking a detour down this circuitous tome.
on 21 April 2016
A warm a and lovely book. One to be savoured and to return to like a favourite walk. Not simply a straight account of the history of walking like Ramble On but instead a weaving together of history, culture and philosophy.