OUTSIDE LIES MAGIC by John R. Stilgoe

OUTSIDE LIES MAGIC

Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An extended exhortation to readers to go outside and explore the natural and constructed environment—from urban fire hydrants to rural fences to highway pit stops—in the American and Emersonian tradition of the exploring eye/I. Stilgoe (Landscape History/Harvard), the author of previous books on American railroads and landscape, has had the academic’s luxury of thinking about things most of us have precious little time to consider: the permanence of the antiquated railroad bed, the hum of alternating current, the uses and meaning of fences. Evangelically advocating for exploration that can’t be accomplished by car, Stilgoe suggests bicycling and walking as ways of getting the news he preaches. The built environment, he lucidly reasons, is “a sort of palimpsest, a document in which one layer of writing has been scraped off, and another one applied.” The mindful explorer sees what came before, as well as what’s there. The book is partly a lament on the ills of modern society and the passing of Main Street America, with the sweet luxury of its angle parking. He boldly claims, and at least half convinces, when he says that looking outside teaches creativity, problem-solving, a sense of history, pattern, and the magic of understanding. He is predictably arch when it comes to landscape design in public spaces—in particular, the ubiquitous dwarf evergreen species that neatly line our roadside parking lots like housebroken pets (Stilgoe’s image), and which he describes as part of the larger marketing strategy behind the development of interstate exchanges. But does Silgoe locate conspiracy where harried planners identified only economy? Stilgoe’s is a voice in the wilderness, and this is an esoteric subject at once compelling and important yet, by the standard measuring stick of contemporary culture, sadly insubstantial.

Pub Date: July 10th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8027-1340-8
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998




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