WANDERLUST by Rebecca Solnit


A History of Walking
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A luminous study of a little-considered but essential human capability.

"Walking is natural, or rather part of natural history," writes essayist Solnit (A Book of Migrations, 1997, etc.), "but choosing

to walk in the landscape as a contemplative, spiritual, or aesthetic experience has a specific cultural ancestry." Moving with ease

from discussions of early hominid skeletal structure to the place of wandering on foot in the development of the Romantic poetic

sensibility, Solnit embraces nature and culture alike in this vigorous look at all things peripatetic. Walking, she observes, is good

for us humans, and not only for the exercise it affords; it also "allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made

busy by them." Her portraits of famous walkers of city streets and rural byways alike—Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aristotle,

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Charles Baudelaire among them—suggest that the best thinking is indeed done, as Saint Jerome

observed, by walking around; the author’s remarks on the history of pilgrimage show the importance of peregrination in

contemplative spiritual traditions. And Solnit’s own memoirs of wandering on foot across the hills of California and England and

down the busy streets of Europe’s great capitals—and, in a particularly inspired turn, along the Las Vegas Strip—offer inspiration

and succor to anyone who rails against the soulless supremacy of automobiles in the modern age. Walking alone can mark a

person as an oddball, she observes (especially if, like the French poet G‚rard de Nerval, the walker chooses a lobster on a leash

as a strolling companion). And walking alone can mark a woman as a potential victim or a prostitute, with all the attendant perils.

Even so, the careful reader, duly warned, will emerge from Solnit’s pages moved to wander.

Full of learned asides and juicy historical tidbits: a fine addition to the literature of rambling. (First serial rights to Outside)

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-88209-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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