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On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,526 ratings  ·  250 reviews
You are missing most of what is happening around you right now. You are missing what is happening in the distance and right in front of you. In reading these words, you are ignoring an unthinkably large amount of information that continues to bombard all of your senses. The hum of the fluorescent lights; the ambient noise in the room; the feeling of the chair against your ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Scribner
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Robert Freeman
Alexandra Horowitz is an incredibly intelligent and interesting person. I just really wish she was a better writer.

She has the unfortunate inability to tell when she's gone on far too long on a topic. I can sense her passion, but she's far more engrossed in each individual topic than I was.

About a third of the way through the book she noticed a couch on the side of the road, and the first thing I thought was "great, now we're going to have three pages in a row about a couch".

All in all, I don't
Once, someone told me I was the most interested person alive. "Thank you!!" I told him, astonished that finally someone else realized what I've known all along - that the Dos Equis guy is lying. It is, in fact, I who am the most interesting person alive!*

"No, no - not interesting...interested," he said, shattering my dreams without even realizing it.

Shit. So much for that.

But then I thought about it, and being the most interested person alive is pretty cool, too. I can get sucked into ANYTHING
Horowitz's book concept is good, although not necessarily new (both James Levine's and John Berger's books on seeing come to mind). Make no mistake that these are just "walks," though. They are urban walks.

Horowitz portays herself as an educated lay person or ingenue on these forays into her city neighborhood, and her disingenousness didn't always strike me as believable. E.g., that she never knew that fossil impressions could be seen rock; that she never realized that blind persons walk toward

In a sense, expectation is the lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world "out there".

Out there. How many of us actually get "out there" nowadays, let alone take the time to perceive our surroundings? This book makes us think along new wavelengths of perception and challenges us to stop and eat the roses. Alexandra Horowitz does something very simple in that she starts with a core goal of walking around her local block to see if she can discover new sight
Jill Furedy
Like many others, I believed this book would look at the same walk in the same area from multiple perspectives. I kinda wish it had been. I liked how the author of In the Neighborhood looked at his street from different homes and families, from the trashman's perspective, the mailman's, etc and thought this would be similar. It wasn't and lost something for me by changing the locations.
This was somewhat interesting, but a slow read. I get what she was trying to do, but her toddler and dog har
Ariel Gordon
NEW YORKER Alexandra Horowitz is a psychologist with a PhD in cognitive science. She's studied rhinoceroses, bonobos and humans, but it was when she turned her attention to dogs, specifically to her own dog Pumpernickel, that she found her niche.

The result was the international bestseller Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know (2009), which combined Horowitz's observations of her pet with current research.

Her intriguing followup is about what humans see - and what we miss and why - when
I'm not sure if it was intentional or not but the author puts on a great show of not knowing things that I just assume are common knowledge. Not knowing that fossils can appear in rocks used as building material ? Not being aware of the variety of typefaces ? Come on, I'm guessing she is just using this as a means of allowing her waking partners to display their expertise. As in a "Golly, that sure is interesting Mr. Science Man!" kind of way.

Wether it was on purpose or not, it is very irritati
Near the end of On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz says this about the walks she's taken over the course of writing the book, and how they've changed her: "I have become, I fear, a difficult walking companion, liable to slow down and point at things. I can turn this off, but I love to have it on: a sense of wonder that I, and we all, have a predisposition to but have forgotten to enjoy" (264-265). Which is great, but is maybe what also makes me not this book's ideal audience: I was already big on no ...more
Vivek Tejuja
We think we see all the time. We think we observe. We also think we possibly know the world around us the way we are meant to. We see what we expect to most of the time. Maybe our mind conditions itself to show us only those things which we want to and the ones that we do not want to, well, they just get hidden. It could happen anywhere. In a familiar neighbourhood or maybe in a place you have never been to before. Maybe it is all about perspective or maybe about security, however it exists in a ...more
Deborah Mantle

In ‘On Looking’, Alexandra Horowitz takes the reader on a walk around many city blocks to consider what we see, and don’t see, and why our experience and understanding of our physical and social environment is often limited.

At first, Horowitz sets out on what she’d regard as a normal walk around her block in New York City by herself. She likes to think of herself as an attentive person, yet the walks she takes subsequently with eleven ‘experts’ show how much she has missed in what she sees, h
Sometimes I have problems deciding how many stars to give a book, and this was one of those times. In terms of the fascinating stories and knowledge of the people the author walks with, it is a solid 5 stars. In terms of the author herself and her writing ... maybe 3? I didn't exactly dislike her and at times I really enjoyed her writing but I found myself being annoyed with the twee-ness that kept popping up. I think if I had skipped the first chapter where she walked with her son I might not h ...more
Donna Parker
This book is quite simply about trying to slow down, look around and see live differently. This is a real issue with so-called modern life. People are rushing, all frenzied, distracted by cell phones, over-scheduling, drama, etc. and they don't see life anymore, unless it's an app for life. When I won this from the Goodreads First Reads Program I thought sure, sounds interesting, but it was more than that, it eye-opening, on many levels. To some extend I already look at things, places, people in ...more
Horowitz’s book takes an original and insightful look at paying attention in different ways as we walk. She examines what is around via all the senses, by a focus on animals, people and buildings and as experienced by a small child and a dog. There’s lots of theory in each chapter in the sense of explanations of what is experienced during her walks. I liked her choices of the 11 aspects of paying attention - all interesting ways of seeing the detail of what is all around and what can be so easil ...more
The premise for this book, walking around the same city path with several different people to get their view on what they see or hear, is fascinating. The interpretation and explanation of psychological theories to those walks was interesting. However, to me this read a bit more like a psychological study rather than the stories of the people and their views. I would have enjoyed this book more with less theory and more focus on the viewers' experiences.
Melissa Barbosa
Such a nice book! I walked with her around NYC, seeing, hearing and even smelling the world, rediscovering some things, discovering many other ones. I highly recommend this book, for I had lots of fun reading it.
No matter how accustomed I am to twists and turns, Laura Lippman always surprises and pleases me. In 1959, Felix Brewer meets Bambi Gottschalk at a school dance that he "crashes," her entire life changes. She's already at loose ends anyway, having blown it at Bryn Mawr. So what the heck - get married at 19, have a baby at 20. Felix promises her the moon and delivers, while she conveniently is blind to the fact that not all of his businesses are legitimate, and that, despite his very real love fo ...more
I had such a plan last year - to go around the block I live in, a dreary-looking concrete-slab neighborhood - and try to see things that would make it less indistinct, less unmemorable, and a little bit lovable.
I got up to looking up the trees - sycamore, maple, aspen, and finding out silly things about those silent companions - which one is big in Norse mythology, which one's wood makes great guitars... you get it. I wanted to go on and write about the bombing of the place in WW2... but I had
A good book for those of us who enjoy walking in the city. The author takes separate walks with a dozen different sets of eyes, including her son, a type designer, a sound designer, her dog, a blind woman and a therapist who knows the human gait.

In the end, the author took a walk on her own, reflecting on how the enhanced experiences enriched her strolling by reawakening her eyes, ears and nose. Each experience revealed fresh but ever-present aspects on familiar sidewalks. A geologist, for exam
So, Alexandra Horowitz is a #1 NY Times Bestselling author. Huh. I guess I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the larger reading public, as I thought at first that I’d stumbled onto this little gem of a book that no one in the world had ever heard of.

Ahem. Well, whatever. For me, I’ll equate this novel to something I might have not been surprised to have been written by Mary Roach (except hers probably would have been grosser) or Bill Bryson (his probably would have been longer). Work
Really 3.5 stars. I really enjoyed the message of this book, which is to pay attention to all sorts of sights, smells, sounds and infrastructure that go unnoticed in our daily lives. I learned a lot but still found myself alternately being fascinated and sometimes being bored all throughout the book. I'm glad I read it but it felt like a slog at times.
Howard Mansfield
Alexandra Horowitz is a genial host, eager to take us along on her walks with different experts and obsessives as she learns to see and hear and smell new things on the most ordinary city blocks. She learns to see the fossil worm tracks in limestone walls, the routines of rats, flies and pedestrians. She studies old signs with a lettering expert, listens to the city with a theatrical sound designer, and does on-the-street diagnoses of passersby with a doctor (which could be the making of a reali ...more
Sherry Ragan
I found this to be such an amazing book. It completely changed the way I see and think of the things around me as well as helping me understand how we can have such different perspectives from others and yet there is no right or wrong. This book is about enjoying each moment to the fullest and being mindful.
An interesting project: how would a dilettante write an "expert" book? By walking with 11 others who are actual experts (of a kind, for the child and the dog), she manages to wander through a wide breadth of knowledge without committing herself to depth in any of them. Beyond the topics in which each expert is knowledgeable, she adds some reading of her own in the physiology, sociology, and psychology of looking. The ending is trite and her often-repeated astonishment at whatever new she didn't ...more
Mary Nahorniak
This wasn't exactly what I expected, but I largely enjoyed this. You learn a little about a lot of things, and it will help to be more mindful in general. I got used to the writing style by the end.
Pierre Lauzon
A very good book on how to perceive the environment around you. The author teams with different authorities to be able to look at her environment with different eyes. For example, a walk with a geologist brings awareness of the various geological features near the author's home, including the stone used in buildings and walls. Another example is her walk with a blind person, enhancing the author's awareness of listening as a way of looking.

I got the book on CD and downloaded it to iTunes and ont
So-called man-made objects are just those that began as naturally occurring materials and are broken apart and recombined to form something customized to our purposes.

It is much easier to follow the details of a topic when one knows the least bit about it. When that least-bit develops into a great pond of knowledge, one may rightly call oneself an “expert”- and have the brain to prove it. Expertise changes what you see and hear, and it even changes what you can attend to.

Wabash, Indiana
As we walk around New York City with author Alexandra Horowitz (and her guest walkers), we start to see the city through the eyes of others. This expands our sense of where we are and how we fit in to space and time.

For instance, did you every closely observe the marble, bricks, asphalt, railings, and other minerals and stones the constitute the structures you walk on and by? Thinking about their sources, their ages, and the different ways in which things are/were put together adds a new perspe
Pete Welter
I chose this book based on the strong recommendation of Maria Popova of the Brain Pickings blog, and was not disappointed.

The theme of the book is pretty simple: 11 city walks, each with somebody (or critter) with a specific perspective. In doing so, the author learns to see (sense is probably more accurate) aspects of her environment and of the experience that she overlooked before. For example, she takes one walk with a sound designer, and in doing both hears very typical city sounds (buses, s
Sue Jackson
I had such great expectations for this book. The thought of a New York Times bestseller writing about the perspectives of eleven different experts seemed like it would be a fun and interesting read. It is true that each expert that went for a walk with the author did have a different perspective. There were some stories that were interesting like the person who noticed the size and shapes of lettering of buildings and provide a brief history. Each expert did provide a glimpse into what they see ...more
"We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders." (9)

"Everyone needs a mechanism to select what, out of all the things in the world, they should both look for and at, and what they should ignore. Having a search image in mind is what makes finding your friend among the crowds of people disembarking trains at Grand Central Terminal possible at all: it is th
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Alexandra Horowitz teaches psychology at Barnard College, Columbia University. Before her scientific career, Horowitz worked as a lexicographer at Merrian-Webster and served on the staff of The New Yorker. She and her husband live in New York City with Finnegan, a dog of indeterminate parentage and determinate character.
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“A walk is exploring surfaces and textures with finger, toe, and—yuck—tongue; standing still and seeing who or what comes by; trying out different forms of locomotion (among them running, marching, high-kicking, galloping, scooting, projectile falling, spinning, and noisy shuffling). It is archeology: exploring the bit of discarded candy wrapper; collecting a fistful of pebbles and a twig and a torn corner of a paperback; swishing dirt back and forth along the ground. It is stopping to admire the murmuring of the breeze in the trees; locating the source of the bird’s song; pointing. Pointing!— using the arm to extend one’s fallen gaze so someone else can see what you’ve seen. It is a time of sharing. On our block,” 2 likes
“Part of seeing what is on an ordinary block is seeing that everything visible has a history. It arrived at the spot where you found it at some time, was crafted or whittled or forged at some time, filled a certain role or existed for a particular function. It was touched by someone (or no one), and touches someone (or no one) now.” 1 likes
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