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Wanderlust: A History of Walking

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,965 Ratings  ·  255 Reviews
Profiling some of the most significant walkers in history & fiction, Solnit presents a delightful & brilliantly conceived meditation on the art of walking.
The Pace of Thoughts
Tracing a Headland: An Introduction
The Mind at Three Miles an Hour
Rising and Falling: The Theorists of Bipedalism
The Uphill Road to Grace: Some Pilgrimages
Labyrinths & C
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (London)
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Jan 03, 2008 Venessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Affirmation of Pedestrianism

For those of you who don't know me as well as you think you do, I'll start by saying that I have never owned a car, and have not been behind the wheel of one in over 12 years; I bicycle in nice weather but my preferred mode of transportation is walking.

So, I just finished the book Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit and think it is one of the greatest books ever written. I was partial to two of the last chapters, one about women and walking and the othe
I really wanted to like this book much more than I did, and kept waiting for it to get good. I want to also acknowledge at the outset that it languished on my Kindle for about 8 months as I got through it 1% of the time at a very plodding pace. Whenever I'd be stuck someplace with nothing else to read and go, "Ugh, fine, I'll work on the dang walking book again." I'm not sure I'd have been so committed if it hadn't been one of my Your Next 5 Books at the Seattle Public Library. I originally got ...more
May 18, 2013 Doreen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I expected a lot more from this book and turns out I was terribly disappointed at how superficial and reductive her views of walking are. I don't understand the title: where's the history? It's more of a crib note guide and encomium to the theme of walking as found in Great Books of the Western canon. As soon as I found myself interested in a topic she covered, whether it was the perils of women walking or the role of walking and thinking/writing/philosophizing, I was whisked away like a harried ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 26, 2012 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Emma Lowes
Shelves: history
Thanks to my upbringing, to summers in the woods and weekend forest walks all year long with Father and the dog, I've always enjoyed walking, particularly in nature, especially over new terrain, but even through the neighborhoods of cities. Thanks to the ageing of my peers and, with such, their increased responsibilies and increasing incidences of disability, I've had less opportunity to do so in company and, so, less inclination. A dog, a good dog, would help, but I live in an apartment, in a c ...more
Michael Morris
Apr 14, 2012 Michael Morris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I know I gave this five stars, but I do have to get my one problem with this book out of the way. Wanderlust, in all that it manages to cover, does not even mention Japanese haibun, a literary form that merges short prose and haiku. This is important because many of these writings came out of long walking tours and travel accounts. Not mentioning Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior seems a crime to me.

That omission out of the way, I can still say that this is a terrific book, covering a lot of g
Aug 28, 2016 Sunny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved this book. If I was told 20 years ago that 20 years later I would be reading a book about the history of walking and giving it 5 stars I would have told my future self to get a life! The book is a study of walking from the past to the present. It looked at walking in a number of different angles (walking as a form of demonstration, walking for pleasure, fitness, walking as art etc) but ultimately it made me get of my butt and do some walking myself much to my wife’s annoyance who has bee ...more
More than a history of walking, this is an excuse for Solnit to write about things she's interested in: literature she enjoys, turn of the century prostitutes, urban planning, landscape painting, National Parks, shrubberies. The book itself is an unplanned walk, following trails that often veer off in unexpected directions or circle back to themselves, and thus feels less like a history than a collection of essays inspired by the act of walking.

There are gems to be taken to heart, such as...

I don't believe much in New Years' Resolutions as I prefer to do my self-improvement periodically throughout the year and not limit myself to a specific time in which to accomplish a goal. However, we are about 25 days away from moving into a new neighborhood, a safer neighborhood, and I am looking forward to being more active again - my boyfriend bought me a bike for Christmas 2007 and I have yet to be able to take it out, we'll be a few blocks away from a dog park, we can walk to the tennis co ...more
Dec 07, 2008 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I labored through it. I am a walking addict, and expected a more personal connection with the author. While Ms. Solnit did include numerous examples of personal walks, I was not able to hang with her and see the countryside, inner or outer. This is more a book about philosophers and famous literary and artistic personalities that just happened to be walkers.
Aug 23, 2009 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The best part of this book is the early section, which covers the topic of walking in philosophy and literature. Things degrade and wander a bit as things go on, and Solnit's politics start to become obtrusive - she got into thinking about walking as a part of "nuclear freeze" activities, and late in the book is an entire section of abuse directed at suburbs; besides the fact that yes, suburbs are more difficult to walk, it's not really fully at place in this book.

Tyler Cowen noted while reading
Feb 23, 2009 Risa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i start reading this & then i stop becuase it creates an unbearable urge to walk. I think this is the consumate book for the walker/thinker/synesthesia (sp?) stricken saunterer.
Philip Dyson
Rebecca Solnit is an excellent writer, not only because of her beautiful prose but also because of the way she manages to extract significant messages from what might otherwise be seen as dull. In 'Wanderlust', Solnit captivates the reader with diverse and extraordinary tales while always bringing it back to an important message that many of us are only subliminally aware of in day to day life: we are distancing ourselves from our bodies. The restriction of walking places and the anti-walking cu ...more
Aug 18, 2014 KimberlyRose rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
Attracted to this title because I'm a committed, contented walker, one who is anti-suburbia and never drives, I ordered it from my library straightaway. I wouldn't say I was disappointed, but I was bored more times than engaged by this author's narration style and views, and often her selected topics were so specific to her locales as to appeal only to locals or those interested in visiting.

Topics are vast and, depending on the personal interests of each individual reader, range from fascinating
Sep 14, 2010 Ammie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Solnit is clearly my new literary crush. She writes beautifully (!) about things that interest me, like deserts and history and memory and art (!!), and now she's gone and written a book about one of my all-time favorite activities, walking (!!!). Tracing walking through its various uses (thinking, political protest, religious pilgrimage, and so on) and considering the role that walking assumed in various times and places, Solnit brings us eventually to the present day, where walking has ...more
Apr 24, 2014 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful book about the reasons (and intellectual and cultural ramifications) of why people walk. Inspiring to me, as walking is one of my primary joys in life (especially when accompanied by my dogs and husband). Solnit does a great job pulling from a variety of societal and historical anecdotes, and I especially enjoyed her references to artists and writers who revered the beauty of a good walk (Woolf naturally crops up a few times). The running marquee of quotes in the footer was a little di ...more
Cristina Vega
Tedioso, largo, demasiado descriptivo. Le sobran 200 páginas.
     Have you ever been out on a walk, one of those aimless rambles, and found yourself wondering "What the heck am I doing?"  Well, if you have--and I'm not implying you're missing out if you haven't--then Rebecca Solnit can tell you.  The only problem is, she might take 291 pages to tell you.

     Other reviewers have written that Solnit's Wanderlust is "propelled by abandon yet guided by a firm intelligence" (San Francisco Chronicle), and "studded with arresting insights that will make you wa
Aug 24, 2012 Madzia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is not a review, but a note of one of the paths the book led me down (pun intended).

Although Solnit writes of walking, she came very close to answering some questions that I'd been asking myself ever since I'd gone sailing, an act which my family and friends tried hard to support, but could never quite understand. The ship is now gone, lost to the sea, and its tragedy interrupted my reading of 'Wanderlust' with several weeks of overpowering depression. The book demanded a love and wonder f
Rachel Stevenson
This is not a travelogue. I thought the book would be a Bryson-esque piece of travel writing, with the author taking the reader on a set of strolls, accompanied by musings on great walkers of history, tit-bits of information, some anecdotes, and an analysis of being a flaneuse. But it's a serious history of walking – as Solnit sets out in the introduction, the history of walking is about: “religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory and heartbreak”, from the original bipeds ...more
Addy Polet

Except it turns out that the book doesn’t really say all that much about the feeling the word portrays. The subtitle is the more accurate one: a history of walking.

Getting over my slight disappointment – where is that book that deals with the true wanderlust? – I started to read the book anyway.

Want to know more? Check out the full review on my blog!
Mar 15, 2008 April rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to April by: Megan
It is difficult to write a history book that is not specific to a place, time, event, or person. While Wanderlust strives to a be historical examination of walking, it seems to me more an extended essay (in the French meaning of the term 'to try' as an English professor once explained). However, such an essay generally leaves the conclusions to the reader—having examined the topic thoroughly from many angles. While neither impartial history nor essay, this book includes much examination of walki ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Gina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
When I bought this book, I was in San Francisco, during a trip inconveniently timed 2 weeks before I moved from New York to Boston. By that time I had spent 10 months living in Queens, where I developed a routine of walking 13 minutes to the express subway station to avoid the crowded rush hour 7, taking the E or the F to Lexington Avenue, and walking across Central Park either via Terrace Drive/72nd Street or the 79th Street Traverse by Belvedere Castle depending on which train I managed to cat ...more
At some point this year, Rebecca Solnit's name and books came to my attention. I wish I could remember how or why this happened. All that really matters is that I gotten to read some fascinating books. This is my second, No Ordinary Land by Laura McPhee included an essay by Solnit.

Microhistories, detailed books about one subject have probably existed for a long time, but the genre has grown like crazy in the last decade. Who knew that a whole book on salt, pencils, turquoise or walking could be
Stephen Goldenberg
If there's one thing I enjoy as much as reading, it's walking, so a book about the history of walking is right up my street. Although, this is not so much a history (at least in chronological terms), more a gently meandering wander through both the highways and bye ways of the subject. And you are travelling with a very erudite enthusiast. So, we go by way of walking philosophers (Rousseau and Kierkegard), obviously Wordsworth and the romantics, a con side ration of the various theories of how, ...more
Sep 23, 2014 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Her chapter on the religious legacies of, connections to, pilgrimage on things like Walk for Cancer (I remember the Walk for Mankind being big in my youth...) was quite insightful. Quite successful as a memoir of sorts--though you get very little personal information about RS, aside from concrete event-based experiences, you have a real sense of voice, interpretation. I liked the depth of her research in poetics--something most nature writers just glean for turns of phrase, without any sense of ...more
Alex Sarll
Combining sharp analysis and reverie is no small matter, but then Solnit is very, very good. Her rhapsodies never preclude wry intrusions of reality, and while she's evangelistic about the benefits of walking, she also includes a chapter on the various reasons of race, gender &c which can too easily make it a much less attractive proposition. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Paris, which supported my own experience that the cradle of the flaneur is now an automobile-friendly sepulchre. Re ...more
Jul 19, 2015 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interdisciplinary look at "walking": historically, philosophically, socially. Solnit meanders through discussions on private property laws (US/UK-focused), walking sites during historical periods (private gardens, the countryside, the city), the effects of suburbanization on walking and exercise. Her personal experiences living in San Francisco and Paris guide the writing alongside comparisons to New York and London. The book's typesetting even encourages "strolling" through the book; each li ...more
Aug 10, 2015 Morgane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solnit never disappoints. This is a thoughtful look at the act of walking, as it relates to philosophy, paleoanthropology, politics, poetry, cities, feminism, and really anything. Walking isn't just walking.

I was less keen on the section about walking in cities, maybe because I'm already very familiar with what being a (female) urban pedestrian is like. The sections on walking in gardens and in the wild were much stronger, and almost inevitably much more beautiful.
Jul 23, 2011 Malcolm rated it really liked it
Shelves: cultural-studies
Good cultural history is a real challenge – it is about getting to the events and to their meanings. Solnit has finished up being more reflective and meditative than perhaps she needs to be, but for something as banal as walking, something that is almost inexplicable, she has given us a good sense of the meaning it has, the ways we use and abuse it, and of walking as liberatory. It is a demanding read, but much of it worthwhile.
Aug 13, 2008 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the whole world
Recommended to Beth by: joe, bookclub
Okay, so I've been reading this book for a year now, but that is only because it is so dense that I have to read a section, think about it for a long time, then go back when I'm ready for more. I've been a walker my whole life, and this book has brought to light everything I love about using my own two feet.
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Rebecca Solnit is an American author who often writes on the environment, politics, place, and art. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications in print and online, including the Guardian newspaper and Harper's Magazine, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column founded in 1851. She is also a regular contributor to the political blog TomDispatch and to LitHub.

More about Rebecca Solnit...

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“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” 107 likes
“For [Jane Austen and the readers of Pride and Prejudice], as for Mr. Darcy, [Elizabeth Bennett's] solitary walks express the independence that literally takes the heroine out of the social sphere of the houses and their inhabitants, into a larger, lonelier world where she is free to think: walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.” 101 likes
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