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Wanderlust: A History of Walking

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  1,381 ratings  ·  186 reviews
This volume provides a history of walking, exploring the relationship between thinking and walking and between walking and culture. The author argues for the preservation of the time and space in which to walk in an ever more car-dependent and accelerated world.
Paperback, 328 pages
Published November 1st 2002 by Verso
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Community Reviews

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Venessa
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
...more
Rachelfm
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
Erik Graff
Feb 27, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Doreen
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
Michael Morris
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
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Jeff
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
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Kimmy-coo
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
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El
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
Tom
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.
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
Risa
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.
Anne
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
Gina
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
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
April
Apr 05, 2008 April rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Kendra
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 want to t
...more
Ammie
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
Madzia
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
...more
Malcolm
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.
Margaryta
Solnit deserves a big round of applause for undertaking what seems like such a simple but at the same time very complex and ambiguous topic to write about. I know many people who have little to no interest in walking as a leisurely activity, and to have them ever consider the underbelly of walking is unfathomable. However, having absolutely loved "The Field Guide to Getting Lost' and "The Faraway Nearby", I couldn't pass by "Wanderlust", especially not when it offered such a promising look at a ...more
Jacob
This book is far more enjoyably read as an occasional essay than as a book to take on start to finish. The main themes are fairly repetitive...walking is a more social form of transportation, it relates better to our evolutionary pace and is thus relaxing, etc. In the end it basically comes down to, we have the modern day comfort of being able to choose to walk, and it is satisfying.

I enjoy walking, but the author's relation to a small part of why we walk (basically for relaxation and social pro
...more
Cody
In Wanderlust, the medium is a crucial part the message, as the text--like a long walk--digresses and meanders, exposing us to a vast array of ideas, experiences, and terrain. This rambling style, while hypnotic, often pulls away from a cohesive thesis, though I think that’s part of the point. Solnit seems to reject much of the tidy, virtual, and prescriptive ways of living that arose concurrently with walking’s decline, aiming to, if not wholly reclaim, at least remind us of the joys and necess ...more
Patty
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
...more
Uwe Hook
Rebecca 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 sexualizing of walkin ...more
Dave Vincelli gustine
Couldn't finish it. Overly romantic/sentimental memoir type stories combined with dry facts.
Walter
This is a gem. The writing is terrific, but the aspect of Solnit's essays that I appreciate most is how she is able to connect seemingly disparate ideas and weave them into this fascinating, multi-dimensional tapestry. She crosses all disciplines - literature, anthropology, philosophy, history, botany - reminding us that they are all human delineations, anyway, means only to organize how we can understand such a complex world. But...sometimes the book does drag, and I found myself wishing that a ...more
Steven
My Hero...
Mark Major
When I first heard about Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit, I was really excited to read it. While Soinit certainly deserves some credit for daring to tackle a subject that is a fundamental reality of human existence while also extremely difficult to discuss, the result is profoundly disappointing. Simply put, this is a very uneven book with not enough high points (e.g. socio-cultural implications of automobile-dependent suburban sprawl in America, walking as described in 18th a ...more
Chris
As a devoted pedestrian, I loved this book. The information about Paris was interesting and enhanced some of my other reading about that city and people who lived there.
Solnit's reflections on culture, politics, feminism, are engaging.

So why "only" three stars? There was something-- even though I was interested in the material-- that was not engaging. Maybe it was her organization of the book? Maybe if all the contemporary, political pedestrianism was packed tighter and closer together?

Certainl
...more
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Rebecca Solnit (b. 1961) is the author of numerous books, including Hope in the Dark, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. In 2003, she received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award.
More about Rebecca Solnit...
Men Explain Things to Me A Field Guide to Getting Lost The Faraway Nearby River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

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“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.” 79 likes
“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.” 69 likes
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