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On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  2,636 ratings  ·  405 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
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.49  · 
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Robert Freeman
May 22, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
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
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 walking 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 irritat
Christi Cassel
Nov 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
The idea is a good one, but the execution is terrible.

The book is subtitled “Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.” Even loosely defined, simply being a dog or a youngster or blind does not make you an expert. I’m sorry.

But the biggest problem is simply that Horowitz is annoying . . . and she goes on all the walks.

I have a few specific beefs with her. First, she’s condescending. She has an annoying habit of using words and defining them in the text (like “I was seeing a glimmer of animism in my son—th
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it

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
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition - a video that will show you some of the things I wanted to see in the book. Is it because I read the large-print edition that I saw almost no useful illustrations? I already do know how to slow down and pay attention, how to look from the knee-high level of a dog, how to engage other senses... but what Horowitz could have done for me is shown me some of the specific things that her experts taught her to see. To be fair, she writes a decent word-picture, ...more
Jill Furedy
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
In 2019, I am setting 19 goals for myself. On Goodreads, that's 36 books. In real life, one goal is scheduling time for adventure, at least once a week. Alexandra Horowitz' nonfiction book, On Looking, encourages just that.

Sometimes, I get stuck. Horowitz, a cognitive psychologist and avid walker, suggests I need to go outside, sometimes with a companion, to get a fresh perspective. But she got 11. Though it's not quite 11 walks around the same block, it reads like a love letter to New York: tan
Jun 01, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Deborah Mantle
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
Laura McCann
This book was completely different than anything I would normally read. It caught my attention because I take regular walks. I listened to this book as an audio book so i did not actually read it. I would never have made it thru it reading, the book would not have held my attention. It was a little dry. On the other hand I found some parts of the book and the concept very interesting. Taking with walks with 10 different people and one dog, it was interesting to see what each person saw or heard. ...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.
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mine
Walking the city with a toddler, an entomologist, geologist, naturalist, sound engineer, blind person, graphic designer obsessed with fonts, or physiotherapist can reveal things about the city that you might find worth noticing. At the very least they will be interesting. If you really love just listening to music or planning the rest of your day in your head as you travel around the city, you may not get much out of this book. But if you are sometimes bored in your wanderings, or are naturally ...more
Sherry Ragan
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good book about a woman who goes for walks with various experts (geologist, doctor, architect, etc) and experiences the various lens different people use to see the world.
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
When I was twenty-one I spent a summer in Indonesia. Before Indonesia I wrote but I didn’t draw. I didn’t have the patience and I wasn’t very good.

After Indonesia I spent hours drawing. I wasn’t a whole lot better but I was more patient. Indonesia slowed life down for me. Indonesia reminded me to pay attention.

And then I forgot.

Now, I’m too impatient to draw and, most of the time, I fail to pay attention. I find that frustrating because I know life is better when we pay attention. And I know cre
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
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Julie Whelan
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
As someone who loves to walk and observe nature every day, I thought I would like this book more than I did. These are all city walks, mostly in Manhattan. On each walk an expert of some kind accompanies the author. Topics range from the signs and debris left by insects, to how the blind navigate using a cane, what city sounds tell us, how a toddler perceives the cityscape and how we navigate in the midst of bustling sidewalks. Some of these sections are much more interesting than others. A famo ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz, introduces us to a deeper awareness of how our brain perceives the world around us each day. Our ability to focus on one activity and screen out everything else is useful for staying on task, but it also causes us to miss most of what is going on around us. People today are often staring at a cell phone or listening to their headphones and ignoring the world around them. If you want to deepen your enjoyment of the world, it is nece ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mallika Mahidhar
This book took me exactly four months to read mainly because it was ignored for other books. This book has been extremely fascinating, exciting and has changed walking (something I love) for me.

The book is about walking, looking and paying attention to things. It consists of eleven walks that the author takes with different people -ranging from her child, her dog and to experts on geology, sound and typography. What part about that doesn't excite you?

Each of the chapters reveal different thing
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
When you read a book that's much about the art of seeing as it is about the art of walking, you may rightly suppose that your reading pace will vary. This is a reflective, thoughtful, and utterly charming journey that will make you want to join in and walk along. Consider, for instance, the delightful scope described in the table of contents. The division is in three parts: Inanimate City--The Material of the Landscape, Animate City--Everything That Won't Stand Still, and Sensory City--Things Th ...more
Howard Mansfield
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Pierre Lauzon
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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Alexandra Horowitz is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Barnard College in New York, where she teaches courses on psychology and animal behavior. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.” Her studies on dogs have explored their ‘guilty look,’ sense of fairness, play signaling, and olfactory abilities, am ...more

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“Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that expectation. In a sense, expectation is the lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world "out there". Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.” 5 likes
“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,” 3 likes
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