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You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall

3.19  ·  Rating details ·  190 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
An eye-opening exploration of the intriguing and often counter-intuitive science of human navigation and experience of place.

In the age of GPS and iPhones, human beings it would seem have mastered the art of direction, but does the need for these devices signal something else—that as a species we are actually hopelessly lost. In fact we've filled our world with signs and a
ebook, 240 pages
Published July 7th 2009 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30)
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Sep 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was not quite what I expected. I opened it hoping to find out why my husband can drive straight to a house on the other side of town that he's only been to once before, seven years ago, in the dark, while I clutch written directions in my hand the first ten times I go to a friend's house around the corner. Instead it spoke more generally to the concepts of how people and animals orient themselves to their surroundings: landmarks, magnetic fields, awareness of winds and wave patterns, e ...more
Mar 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-reads
I received this book as an ARC from Harper Collins and working title was WHERE AM I?

Interestingly enough, I read this book while I was traveling. My reasons for choosing this book to review were very personal; I am extremely “directionally challenged” and Colin Ellard is a local author for me.

This book starts out with an amusing anecdote about getting lost while on a camping trip and then moves into the mechanics of how navigation through both time and space is learned, perceived and negotiated.
Jul 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author summarizes in the last sentence of the last chapter a major theme repeated throughout the book (particularly in the second half): “Our future together depends on finding ways to understand and to feel the deep truth of [the] connection between person and place.” “Locateness” is a fundamental gift that the periphery gives us”—it is attractive and restorative to the human psyche. Contact with nature and with natural space is good for our mind because we have a deep genetic connection an ...more
Two Readers in Love
When I was a child, the minister in our church would frequently start his sermon by saying “reading today's passage, I was struck by three ideas.” He would then launch into a good long sermon and build it up to a resounding closing crescendo; I'd start to lean forward to grab the hymnal in anticipation of the closing hymn... but wait... no! He would proceed to start all over, and deliver a not-quite-so-strong sermon on the second idea. Just when you thought that it couldn't go on any longer, our ...more
Jul 12, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book initially annoyed the heck out of me. Ellard's writing style seemed to schizophrenically fluctuate between ununderstandable scientific mumbo-jumbo and trite, cheeky statements complete with exclamation points. In reminding the reader of a point made earlier, Ellard often chose phrases like, "... this should remind you of ... " which I found entirely unnecessary.

But then it grew on me. Or perhaps the subject matter became more intelligible to my directionally dysfunctional brain. Ellard
Nov 08, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
You Are Here is a book about wayfinding and the perception of space.

It starts with a description of how various animals--those that are renowned for their navigational ability and those that aren't--find their way to a fixed point. For example, bees can "tell" each other how to get to a food source and homing pigeons and some ants can get home from distant places (relative to their body size, at least). The author compares this to human navigation tactics. Humans are relatively easily disoriente
Mar 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: City planners (or people interested in such things)
Recommended to Brittany by: Harper C
How I Came To Read This Book: Harper Collins sent it to me as a (very?) advanced readers edition. Like, a year in advance. As such, this is one of the least 'finished' ARE's I've ever received (and it impacted the book!)

The Plot: Colin Ellard is a professor at the University of Waterloo interested in our fragile human relationship with space - and place. In this nonfiction book, he first looks at how our (average )navigational fumblings compare to that of some of nature's most magnificent self-d
Well, this was like 2 books in one. The first half was an examination of how our brains experience physical space, using research on both humans and animals. This part of the book was fascinating and I enjoyed it very much. Did you know that you can mess up the homing instinct of a young homing pigeon by strapping magnets on him, but NOT an older pigeon? Did you know that scientists figured out ants navigate partly by "ant pedometer"? And that to be sure it wasn't EFFORT they were measuring, the ...more
Arlene S
Not much detail about literally finding our way ( wayfaring/wayfinding, author calles it), so definitely not a self-help book, and quite theoretical --research background about ants and bees. Instead, it is an examination of our perceptions of spaces we inhabit, including experiments with people in virtual space. The expanded subtitle is a very accurate representation as to purpose of book: "What science says about our spatial intelligence and how it shapes our connections to nature, cities, hom ...more
Frank Stein
Ellard is a scientist at the Research Laboratory for Immersive Virtual Environments (RELIEVE) at the University of Waterloo, and he and his lab seem to spend most of their time thinking about ways to make animals lost.

What if we tied magnets to homing pigeons? What if we gave ants little stilts so that they misremembered the distance they had walked? What if we put headphones and blindfolds on dogs and put them in a maze? What if we put a gerbil in a dark, spinning box and walked it into a diffe
Mark Schlatter
The first half of this work is devoted to explaining how we and other animal species find their way. Ellard's main point (as I see it) is that many species have a metric understanding of space. So, for instance, bees and ants and homing pigeons somehow code up distances and angles (along with environmental information) to find their way. Humans, however, think of space in topological terms rather than metric terms --- we emphasize the connections. ("Take Main down to the library, make a right, a ...more
Nov 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
For me the charm of this book is how unassumingly Ellard can share "mathematics-grade" abstractions ("taxis", "gradient fields"), combine them in an argument about the nature of human beings' perception of spatial relations, and then convincingly demonstrate how important this is to every one of us. It was easy to follow the argument, even though I do get lost in malls.
His contention is that people base their spatial perception on visual chunks connected by narrative, associative, or procedura
Dec 05, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting one day read of the definition of "space", "distance", "directions" has used many researches on identifying how ants, pigeons, goose, rats and humans have their ways to find their ways out. Yet also bringing out our perceptions on space, directions, office space, home and work architecture..the theme of this book is on how our modern lives and tools have destroyed our abilities to identify and use natural spots/positions to identify our positions and coordinates. Fine example ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had high hopes for this book, and in some ways those were met. From the cover, the book seemed like a scientific inquiry into how humans and other animals locate themselves on the Earth and figure out how to get where they're going. The first of the two sections does cover that in an entertaining way (ants on stilts made of pig hair, anyone?). However, the second half of the book takes it in an entirely different direction, which makes for a disjointed read.

The second section studies location
This is definitely an interesting read, but I was disappointed by the depth and breadth of the content. After reading this book, I'm still not sure if I understand why we can find our way to the moon but get lost in the mall. Maybe my lack of understanding has something to do with the fact that I had to steal minutes here and there to read this book (it took me over a week, which is really out of character for me) or maybe it's because it was a shallow attempt at bringing interesting and crucial ...more
Jul 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While humans lack the navigational tools of some animal species, and the human brain isn’t well suited to storing spatially accurate maps, Ellard says that all is not lost for hopeful human navigators. In certain cognitive-friendly environments, or through close attention to physical detail, a person can actually become quite proficient at finding his way around.

The first half of Ellard’s book is a fascinating survey of human and animal cognitive research. In the second half, unfortunately, Ella
David Glenn Dixon
Subtitle's a bait-and-switch. Sub-subtitle ("What science says about our spatial intelligence and how it shapes our connections to nature, cities, homes, and virtual worlds") is more to the point. Fairly dull stylist. Chapters read like essays w/ connective tissue added. Book's "journey" seems forced. Subpar pop-science writing padded w/ boilerplate. Seems to have trouble navigating his own ideas in such a way as to repay reader effort. His own psychological maps are all topographic instead of m ...more
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book was a four-star read for me, while the second half (with a few exceptions) was two-star. Ellard does a great job of explaining different types of animal wayfinding (something I've had a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around in the past), and he ties his explanation of human wayfinding strategies neatly into his explanation of how and why modern built environments look the way they do. He loses steam a bit in the second half of the book, partially because (I believe) ...more
Chris Elsden
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really fascinating read. The book is cleverly split into two parts, one quite biological, one more psychological and design based. The first parts provides excellent context, explaining how we navigate and why, compared to certain quite amazing animals. This in itself is interesting. But the revelation that humans are able to divide, group together, reorganise and control "space" is excellently analysed in the second part about how we behave in our homes, offices, cities, green spaces and onli ...more
Sep 29, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
it definitely dragged on, and the last few chapters are especially lame. granted, it was kind of a dry subject to write about (and read about...). there were three interesting concepts i took away: the extent to which certain inuit languages incorporate location in grammar, experiments showing the way rodents spacially associate direction cognitively, and the ability of bees to directly communicate direction and distance. now that you know of these ideas, don't bother reading the book. just ask ...more
Nov 04, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cool book. I heard this guy interviewed on NPR and wanted to read more. It's definitely a science book, despite being written in lay-person's (is that a word?) terms. I think this would be pretty interesting stuff for architects, urban planners, etc- anyone who deals with how we relate to and navigate space. The author tackles all sorts of angles on this topic, from how homing pigeons can find their way over hundreds of kilometers, to what effect green spaces have on our well-being. A bit of a s ...more
Another surprisingly good nonfiction book. I heard this author interviewed on NPR and wanted to read it, since I'm one of the challenged people he writes about, who gets lost everywhere. I have always been frustrated and fascinated by the way some people have a natural sense of direction and some of us are clueless. This has a lot of interesting info about animals, including us, and how/why we sometimes are amazingly good at "way-finding" and sometimes amazingly bad. It was a little tedious at t ...more
David Kriz
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Presents ideas still very relevant in 2016. Presents technical ideas in common terms. Some references to technology are dated—particularly now that smartphones are ubiquitous. Makes a commendable effort to tackle issues related to our ecological and ethical relationship with the natural world (particularly in the final chapters). Overall, an enjoyable read. My preexisting interest in Jane Jacobs and her work is now stronger.
Claudia Majetich
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview of how we and other living species perceive our world, navigate through it, and are affected by our surroundings. Very valuable information for anyone thinking about how to manage the built and open spaces around us. Lots of new information, well presented. End is a little utopian, but it's nice that he made connections between the detailed information in the book and how it can be used to help make a more livable world.
Jul 08, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the first part of this book was really interesting with all of the studies that have been performed on various animals. However, when he started getting into the psychology of chair placement and isovists for multiple chapters, I began to fall asleep. It's not quite what I was expecting. If you read it, just stop after the part about the animals.
The Tick
Jun 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
The first part of this book, which dealt with how various animals (including humans) can locate themselves in space, was really interesting, probably a 5. But the second half of the book felt all over the place: a ramble about virtual reality, a rant about making sure that children get enough exposure to nature, and so on. It was a really hard slog.
Mark Flanagan
If you like meandering pop science that explores everything from ancient Inuit culture to how a sea turtle can find his way across thousands of miles of ocean using the Earth's magnetic field, you'll like this book. I did. [ full review ]
Judith Johnson
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book because I am always getting lost when travelling. I inevitably turn the wrong direction. I am not sure I ever got a clear answer on why but this book is full of fascinating things and more learning of things I didn't know.
Aug 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was good when he was actually discussing the premise of the book - human and animal navigation systems. When he decided to use this as a platform to pontificate about global warming? Sorry, do that in a different book, as it's out of place and jarring in this one.
Craig Cottingham
#53 for 2010.
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Colin Ellard was born in the UK and, at the age of 7, decided to follow his parents and siblings across the ocean to Canada, where he has lived ever since. Ellard is a research psychologist at the University of Waterloo where he directs the Urban Realities Laboratory. The main work of the laboratory is to explore the connections between psychology and the design of the built environment. Ellard be ...more
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