A history of walking – book review

Leo and shoes

favorite walking shoes and favorite dog, Leo

Finished reading Wanderlust, A History of Walking yesterday.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Rebecca Solnit.  It is exactly as the title says – a book about the history of walking.  She recounts this history mostly through a review of the literature of Europe and North America.  Other traditions and perspectives on walking, are not treated by Solnit, as she herself points out.  Solnit peppers her writing with references to follow-up on all the ideas she introduces.  I think I enjoyed this book precisely because she references so many other people’s work – whether writers, scientists or artists.

The bulk of these references relate to writers, both of fiction and non-fiction.  It is a treat to follow the evolution of walking by the walking of fictional characters and their authors in real life and then read (briefly) about the evolution of walking from a human evolutionary point of view.  Who would have guessed that it may be secondary to other features of evolution or central and primary to the essence of becoming human?

Solnit quotes extensively and at length in her review of walking through literature.  Some readers likely find this quite tedious and certainly some of the book reviews to be found about Wanderlust say this.   It does slow the pace of the book and make the narrative thread more difficult to follow, but I was interested to see the full context of the references and not just short, one sentence (or less) quotes.  Perhaps a more well read person would not require such extensive quotes…

The book is divided into three sections and the final section is more personal (with the least references) based more on Solnit’s own experiences and personal opinions; and perhaps the easiest to follow.  The book was first published in 2000 and some of the ideas Solnit introduces are less remarkable today.  Nonetheless, some of Solnit’s opinions or claims will strike readers as reaching.  Can walking really be subversive/a political comment just because it is not the preferred activity or method of displacement by the majority in North America and Europe?  I’m not sure that it can, but examining some of the consequences of our current world – even in rural Nova Scotia, or small towns and cities – helps to stretch the mind.

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