Walking, as Thoreau said and Solnit elegantly demonstrates, inevitably leads to other subjects. This pleasing and enlightening history of pedestrianism unfolds like a walking conversation with a particularly well-informed companion with wide-ranging interests. Walking, says Solnit (Savage Dreams; A Book of Migrations), is the state in which the mind, the body and the world are aligned; thus she begins with the long historical association between walking and philosophizing. She briefly looks at the fossil evidence of human evolution, pointing to the ability to move upright on two legs as the very characteristic that separated humans from the other beasts and has allowed us to dominate them. She looks at pilgrims, poets, streetwalkers and demonstrators, and ends up, surprisingly, in Las Vegas--or maybe not so surprisingly in that city of tourists, since "Tourism itself is one of the last major outposts of walking." Inevitably, as these words suggest, Solnit's focus isn't pedestrianism's past but its prognosis--the way in which the culture of walking has evolved out of the disembodiment of everyday life resulting from "automobilization and suburbanization." Familiar as that message sounds, Solnit delivers it without the usual ecological and ideological pieties. Her book captures, in the ease and cadences of its prose, the rhythms of a good walk. The relationship between walking and thought and its expression in words is the underlying theme to which she repeatedly returns. "Language is like a road," she writes; "it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read." Agent: Bonnie Nadell. 4-city author tour.
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A luminous study of a little-considered but essential human capability. Walking is natural, or rather part of natural history, writes essayist Solnit (A Book of Migrations, 1997, etc.), but choosing to walk in the landscape as a contemplative, spiritual, or aesthetic experience has a specific cultural ancestry. Moving with ease from discussions of early hominid skeletal structure to the place of wandering on foot in the development of the Romantic poetic sensibility, Solnit embraces nature and culture alike in this vigorous look at all things peripatetic. Walking, she observes, is good for us humans, and not only for the exercise it affords; it also allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. Her portraits of famous walkers of city streets and rural byways alikeHenry Thoreau, John Muir, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Charles Baudelaire among themsuggest that the best thinking is indeed done, as Saint Jerome observed, by walking around; the authors remarks on the history of pilgrimage show the importance of peregrination in contemplative spiritual traditions. And Solnits own memoirs of wandering on foot across the hills of California and England and down the busy streets of Europes great capitalsand, in a particularly inspired turn, along the Las Vegas Stripoffer inspiration and succor to anyone who rails against the soulless supremacy of automobiles in the modern age. Walking alone can mark a person as an oddball, she observes (especially if, like the French poet Grard de Nerval, the walker chooses a lobster on a leash as a strolling companion). And walking alone can mark a woman as a potential victim or a prostitute, with all the attendant perils. Even so, the careful reader, duly warned, will emerge from Solnits pages moved to wander. Full of learned asides and juicy historical tidbits: a fine addition to the literature of rambling. (First serial rights to Outside) -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.