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Wanderlust: A History of Walking

The first general history of walking—provocative and profound.
What does it mean to be out walking in the world, whether in a landscape or a metropolis, on a pilgrimage or a protest march? In this first general history of walking, Rebecca Solnit draws together many histories to create a range of possibilities for this most basic act. Arguing that walking as history means walking for pleasure and for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit homes in on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece to the poets of the Romantic Age, from the perambulations of the Surrealists to the ascents of mountaineers. With profiles of some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction—from Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Rousseau to Argentina's Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet to Andre Breton's Nadja—Wanderlust offers a provocative and profound examination of the interplay between the body, the imagination, and the world around the walker.

Reviews

  • “A history of walking that is about time and space and consciousness of the world as much as about putting one foot in front of the other.”
  • “A writer of startling freshness and precision.”
  • “[A] magisterial history of walking.”

Blog

  • Verso's guide to political walking

    A bestseller in France, A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B — the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble — and reveals what they say about us. 

    Inspired by this brilliant and erudite new bookout this month on Verso, we present Verso's updated guide to political walking.

    1. A Philosophy of Walking - Frédéric Gros

    Gros illuminates a new philosophical history of walking, and provides new ways of navigating and interacting with one's environment politically. Walking has long been held as the key to opening the mind, reconnecting with one’s self and nature. From Kierkegaard to Kant to Kerouac, some of the finest thinkers of history credit a good walk with inspiration for their ideas (dating back to the Aristotle's 'peripatetic' lectures) Gros’s new book details how this most basic of human transportation can cause commonsensical-looking things to be unfounded and certain improbable-looking things to be true. Gros details how walking can help us join as one with the natural world, and liberate us from crises and stresses of identity. 

    2. Explore Everything - Bradley L. Garrett

    It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us—the cities we live in—that need to be rediscovered. Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it ‘place hacking’: the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

    The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.

    3. The View from the Train - Patrick Keiller

    In his sequence of films, Patrick Keiller retraces the hidden story of the places where we live, the cities and landscapes of our everyday lives. Referencing writers such as Benjamin and Lefebvre, this collection follows his career since the late 1970s, exploring themes including the surrealist perception of the city; the relationship of architecture and film; how cities change over time, and how films represent this; as well as accounts of cross-country journeys involving historical figures, unexpected ideas and an urgent portrait of post-crash Britain.

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  • “Psychotic spatial awareness”: Will Self on Rebecca Solnit and political walking.

    Writing in the Guardian, Will Self argues that walking is political. He points out that while a century ago 90% of Londoner's journeys were made on foot, according to current projections "walking will have died out altogether as a means of transport by the middle of this century." Attempting to demonstrate how alienated we have become from our physical environment, Self imagines what might happen to city dwellers in Britain if our transport systems disappeared overnight and we were forced to rely on our feet to get us around,

    Put bluntly: deprived of mechanised means of locomotion - the car, the bus, the train - and without the aid of technology, the majority of urbanites, who constitute the vast majority of Britons, neither know where they are, nor are capable of getting somewhere else under their own power.

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  • “The Butterfly and the Boiling Point”: Rebecca Solnit on the spark and sustenance of global change in 2011

    In the midst of simultaneous eruptions of resistance and escalating global turmoil, one can't help but wonder why, after years of repression, these particular people have found the strength and the will to organize and rebel? In a beautifully written article, Rebecca Solnit recently examined global events the context of social boiling points and the necessary conditions for revolution. Solnit, an acclaimed author, historian and activist, begins her piece with a poetic survey of recent uprisings:

    Revolution is as unpredictable as an earthquake and as beautiful as spring. Its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be.

    Revolution is a phase, a mood, like spring, and just as spring has its buds and showers, so revolution has its ebullience, its bravery, its hope, and its solidarity. Some of these things pass. The women of Cairo do not move as freely in public as they did during those few precious weeks when the old rules were suspended and everything was different. But the old Egypt is gone and Egyptians' sense of themselves-and our sense of them-is forever changed.

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Other books by Rebecca Solnit