"Wanderlust: A History of Walking"
Reading history and reviews
Finished in 2008It took me a while to finish reading this cultural history of walking, but maybe that was appropriate - the phrase "the mind at 3 miles an hour" is cited a few times to denote the close link between walking and thinking that many historical figures have had. And the book certainly made me think, especially since, as someone who doesn't own a car, walking is my principle method of getting around.
What becomes clear is that people's reasons for walking have varied greatly over time, social class, gender and physical location - walking is very different depending on whether you're doing it for pleasure or out of necessity, whether you're in a city or in the country, and whether you're a man or a woman. It was also interesting to read how attitudes to walking have changed over the last few centuries, particularly the "romantic" notion that walking in nature is something inherently (morally or spiritually) good, is really a cultural invention which has arisen relatively recently. People's relationship with and attitudes to the environment through which they walk about is tightly bound up with their culture.
Solnit (who lives in California) talks about how the rise of car culture and corresponding changes in urban planning to accommodate it have often been made at the expense of walkers, and that in some places (such as Guiliani's New York) walking has increasingly been seen as an activity undertaken by social undesirables (a status that ironically it seems to have had in pre-Industrial Revolution England).
Towards the end of the book she suggests that attitudes to walking to some extent reflect our attitudes to own bodies - people who travel to a gym in order to walk or run a similar distance that they drove, have a very different view of their body compared to someone who walks in order to get around. While I found all of the book fascinating, this point made a particularly strong impression on me and made me question my own attitudes (it was also a contributory factor in finally making me clean off my bike and start cycling again). Overall, while "Wanderlust" wasn't exactly an easy read for me it was certainly very compelling and thought-provoking, and would I think be very interesting to read again sometime.