Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (review)
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Rebecca Solnit. Wanderlust: A History ofWalking. New York: Viking, 2000. 326p. Susan M. Lucas University of Nevada, Reno "Walking is asubject that is always straying," writes Rebecca Solnit, and sheshould know (8). Her latest book, Wanderlust:A History ofiWalking, winds through myriad discussions such as the origins ofbidpedalism, challenges ofpilgrimage, and collective action of protests. Other topics that cross her path include the contrast between urban and rural walking, publicand private goals ofmountaineering, and even the monotony ofthe treadmill. Wanderlust is publicized as the "first general history of walking," and as such, Solnit cannot linger too long on any one particular topic. She is well aware ofthe immense possibilities for a history ofwalking , describing her own as "partial," as "an idiosyncratic path." Her overall aim is to trace the history ofthis "most obvious and most obscure" act to account for the current state ofwalking in the United States and to assess its future as an everyday practice (3-4). Solnit situates her history ofwalking in response to technologies that encourage the disembodiment of everyday life and to the present condition of waning public space and leisure time. For her the act ofwalking "is one way ofmaintaining a bulwark against this erosion of the mind, the body, the landscape, and the city" that modern life engenders (1 1). This history is also one of embodiment, and she suggests that her discussion will investigate the body as a "source ofaction and production" in away that "recent postmodern theory" has not (28). Solnit refers to "hundreds ofvolumes and essays" that represent a "passive body for which sexuality and biological function are the only signs oflife"; it is "not the universal human body but the white-collar urban body, or rather a theoretical body" that never even experiences "minor physical exertions" (28). Certainly some postmodern theory reaches a level of abstraction that denies embodiment, but some readers might be uneasy with her sweeping critique of critical theory. Despite the reference to numerous — yet unnamed — texts, she identifies only one specific theorist "at odds" with the sense ofactual physical vulnerability. I found myselfwanting her to be more explicit in her criticism ofpostmodern theory; but, perhaps doing so would lessen the book's appeal to a general audience. Wanderlust covers a lot ofterritory, and while there are many notable chapters, I can only highlight some of her most compelling. To explore the fundamental connection between the mind and body that walking brings, Solnit draws on scientific approaches in chapter three, "Rising and Falling: The Theorists of Bipedalism ." Her inquiry introduces paleontologists, anthropologists, and anatomists 138 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * SPRING 2001 to consider the meaning ofwalking in terms of the human species. She follows the debates that theorize the origins of our two-legged gait. In contrast to the widely held view that our consciousness is what makes us human, the scientific information in this chapter argues that our upright form of locomotion is actually what distinguishes us most dramatically from other species. In addition to assessing the evolution of the physical act of walking, Solnit examines how walking in nature became politicized. In chapter ten, "OfWalking Clubs and Land Wars," she explains how the American nature retreat celebrated the virtues ofthe natural world while inspiring the formation ofthe Sierra Club to defend such places for recreation. She also profiles European groups like The Naturfreunde, the Wandervogel, and New Pathfinder troops that organized in response to the need to preserve open space. Included here is a fascinating discussion on the role of Britain's working class to secure access to common land and rights-of-way in England. The British workers' fight against private property boundaries that she documents challenges the common perception ofa middleclass monopoly on nature appreciation. Though Solnit gives considerable attention to political issues related to rural walking, she also explores the politics ofwalking in urban areas. The core issue in chapter thirteen, "Citizens ofthe Streets: Parties, Processions, and Revolutions" is the critical role ofpublic space in democratic processes. The march ofthe market women, born out of the French Revolution, serves as her starting point for the history ofbodily protest. Solnit tracks revolutions in Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia that operated in the form...