With all due regards to the subtitle of this book, history's the least of it!Wanderlust is astonishingly more than that, including digression, celebration, and a certain amount of excess that lifts the mundane practice of walking out of the everyday world into close competition with philosophy, art, and religion.
At first, there would seem to be only so much you can say about walking: putting one foot ahead of another, how the body measures itself against the earth, etc. Rebecca Solnit, who writes about public art and spaces and authored A Book of Migrations and Savage Dreams says all that, and then some. Starting with human bi-pedal development in evolution, she points out that the animal kingdom has nothing else like this . . . proud unsteady tower, specializing instead in four-legged creatures that are stable as a table. She imaginatively equates the fall of human- kind with the falls of a suddenly upright creature that must balance all its shifting weight on a single foot as it moves. Ancients often walked to think; aristocrats to socialize in walled gardens, but it was Rousseau, in the 18th century, who popularized the idea of walking as a conscious cultural act and brought it out into the roads and the streets of public landscape. And that's just the first 16 pages!From there Solnit takes us on a wild hike through adventurous, occasionally far-flung neighborhoods, including religion (pilgrimages, stations of the cross, labyrinths), politics, aesthetics, sex, and feminism, sometimes coming within hailing distance of overhyping some of the connections. (An ingenious mind like Solnit's could as easily find some of the same ties between these spheres and sitting, singing, or cooking.)And here's a clever idea: a running (not walking) banner along the bottom of each page carrying relevant quotes from a variety of writers, like Jane Austen and Alexis de Tocqueville. Copious backnotes document every chapter.
While she has relatively little to say about walking as exercise, and almost nothing about Australian aborigine walkabouts, she delves deeply into prostitution and delivers paeans to several big cities as well. Whatever else you may find this book, you will never call it pedestrian.
Maude McDaniel claims Cumberland, Maryland, as her stomping (and walking) grounds.