Book review: ‘Wanderlust’ by Rebecca Solnit

WanderlustI was very much looking forward to reading Wanderlust, as I had recently enjoyed Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby and A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Wanderlust is a much bigger and more ambitious book—so much bigger that I often struggled to read the very small print in the Granta paperback edition. On the back cover, Will Self describes the book as ‘magisterial’. That's exactly what it is.

Wanderlust is, as its subtitle explains, nothing less than a history of walking. But the book also manages to include personal anecdotes in amongst such grand topics as the evolution of walking; walking as a means to thinking; walking as protest; walking clubs; walking as physical challenge; walking in the wild; walking in the streets; and much more.

As in her other books, Solnit's writing style is unpretentious, and highly readable. She manages to cover an awful lot of ground without making you feel rushed. She proceeds at a brisk pace, but still finds time to slow down occasionally to examine particular subjects of interest in more detail.

Although Solnit is American, I was very pleased to see how much attention she gives to walking in non-American cultures—especially European ones. Rousseau, Wordsworth, Kierkegaard, Kinder Scout, Paris, Italy, you name it, they're all in there. As a self-confessed Darwin groupie, I was disappointed to find no mention of Darwin's famous Sand Walk in the section about great thinkers' having walked to meditate. I was also surprised to see no mention of the Jarrow March in the section about walking as political protest. But these are not really criticisms: with such a broad subject, Wanderlust was never going to be the definitive book on walking. Nor is any other book, thank goodness. But Wanderlust deserves to be cited in all serious future books on the subject.

Very enjoyable.

(Those of you with decrepit eyes might do well to go for the Kindle edition.)

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.


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