In addition to having a thing for walking, I also have a thing for books. So, what follows is and will be an ever-growing list of reading material (books, book chapters and sections, essays, and so on) about walking, pedestrianism, hiking, the philosophy getting out and about, and any related sociological and cultural issues. I may get into a little "walking and mindfulness" territory, but I'm going to try to stay away from the overtly spiritual stuff because, well, it's just not me.
Born to Walk
humble act of putting one foot in front of the other transcends age,
geography, culture, and class and is one of the most economical and
environmentally responsible modes of transit. Yet with our modern
fixation on speed, this healthy pedestrian activity has been largely
At a personal and professional crossroads, writer, editor, and obsessive walker Dan Rubinstein traveled throughout the U.S., U.K., and Canada to walk with people who saw the act not only as a form of transportation and recreation, but also as a path to a better world. There are no magic-bullet solutions to modern epidemics like obesity, anxiety, alienation, and climate change. But what if there is a simple way to take a step in the right direction? Combining fascinating reportage, eye-opening research, and Rubinstein’s own discoveries, Born to Walk explores how far this ancient habit can take us and how much repair is within range, and guarantees that you’ll never again take walking for granted. (From the ECW press website)
The Lost Art of Walking
The history, science, and literature of pedestrianism
How we walk, where we walk, why we walk tells the world who and what we are. Whether it’s once a day to the car, or for long weekend hikes, or as competition, or as art, walking is a profoundly universal aspect of what makes us humans, social creatures, and engaged with the world. In this book, Geoff Nicholson offers his fascinating, definitive, and personal ruminations on the literature, science, philosophy, art, and history of walking.
Nicholson finds people who walk only at night, or naked, or in the shape of a cross or a circle, or for thousands of miles at a time, in costume, for causes, or for no reason whatsoever. He examines the history and traditions of walking and its role as inspiration to artists, musicians, and writers like Bob Dylan, Charles Dickens, and Buster Keaton. In The Lost Art of Walking, he brings curiosity, imagination, and genuine insight to a subject that often strides, shuffles, struts, or lopes right by us. (From the Penguin/Random House website)
A Philosophy of Walking
In this book, thinker 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.
Gros draws attention to other thinkers who also saw walking as something central to their practice. On his travels he ponders Thoreau's eager seclusion in Walden Woods; the reason Rimbaud walked in a fury, while Nerval rambled to cure his melancholy. He shows us how Rousseau walked in order to think, while Nietzsche wandered the mountainside to write. In contrast, Kant marched through his hometown every day, exactly at the same hour, to escape the compulsion of thought.
Brilliant and erudite, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other. (From the Verso Books website)
In Wanderlust, author Rebecca Solnit traces walking’s relationship to culture and politics, studying the ambles of poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, and, in a remarkable chapter, women fighting for the right to wander and muse as men do, without hoop skirts or scandal. If walking supplies “the unpredictable incidents . . . that add up to a life,” Solnit writes, anyone dissuaded from it is denied a “vast portion of their humanity.”
Yet Wanderlust is also a requiem for walking, a practice slowly excised by our era’s “anxiety to produce.” Things have only gotten gloomier since 2000, when Solnit published the book; she had yet to meet the contemporary walker, who, if anything like me, returns from a stroll having encountered not “new thoughts and possibilities” but the familiar app-strewn landscape of her smartphone. When Solnit writes that travel is becoming “less important than arrival,” she is referring to vehicles and computers, which deliver things like her book to my door without the delight of happening upon them outside. But she might also have been describing Instagram, which, though meant to channel experience and adventure, supplies no journey between images posted for public affirmation. Is it possible for wanderlust to be its own reward? Solnit describes walking, in our time, as “the scenic route through a half-abandoned landscape of ideas and experiences.” To walk, she writes, is to take a “subversive detour.” That may still be the case. The subversion, though, might lie in telling no one else about it. (From a 2018 review in the New Yorker)
Reveries of the Solitary Walker
Reveries is an unfinished book by Genevan philosopher Jean-
The book is divided into ten chapters called "Walks" ("Promenades" in the original French). Walks One to Seven are complete, the Eighth and Ninth Walks were completed but not revised by Rousseau, while the Tenth Walk was incomplete at the author's death. The first publication was in 1782.
The content of the book is a mix of autobiographical anecdote, descriptions of the sights, especially plants, that Rousseau saw in his walks on the outskirts of Paris, and elaborations and extensions of arguments previously made by Rousseau in fields like education and political philosophy.
The work is in large parts marked by serenity and resignation, but also bears witness to Rousseau's awareness of the ill-effects of persecution towards the end of his life. NOTE: It does not have a lot to say about the act of walking. (From Wikipedia)
Jane Holtz Kay
(Various sections concerning the automobile’s impact on walking and pedestrian-friendly urban design)
Asphalt Nation offers an examination of how the automobile has ravaged America's cities and landscape over the past 100 years together with a compelling strategy for reversing our automobile dependency. Jane Holtz Kay provides a history of the rapid spread of the automobile and documents the huge subsidies commanded by the highway lobby, to the detriment of once-efficient forms of mass transportation. Demonstrating that there are economic, political, architectural, and personal solutions to the problem, she shows that radical change is entirely possible. This book is essential reading for everyone interested in the history of our relationship with the car — including on how humanity’s love affair with the automobile has impacted people’s ability to get around on foot — and the prospect of returning to a world of human mobility. (From the University of California Press website)
How to Be Idle
(Chapter on “The Ramble”)
From the founding editor of the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, The Idler, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new, universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler—sleep, work, pleasure, relationships—bemoaning the cultural skepticism of idleness while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Johnson, and Nietzsche—all of whom have admitted to doing their very best work in bed. It’s a well-known fact that Europeans spend fewer hours at work a week than Americans. So it’s only befitting that one of them—the very clever, extremely engaging, and quite hilarious Tom Hodgkinson—should have the wittiest and most useful insights into the fun and nature of being idle.
The chapter on “the ramble” discusses the risks and, more importantly, the rewards of taking an idle stroll for no reason in particular. (Partly from Library in Paris.org)
"Walking," Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, the naturalist, philosopher, and author of such classics as Walden and "Civil Disobedience," contributed a number of writings to The Atlantic in its early years. The month after his death from tuberculosis, in May 1862, the magazine published "Walking," one of his most famous essays, which extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.