I have been an avid hiker for many years, but since the onset of the pandemic I also started walking a lot more in the city, at first simply to avoid the crowded public transport, and later because I had begun to enjoy it so much. When I learned that this book existed I just had to read it, and I can now say with conviction that it is a true gem.
The first definition of to walk in Merriam-Webster is to move along on foot : advance by steps. This surely explains the act of walking, at least the technical aspect of it, but it cannot explain all the facets and complexity of one of the essential traits of human existence. Solnit, on the other hand, does not restrict her examination in any way, instead she offers her readers a vast and meandering journey that manages to touch on seemingly every aspect of her subject, from the many purposes of walking, be it marching, hiking, mountaineering, running, protesting, or making a pilgrimage, to the many locations, outside, inside, in the city, in the wilderness, through fields or forests, or on private land. She describes the impact and connection of walking on and to philosophy, literature, architecture and city planning, exploration, and more. There is a chapter on women and walking that is a straight punch to the gut, and that I won’t forget anytime soon, and one on the flâneur, the stroller without a distinct purpose, which is fascinating. The parts on labyrinths and treadmills were enjoyable and funny to me, as well as the description of our way of walking as an unbelievably precarious method of movement because our bipedalism has us teetering on the edge of falling flat on our faces pretty much all of the time.
All these historical and scientific facts and the close examinations of certain aspects are carefully livened up by personal experiences and observations, and the balance she strikes here is perfect. This is an incredibly enjoyable and educational book, highly recommended not only for enthusiastic walkers and hikers, but for everyone interested in the human condition.