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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel

The Lost Art of Walking

Geoff Nicholson

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To purchase The Lost Art of Walking

Title: The Lost Art of Walking
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008
Length: 258 pages
Availability: The Lost Art of Walking - US
The Lost Art of Walking - UK
The Lost Art of Walking - Canada
  • The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism

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Our Assessment:

B : somewhat aimless, but good rambling fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 27/11/2008 .
The LA Times . 16/11/2008 Karla Starr
The New York Observer . 4/11/2008 Jesse Wegman
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/12/2008 D.T.Max
Wall St. Journal . 21/11/2008 David Propson
The Washington Post . 9/11/2008 Jonathan Yardley

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t is hard to find any literary, cultural or historical reference to walking that is not included in Geoff Nicholsonís bewitchingly informative treatise. (...) Part of the fun is the way he condenses the work of others who have approached the subject pompously or sententiously." - The Economist

  • "Given how many current walking references he makes before leaving -- performance artists, "street" photographers, song lyrics, travelers crossing entire continents on foot -- one suspects that it's the author, and not the act of walking, who is somewhat lost." - Karla Starr, The Los Angeles Times

  • "In the end, the rambling, unfocused and somewhat itinerant philosophizing adds up to less than a bookís worth of material, something Mr. Nicholson seems to grasp" - Jesse Wegman, The New York Observer

  • "This is not a travel book so much as an omnium-gatherum for those who like to ride what was once called "the marrow bone coach." It is perfect for the armchair walker. Nicholsonís stance is that of the ordinary man on the street, fortified by his commonsense Englishness. (...) The loping pace of this book, comparable to the act of walking itself, invites time for trivia, and there is a lot in these pages." - D.T.Max, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) slight but amusing treatise on pedestrianism (.....) As Mr. Nicholson ambles from topic to topic, The Lost Art of Walking often seems like nothing but a series of detours -- but that is part of the book's charm." - David Propson, Wall Street Journal

  • "The gifted, resourceful Geoff Nicholson here conducts the reader on a leisurely, entirely delightful ramble through the history and lore of walking, an exercise that calls to my mind nothing so much as one of the few notable walking songs he fails to mention, the great New Orleans funeral march "Oh, Didn't He Ramble"" - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Geoff Nicholson is drawn to the unusual, and after writing about Sex Collectors he turns his attention to the arguably even more bizarre -- pedestrians ! Of course, everyone shuffles around a few steps here and there during the day, but then most people generally engage in some sort of sexual activity occasionally as well; just as in Sex Collectors he was, in large part, after those who really took it seriously, so in The Lost Art of Walking he is more interested in those who really amble around a lot -- or walk with determined purpose.
       Nicholson himself is quite the walker, and he notes that the two cities he divides his time between -- Los Angeles and London -- are two very different walking towns. He finds that LA lends itself to more walking than one might suspect -- but since he begins his book having tripped on its streets and broken his arm -- making it surprisingly more difficult to walk around at any length -- he's not entirely convincing on this point. From the start, Nicholson makes himself a central presence in the book, writing a good deal about his own walking experiences -- in the desert, around his Sheffield home, working at a department store, pounding the New York pavement, etc. etc. -- while also offering all sorts of walking-trivia and titbits, along with a bit of philosophical speculation.
       Nicholson is very much pro-walking, and is, for example, not a big fan of charity-walks:

Walking is special but not strange. It's not a stunt. It's worth doing for its own sake.
       Still, he acknowledges that the automobile has changed things:
Yes, there was a time when everybody walked: they did it because they had to. The moment they had a choice, they chose not to do it.
       Indeed, Nicholson needs to find walking 'special' -- i.e. at least somewhat out of the ordinary -- in order to make a book out of the subject; the idea that walking is simply perfectly normal would be too simple. Hence the focus on extremes and the bizarre -- which, while certainly entertaining, is also somewhat misleading. After all, walking really is a rather pedestrian affair .....
       Still, the bizarre does offer good entertainment value. There's the sporting aspect of it, at least in the nineteenth century, with Nicholson presenting a variety of wagers and challenges that led to some bizarre long-distance/duration walking stunts. And then there were the professional pedestriennes:
For a brief period in the nineteenth century female walking was a serious sport and a serious business. Large crowds turned out to watch, and successful women earned a great deal of money. Even so, it was an activity that had something sleazy and daring about it; pedestriennes weren't much better than actresses.
       Oddly, however, Nicholson doesn't pay much attention to contemporary race-walking (despite it being an Olympic discipline).
       He meets with the great walker Iain Sinclair and has some fun making fun of Guy Debord and 'psychogeography', which he has a hard time taking seriously (quite rightly, given his experiences). There's some Sheffield nostalgia, as he recounts his childhood walks -- and his mum's ultimately fatal one -- and a look at some walking photographers. He considers walking in movies, inebriated walking, takes a very small stab at pilgrimages and several at the varieties of city-street walking (particularly in New York, London, and LA) -- and briefly also considers the rather different streetwalking.
       There are some interesting statistics along the way, such as the fact that:
Of the 70,000 or so pedestrians who are injured by cars in America every year, 15,000 are New Yorkers, a staggering proportion. With 2.7 percent of the nation's population the city has 21 percent of the injuries.
       And Nicholson lets his mind wander, such as wondering, after noting that Charlie Chaplin had his feet insured for some ridiculous sum:
Is there any recorded case of anybody ever collecting one these Hollywood-body-part insurance policies ?
       It's the agreeable tone, not-too-serious approach, and general loose drift that makes this book, like most of his books, an entertaining little read. As usual, his talents are rather wasted on a non-fiction subject, which he can't take quite serious enough (there's little of the subtitle-promised science of walking, for example) and it probably would have worked better lightly dressed up as a work of fiction (even taking as the strained premise an author wanting to write about walking ...), but perhaps non-fiction was/is the easier sell. Nicholson's breezy style, wealth of just-odd-enough experiences, and a rather laid-back attitude towards research make for an entertaining if unexceptional read.
       Good fun, and good pass-time reading, though hardly much more.

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The Lost Art of Walking: Reviews: Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in London and Los Angeles.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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