The Walker

On Finding and Losing Yourself in the Modern City

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Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 10 Nov 2020

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From Dickensian London to today’s megacities—what urban walking tells us about modern life

There is no such thing as a false step. Every time we walk we are going somewhere. Especially if we are going nowhere. Moving around the modern city is not a way of getting from A to B, but of understanding who and where we are. In a series of riveting intellectual rambles, Matthew Beaumont retraces episodes in the history of the walker since the mid-nineteenth century.

From Dickens’s insomniac night rambles to restless excursions through the faceless monuments of today’s neoliberal city, the act of walking is one of self-discovery and self-escape, of disappearances and secret subversions. Pacing stride for stride alongside literary amblers and thinkers such as Edgar Allan Poe, André Breton, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Ray Bradbury, Beaumont explores the relationship between the metropolis and its pedestrian life.

Through these writings, Beaumont asks: Can you get lost in a crowd? What are the consequences of using your smartphone in the street? What differentiates the nocturnal metropolis from the city of daylight? What connects walking, philosophy and the big toe? And can we save the city—or ourselves—by taking to the pavement?
From Dickensian London to today’s megacities—what urban walking tells us about modern life

There is no such thing as a false step. Every time we walk we are going somewhere. Especially if we are going...

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Featured Reviews

I really enjoyed this academic writing about walking. It was professionally described from many different angles and points of view. The amount of writers, who were taken into account while discussing the walking is vast and impressive- Skakespeare, Dickens, Plato, Nietzsche- just to mention a few. I would strongly recommend it to anybody who likes dissertations and is passionate about academic reading. Enjoy!

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<i>"Isn't it really quite extraordinary to see that, since man took his first steps, no one has asked himself why he walks, how he walks, if he has ever walked, if he could walk better, what he achieves in walking?"</i> — Slowly coming out of a long period of nationwide lock-down and self-quarantine, simply going out on a stroll in the city has taken on a strange, elating, fresh importance. As I walked in the re-awakening streets, I found myself thinking about this book that nudges the walker to think more about each step we take, elevating walking into a meditation. Anchored in great works of literature, The Walker is undoubtedly an incredibly well researched book that takes a philosophical deep-dive into the meaning of modernity on the urban space from a pedestrian point of view. This work weaves through all the themes that impact the psychology of walking: literature, of course, but also architecture, technology, philosophy, society, economy and politics. However, it does feel a lot more academic than your average non-fiction books, and it is surely a densely informational read that might be difficult to get through at times. If nothing else, this book will add some valuable new entries to your future TBR list with its wide range of great literary references.

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This is a fascinating work of non-fiction, which I certainly learnt from. The narrative is engaging and accessible, and I would highly recommend it.

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I liked this overall and it was interesting to see the idea of the flaneur through multiple authors' eyes and from various time periods. I liked the writing style and how the quotes was embedded in the writing well. The city was shown in many way and through various eyes and this showed the city as an ever changing thing. This book was fascinating and interesting overall.

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This is a wonderful piece of work, a fanciful weaving-together and contrasting of early modern literature, focused on authors' and artists' practices of walking and wandering in the manner of the archetypal flâneur. In the manner of many of my favorite books, it is a difficult text to categorize. While literary criticism is the vehicle, the book is primarily social commentary, in which he uses different 'modes' of walking or existing in public space (fleeing, wandering, stumbling, collapsing, etc.) to complicate the notion of the modern subject. The book's central gimmick is a line from André Breton: “There are no lost steps!”. With this, Beaumont shows that there profound commentary on modern existence etched into the scenes of urban street-walking from early modern literature. This becomes Beaumont's crie de cœur for 'a modernism of the streets', the attempt of authors to 'make the cities with which they were familiar seem new or strange by traversing them aimlessly'. My only reservation (perhaps unfair, since this is a work of literary criticism), is that Beaumont's enthusiasm for the topic predisposes him to quote multiple authors in a single breath, often with his own inexplicable commentary on their quality. But: a small price to pay. I found the formal logic of the book challenging, but I have convinced myself that it serves a purpose, and is in fact rather artful. After the introduction, each of the nine chapters treats one piece of fiction extensively, though often with extended digressions on other relevant works. In this manner, we proceed through works by Poe, Dickens, Bellamy, H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton, Ford Maddox Ford, Woolf, Bataille, and Bradburry. Abruptly, then, chapter 10 does not focus on any particular piece of literature. Suddenly, Beaumont is addressing us directly, and taking us on a strangely literal tour of a particular mode of architecture. My explanation is this: form, in this book, mirrors content. Beaumont takes us on a nine-chapter traversal of the literature, seemingly aimlessly, but all the while allowing us to develop a political consciousness of how we inhabit and move through urban space. His final digression, which might almost be an article in the Guardian, shows us how the trends he identifies in the literature have shaped the present we inhabit. For my own sake, I have to note that I was enormously moved by Beaumont's Afterword, which is a short meditation on the Tyburn Tree, the infamous gallows of London that stood at the corner of modern-day Hyde Park, very near to Marble Arch. Beaumont contrasts the empty imperialist bombast of the Arch, which leads nowhere and commemorates nothing, with the ignominy of the small paving stone that marks Tyburn Tree, whose victims number in the tens of thousands. In a beautiful coincidence, I read much of this book in Washington Square Park, New York's most famously social space. The arch here is similarly triumphalist, and also famously built on the bones of the wretched of its own empire (in this case, the re-possessed land of Angolan slaves, and a potter's field with over 20,000 bodies). I am here, many miles from my home in Harlem, because this is the first place I have come to resume in-person activities, as the reality of the COVID lockdown unfolds. Two months ago, a block west, I was part of a crowd chanting our entitlement to the streets as we forced police into retreat, to the safety of sixth avenue; now, I attend an in-person Marxist reading group here, where it's difficult to hear each other over masks and the sounds of six other overlapping interpersonal realities jostling in the air, as they always have in this park. The police still maintain a heavy presence in or near the park, but as of last week had retreated to two small groups, circling each leg of the arch, to prevent graffiti. As we left, the park's ubiquitous punk teenagers were shouting at the cops: quoting the NYPD misconduct reports that had just been published. In short, there is hardly a better place to imagine a new politics of the street.

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A fascinating book a book that caught my attention from the first pages.The art of walking thoughts as you walk through eyes of many different people A book I will be recommending,#netgalley#versobooks

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Highly enjoyable, despite being an academic reading not easy to classify. I particularly liked the way Beaumont structured the chapters, focusing on different types of walking the city (convalescing, fleeing, collapsing, etc.) with relevant examples from various works of fiction. Very well researched and quite dense, I have to admit that the parts that shifted from literature were not as exciting for me, personally. However, it brought to my attention many interesting books and authors.

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TOLKIEN Score: 42.50 / 100 Scoring Breakdown (out of 4): Goodreads - 3.00 Design - 2 50 Page - 0 Tired - 1 Prose - 4 Conclusion - 2 Length - 1 Reread - 0 Recommend - 1 Thought-Provoking - 3 Selected Category Notes: Prose - Beaumont is a professor in the English Department of a university in England. He knows some things about the ENGLISH LANGUAGE. Words that I was not familiar with are sprinkled throughout this book. When I say sprinkled, think of this masterpiece. For instance, the flâneur is incredibly important to this book. So yeah, he scored high here. Thought-Provoking - There is a lot here to unpack. Honestly, most of it went over my head. The biggest thing I was struck with was how many literary works I don’t know. While the authors that Beaumont looked at were often familiar (Dickens, Bradbury, Poe), the works were less well known. It made me want to explore some of them. Also, I have never thought about the influence of walking through a city, but it is now something I will take less for granted, especially in a time where being in public is not desirable for health reasons. Thanks to NetGalley, Verso Books, and Matthew Beaumont for an advanced release copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I enjoyed it. However, it was much more cerebral than I anticipated. It was dense with intellectual theory on the benefits of walking. I enjoyed his literary references from Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rys, Ray Bradbury. "Dickens compares himself to the restlessness of a great city the way it tumbles and tosses before it can go to sleep." "Every nightwalk is thus a fugue or psychogenic flight-an escape from the self and at the same time-a plunge into its depths." I enjoyed the psychological perspective of the mental benefits of walking. I am a distance walker, and at times, I feel as though I am walking aimlessly. I felt this book explained the purpose of walking aimlessly, as a means of self reflection and the fact that "compulsive wandering is linked to compulsive wondering." Thank you NetGalley and Verson for the opportunity to read this delightful book! jb

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Thank you to the author, Verso Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to like this book - I tried so very hard to get into it, and to like it... but it was too much for me. Too dense, too academic, too much literary criticism and not enough real life. I am sure this will find its audience of enthusiastic readers, but the description led me to expect something different, and what I got was not something I would read, given the choice. I slogged through it due to my feeling of responsibility, having received an ARC and all, but the only part that I really enjoyed was the Afterword, with the author giving his own perspective, exploration and thoughts, rather than an academic treatise on works of classic literature.

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Very original work, slow-read but inspiring. It is a compilation of earlier essays, and the reader should be aware that the author is focused rather on literary criticism than the walking itself, with references to writers from Dickens to Wolf to Bradbury. There are also some personal recollections but the style of this book is mostly academic. Thanks to the publisher, Verso Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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