Reviews — From the July 2013 issue

Talking the Walk

A stroll through our cities

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Discussed in this essay:

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, by Michael Sorkin. North Point Press. 272 pages. $16 (paper).

All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities, by Michael Sorkin. Verso. 320 pages. $26.95 (paper).

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 320 pages. $27.

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, by Alexandra Horowitz. Scribner. 320 pages. $27.

A History of Future Cities, by Daniel Brook. W. W. Norton. 480 pages. $27.95.

Solvitur ambulando, scholars and scientists have long been advised when faced with a tricky passage from the Summa contra gentiles or one of Zeno’s mind-bending paradoxes: It is solved by walking. A stroll is handy therapy for any number of afflictions, great and small — good for the digestion, distracting of worries, refreshing of spirit, and maybe even the preferred way to do philosophy. Aristotle thought so, popular legend says, which is why we call the school he founded Peripatetic. In truth the name may be derived instead from the colonnades of the ancient Athenian Lyceum, where his followers met to argue — peripatoi rather than peripatetikos, if you’re keeping score — but let’s not ruin the image of donnish conversation carried on by a couple of ambling brainiacs. Centuries later, Heinrich Heine would gently mock Kant for the regularity of his afternoon constitutional, always taken “with his gray coat and the Spanish stick in his hand,” as a sign of intellectual rigidity — one by which the rationalist philosopher’s neighbors allegedly set their clocks. Nietzsche and the Lake School poets were driven to wilder, more romantic wanderings.

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is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. His most recent book is the essay collection Unruly Voices (Biblioasis).

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  • Robert

    I really enjoyed the way the author pointed out the socializing affect of city walking interaction, vs the anti-socializing affect of car and highway non-interaction. It made me think of how our bodies are machines ,like cars, that we control; but we have so much more of a sense of ownership and control of them than we do a car it must be better to walk in a city than drive on a highway. More empowerment, more connection to each other

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