Solnit, Rebecca 1961-
SOLNIT, Rebecca 1961-
Essayist, critic, and activist.
Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
Ranch, with Michael Light, Twin Palms (Santa Fe, NM), 1993.
Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West, Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
(With Ronald Takaki) Tracing Cultures, Friends of Photography (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland, Verso (New York, NY), 1997.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
River of Shadows, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Rebecca Solnit is an essayist, critic, and activist whose early works include A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland and Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West. A Book of Migration was written after Solnit visited Ireland, her ancestral homeland. Her essays, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, offer readers "a graceful introduction" and "enrich" readers' appreciation of Ireland. New York Times reviewer Rand Richards Cooper called Migrations a "fascinating, annoying, tiring … brilliant mediation on travel."
In Savage Dreams Solnit returns to her activist roots. She explores two opposing landscapes: the Nevada Test Site (for nuclear testing) and Yosemite National Park. Los Angeles Times reviewer Carole Gallagher congratulated Solnit on writing "intelligent mediations [that] may awaken us from our self-congratulatory coma." While a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Savage Dreams brings on "powerful images of destruction and conquest." Jan Zita Grover, writing in the Women's Review of Books, commended Solnit, calling her anger "poetic precision" and regarding Savage Dreams as an "almost faultlessly integrated narrative."
In 2000, Solnit penned an in-depth history of pedestrianism in Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Here Solnit contemplates the introspective nature of walking for the sake of walking. She reflects on the writings of philosophers and literary giants who have expounded on man's desire and need to walk through his world in order to experience, as Solnit states, "the world through the body and the body through the world." Reviewer, Andrew O'Hehir, writing for Salon.com, called Wanderlust "a delightful, mind-expanding journey" and noted that Solnit is able to describe the nature of writing while moving easily between "the personal mode … to the analytical … without appearing self-indulgent." Solnit explains that the reliance on technology to get man from here to there has actually disconnected him from the world around him and isolated him over time.
Writer and walker Paul Willis commended Solnit's Wanderlust in Books and Culture as a "fascinating thesis" on modern man's cultural connection to walking. Solnit writes that "automated motion, actual or virtual, creates a false urgency." She insists that through walking man is able to observe nature and the world around him at the speed of thought, which she figures to be about the speed of meandering along without urgency.
Critics praised Wanderlust as an achievement, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly likening it to "a walking conversation with a particularly well-informed companion." While Rebecca Miller of Library Journal observed that Solnit "enthusiastically and intelligently threads the divergent material into a richly textured map of walks," Greg Michalenko, writing for Alternatives Journal, considered the author a "superb stylist" and found her insights into the ordinary "stunning."
River of Shadows, published in late 2002, sketches the life of nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Although known for his photographic studies of movement, Yosemite National Park, and mundane daily life, Muybridge led quite a checkered life. Solnit describes in great detail how Muybridge murdered his wife's lover and was acquitted, even though he admitted to the crime and was witnessed completing it. Solnit goes so far as to enlist modern-day doctors to analyze how a blow to the head that Muybridge suffered fifteen years before the murder may have altered his state of mind and left him brain damaged. Delving deep into the history of Muybridge's era and studying industrialists like Leland Stanford, who marked the American West and indulged and encouraged Muybridge, Solnit writes what Stephen Goode of the Washington Times called a "first-rate" book. Goode wrote that Solnit offers a "potent look at a very dynamic time in American history." Dave Thomson, writing in the New Republic praised Solnit for rescuing "a strange, inexplicable fellow from mere histories of photography." Thomson referred to River of Shadows as "a book of enormous intelligence and fascination," and called Solnit a "natural scholar" and "a careful, elegant writer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alternatives Journal, summer, 2002, Greg Michalenko, "Walking," p. 44.
American Scholar, spring, 2003, Sarah Dry, "California Dreaming," p. 147.
Bloomsbury Review, March-April, 1996, R. K. Dickson, review of Tracing Cultures, p. 28.
Books and Culture, September-October, 2002, Paul Willis, "On Foot," p. 18.
Choice, February, 1992, K. Dills, review of Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era, p. 886.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 29, 2003, Charles Matthews, review of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, p. K1322.
Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Kathleen A. Shanahan, review of A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland, p. 105; February 15, 2000, Rebecca Miller, "Moving at the Speed of Thought" p. 185; February 15, 2000, Rebecca Miller, review of Wanderlust: A History of Walking, p. 186.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 15, 1995, Carole Gallagher, "Drifting toward Catastrophe," p. 3.
New Republic, March 31, 2003, David Thomson, "Locomotion," p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, June 1, 1997, Rand Richards Cooper, "Travel," p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, September 19, 1994, review of Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West, p. 62; March 10, 1997, review of A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland, p. 54; February 28, 2000, review of Wanderlust: A History of Walking, p. 69; December 2, 2002, review of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, p. 47.
Washington Times, April 27, 2003, Stephen Goode, "The Nineteenth-Century Photographer Who Changed the World with His Horses," p. B08; April 29, 2003, Jason Harrison, "Horsefeathers," p. A16.
Women's Review of Books, June, 1995, Jan Zita Grover, "The Politics of Landscape," p. 17.
Aurora Forum,http://auroraforum.stanford.edu/ (May 16, 2003), Rebecca Solnit, "Your Body on the Line?"