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?
About the Author
Matthew Beaumont is a professor in the Department of English at University College, London. He is the the co-author, with Terry Eagleton, of The Task of the Critic: Terry Eagleton in Dialogue, and co-editor of Restless Cities. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. He lives in London.
“[The Walker] is an erudite book that moves at a pace alternating between brisk and leisurely … Like his prose, Beaumont’s mind is anything but pedestrian. He is as attuned to matters of medicine and science, anthropology, economics, philosophy and psychology as he is to literature and the visual arts … Beaumont uses the language of contemporary literary theory, but with none of the rebarbative jargon-mongering of others in the professoriate. His references to the usual suspects—from Marx, Freud and Adorno through Lacan and Derrida, to Deleuze and Guattari, Žižek and Agamben—are never gratuitous, but always helpful in understanding the literary, historical, and psychological terrain he explores.” —Willard Spiegelman, Wall Street Journal
“Matthew Beaumont’s prose is the golden thread of elegance and erudition we need to guide us through the labyrinth of the modern city. These essays confirm him to be simultaneously the possessor of a coherent and convincing overview of emergent Modernist thought and creativity in the urban context, and the inheritor of all the radical subjectivities he engages with. This is a superb and always engrossing collection.” —Will Self, author of Psychogeography
“[The Walker] is absolutely fascinating and [Beaumont’s] literary references are wonderful … I absolutely loved it.” —Jo Good, BBC Radio London
“The Walker seeks to take its reader on an intriguing journey … if you’re looking for some escapism that goes beyond the clichés of repetitive travel literature, this could well be the book for you.” —Northern Soul
“[Beaumont’s] style is a treat—elegant, intelligent and entertaining as he describes the ways we read a city with our feet and mind, and guides us through a history of walking writing from Dickens and Poe to Marx and Žižek.” —Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times
“An uncanny and haunting foreshadowing of our cities as they now appear to us … familiar subjects are given revelatory new interpretations … thought-provoking.” —Margaret Drabble, Times Literary Supplement
“Drawing on numerous literary sources, both familiar and obscure, Beaumont takes the reader on a labyrinthine journey into the literature of walking and thinking.” —Sean O’Hagan, Observer
“[A] heady blend of history and theory.” —New Yorker
“Fascinating … those interested in how literature has explored urban modernity are sure to find ample food for thought.” —Publishers Weekly
“Dazzlingly erudite.” —Chris Moss, Guardian
“Elegantly written and compellingly argued … A highly commendable, engaging, and thoroughly researched study, The Walker infuses the poetics of walking with the politics of homing.” —Maxim Shadurski, English Studies
“Striking … a poetic heft rings resoundingly throughout [Beaumont’s] commentary, justly inviting a reader’s own imagined extensions.” —Patrick James Dunagan, Rain Taxi Review of Books
“From start to finish a delight to read, The Walker is the beginning of wisdom in all things metro-pedestrian.” —Ian Thomson, New Statesman
“[The Walker] fascinates and informs from beginning to end … Beaumont has positioned himself as the foremost theorist of walking working in English literary studies today.” —Jeremy Withers, The Wellsian
“Intriguing … The Walker celebrates the secret, subversive life of cities and the people who pace their streets.” —Jane Shilling, Daily Mail
“[A] well-researched work of literary criticism.” —Hannah Beckerman, Observer
“Drawing on numerous literary sources, both familiar and obscure, Beaumont takes the reader on a labyrinthine journey into the literature of walking and thinking … Baudelaire, the flâneur poet of the Parisian dispossessed of another time, would surely have approved.” —Sean O’Hagan, Guardian