On Foot: A History of Walking / Edition 1

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"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understand the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering."
— Henry David Thoreau (1817—1862)

" Everything is within walking distance if you have the time."
—Stephen Wright (1955—)

For approximately six million years, humans have walked the earth. This is the story of how, why, and to what effect we put one foot in front of the other.

Walking has been the primary mode of locomotion for humans until very recent times when we began to sit and ride-first on horses and in carriages, then trains and bicycles, and finally cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes-rather than go on foot. The particular way we saunter, clomp, meander, shuffle, plod along, jaunt, tramp, and wander on foot conveys a wealth of information about our identity, condition, and destination.

In this fast-stepping social history, Joseph A. Amato takes us on a journey of walking-from the first human migrations to marching Roman legions and ancient Greeks who considered man a "featherless biped"; from trekking medieval pilgrims to strolling courtiers; from urban pavement pounders to ambling window shoppers to suburban mall walkers.

Concentrating on walking in Europe and North America and with particular focus on how walking differed according to social class, Amato distinguishes how, where, when, who, what, and under which conditions people moved on foot. He identifies crucial transformations in the history of walking, including the adoption of the horse by the mounted warrior; the rise of public display among European nobility; and the building of roads and transportation systems, which led to the inevitable ascent of the wheel over the foot.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An enlighening compelling read...a well-researched, well written piece of work."

-TCM Reviews

"Joseph A. Amato has written a richly detailed and engaging account of walking from ancient times to the present. His book explores the many modes and contexts of human ambulation: marching, strolling, promenading, rambling, sauntering, commuting, to name just a few. Taking full account of the evolution of the city, shifting attitudes toward the countryside, and the role of class and labor in determining the value and meaning of walking, this book helps us to see a basic human activity as a complex cultural and historical phenomenon."

-Roger Gilbert,author of Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern American Poetry

"A rambling pleasure—leisurely paced and full of interesting cul-de-sacs—pleasantly garrulous and filled with the anecdotes of small details aptly observed.”

-Star Tribune

"A thought-provoking survey across time and space. . . . Pick up On Foot and carry it home. It will renew your appreciation for the pedestrian in your own flesh."

-Cleveland Plain Dealer

”Extremely readable account . . . invites a global edition."


"On Foot is an expansive and illuminating field trip, complete with rest stops for little-known facts about an everyday activity many of us take for granted."

-Minnesota History

Star Tribune
"A rambling pleasure--leisurely placed and full of interesting cul-de-sacs--pleasantly garrulous and filled with the anecdotes of small details aptly observed."
"An in-depth examination."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A thought-provoking survey across time and space. . . . Pick up On Foot and carry it home. It will renew your appreciation for the pedestrian in your own flesh."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814705025
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 333
  • Sales rank: 1,003,578
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph A. Amato is the author of fifteen books, including Dust: A History of the Small and Invisible. He is professor emeritus of history and rural and regional studies at Southwest Minnesota State University. He lives in Marshall, MN.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Walking Is Talking
In the Beginning Was the Foot: Walking from the Origins of Bipedal Humanity to Marching Roman Legions
Along the Road: Medieval Pilgrims, Beggars, Mounted Warriors, and the Early City Walkers
Put Your Best Foot Forward: The Rise of Upper-Class Promenading and Strolling
Mind over Foot: Romantic Walking and Rambling
North American Walking: Exploring the Continent on Foot
City Walking: The Genesis of the Urban Pedestrian in Nineteenth-Century London
A New Footing for the Nation: Taming and Cleaning Up Revolutionary Paris
Getting in Step: Disciplining the Mob and Marching the Masses Off to War
Wheels and Cars: The Eclipse of the American Walker by the Motorist
Conclusion: Choose Your Steps—Reflections on the Transformation of Walking from Necessity to Choice
About the Author

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2005

    A tour de force

    A tour de force on an inexhaustible topic! Joe Amato has a genius for providing insight into an activity we all take for granted -- walking -- and making stirring connections to the world around us. -- R. Kelly

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