If the best books are those that make you itch for something new—or, in this case, something as ancient as walking—Robert Macfarlane’s poetic travel memoir is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Tracing his ramblings across moors and seas, up mountains, and along meandering paths, Macfarlane describes in lush, precise prose a natural (and human) world that reveals itself leisurely, step by step. Full of remarkable scenes and a memorable cast of characters, The Old Ways brings to mind recent memoirs like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and classic nature writing a la Peter Matthiessen. I recommend it with only one caveat: read it with your hiking boots on; it’ll make you want to get up and go. — From Stephen's favorites
The acclaimed author of The Wild Places and Underland examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move
Chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years
In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology, and literature, Robert Macfarlane sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the landscape of the British Isles and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the voices that haunt old paths and the stories our tracks tell. Macfarlane’s journeys take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. He matches strides with the footprints made by a man five thousand years ago near Liverpool, sails an open boat far out into the Atlantic at night, and commingles with walkers of many kinds, discovering that paths offer a means not just of traversing space but also of feeling, knowing, and thinking.
About the Author
Robert Macfarlane is the author of a prizewinning quartet of books about landscape and the human heart: Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places, The Old Ways, and Landmarks. He has contributed to Harper’s, Granta, The New Yorker, the Observer (London), the Times Literary Supplement (London), and the London Review of Books. He is a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
Praise for The Old Ways:
“With a steady command of the literature and history of each place he visits, [Macfarlane] tries ‘to read landscapes back into being.’ His sentences bristle with the argot of cartographers, geologists, zoologists, and botanists.” —The New Yorker
“Macfarlane explores the meditative aspects of being a pedestrian…not so much a travelogue as a travel meditation, it favors lush prose, colorful digressions…if you’ve ever had the experience, while walking, of an elusive thought finally coming clear or an inspiration surfacing after a long struggle, The Old Ways will speak to you – eloquently and persuasively.” —The Seattle Times
“A backpack of assorted expeditions charted by a writer whose poetic and scientific skills are equal to one another…there are some splendid set pieces.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A wonderfully meandering account of the author’s peregrinations and perambulations through England, Scotland, Spain, Palestine, and Sichuan…Macfarlane’s particular gift is his ability to bring a remarkably broad and varied range of voices to bear on his own pathways and to do so with a pleasingly impressionist yet tenderly precise style.” —Aengus Woods, themillions.com
"Macfarlane seems to know and have read everything…his every sentence rewrites the landscape in language crunchy and freshly minted and deeply textured. Surely the most accomplished (and erudite) writer on place to have come along in years." —Pico Iyer
"Luminous, possessing a seemingly paradoxical combination of the dream-like and the hyper-vigilant, The Old Ways is, as with all of Macfarlane's work, a magnificent read. Each sentence can carry astonishing discovery." —Rick Bass
“In Macfarlane, British travel writing has a formidable new champion… Macfarlane is read above all for the beauty of his prose and his wonderfully innovative and inventive way with language…he can write exquisitely about anywhere.” —William Dalrymple, The Observer
“In this intricate, sensuous, haunted book, each journey is part of other journeys and there are no clear divisions to be made…the walking of paths is, to [Macfarlane], an education, and symbolic, too, of the very process by which we learn things: testing, wandering about a bit, hitting our stride, looking ahead and behind.” —Alexandra Harris, The Guardian