Review: Born to Walk by Dan Rubinstein
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“The humble act of putting one foot in front of the other transcends age, geography, culture, and class, and is one of the most economical and environmentally responsible modes of transit. Yet with our modern fixation on speed, this healthy pedestrian activity has been largely left behind.
At a personal and professional crossroads, writer, editor, and obsessive walker Dan Rubinstein travelled throughout the U.S., U.K., and Canada to walk with people who saw the act not only as a form of transportation and recreation, but also as a path to a better world. There are no magic-bullet solutions to modern epidemics like obesity, anxiety, alienation, and climate change. But what if there is a simple way to take a step in the right direction? Combining fascinating reportage, eye-opening research, and Rubinstein’s own discoveries, Born to Walk explores how far this ancient habit can take us, how much repair is within range, and guarantees that you’ll never again take walking for granted.”
Boy, I wish this book would have been more anecdotal. Rubinstein tackles a subject near and dear to my heart–walking for exercise, and specifically walking wherever you can and not just on long-distance treks–but he does so in a way guaranteed to put off most readers. He does include stories of his own walking experiences, but it’s the organization of the book that buries them beneath mountains of data.
The Good: There are some truly thought-provoking ideas in this book. My favorite came from an interview with someone the author met. The theory she put forth is that the reason video games are harmful is not just because of how they keep kids from exercising, but because of how they impact problem solving. Kids playing games are interacting with a created world–one with a definite order–and they know the solutions to their problems are there if they look hard enough (or go online to find cheats). Because all kids playing the game encounter the same problems with the same solutions, they’re losing mental flexibility. That idea had me thinking for a good little bit.
I also liked that Rubinstein attempted to link walking to many different areas of life. The chapter titles are things like “Society”, “Spirit”, and “Family”. It keeps the book from being too focused on any one aspect of our daily lives that can benefit from more walking.
The Bad: Unfortunately, the book has no real flow or continuity to it. The author will start a story, and then jump to tons of scientific data meted out by people with long titles and lists of accomplishments. Then he jumps into a different story from a previous chapter, then more data, then back to the original story. I found myself skimming the text at times, because the long litanies of percentages and data sets could easily have been pared down to their most salient points.
The Ugly: This is a man who is fond of sentence fragments. I’m pretty sure he was trying a stylistic choice to drive home certain points, but all it did for me was to underscore the faults in the writing. Also, those moments when he mentions a new person and then lists everything they’re involved in gave some sentences the feeling of run-ons when they really weren’t. Or, at least, I think they weren’t… I lost track in the middle of a few of them.
What this boils down to is simple: What we have here is a book with a good premise and some interesting ideas that is bogged down by poor choices in structure and style. I think it was worth the effort to wade through, but this book is likely to be a difficult read for most people, including myself.