Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places

John R. Stilgoe, Author
John R. Stilgoe, Author Walker & Company $21 (187p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1340-7
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-8027-7563-4
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In Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845, Stilgoe brilliantly traced the history and the meaning of man's imprint on the American environment. His new book, as informal and chatty as Common Landscape was scholarly, looks at the physical state of America today and encourages his readers to become ""Explorers"": unhurried, clear-eyed observers of the world they rush through. The book is wildly uneven--the section on motels, for instance, does little more than belabor the obvious--and the repeated refrain to Open Your Eyes and Look Around becomes hectoring, but when Stilgoe lets his imagination run free, the results can become breathtaking. The chapter on interstate highways touches on such things as what's written on the backs of signs, the dirt tracks that parallel expressways, roadkill and what happens to it and what seemingly random patches of wild flowers may really signify. Perhaps the best chapter deals with fences and other ways people draw lines across the landscape to mark boundaries or create the illusion of privacy. Stilgoe calls this a ""straightforward guidebook to exploring"" whose purpose borders on the evangelical, but it's the sort of book that makes the reader want to buttonhole anyone handy and say, ""Listen to this."" (July)
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