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River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild Westby Rebecca Solnit
Synopses & Reviews
The world as we know it today began in California in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This extraordinary assertion is at the heart of Rebecca Solnit's brilliant new work of cultural history. Weaving together biography, history, and fascinating insights into art, technology, landscape, and philosophy, Solnit has created a boldly original portrait of America on the threshold of modernity.
During a period of feverish creativity that commenced in 1872, Eadweard Muybridge succeeded for the first time in capturing and reanimating high-speed motion on film — the crucial breakthrough that made movies possible. He also continued his series of breathtaking photographs of the monumental landscape of the American West, served as official photographer of the grueling war against the Modoc Indians, and, in a blaze of publicity, stood trial for the murder of his wife's lover. In Solnit's taut, compelling narrative, Muybridge's life becomes a lens for a larger story about the transformation of time and space in the nineteenth century. With dazzling erudition and a rare mastery of the interlocking histories of art, technology, politics, and commerce, Solnit shows how the peculiar freedoms and opportunities of post-Civil War California led directly to the two industries — Hollywood and Silicon Valley — that have most powerfully defined the contemporary world.
River of Shadows is Solnit's most captivating book yet-wide- ranging in its allusions, daring in its connections, always surprising in its conclusions.
"Masterly and creative, Solnit's far-roaming synthesis is as unsettling as it is compelling." Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Instead [of a regular biography], we have this vastly more valuable book, River of Shadows, a brilliant essay....[A] beautiful piece of prose." Jim Lewis, The New York Times Book Review
"Gracefully written, thoroughly well-considered....[Solnit] writes with considerable flair, her smart commentary illuminating the dozens of images that accompany her text. A welcome contribution to the literature of photography and of California." Kirkus Reviews
"It is the measure of Solnit's graceful, thoughtful book that she finds in cinema a 'breach in the wall between the past and the present' where machines and desires are reconciled." The Village Voice
"Solnit vividly recreates the wonder that greeted those primitive movies....If the book fails as biography, however, it succeeds as a critical essay on Muybridge's art and a reflection on the meaning of space and time." Publishers Weekly
"[A] perfect example of a subject waiting — in this case for almost a century and a half — for the appropriate writer to come along to unlock its concealed meaning and unexpected relevance." Michael Frank, The Los Angeles Times
"Although Solnit devotes much space to Muybridge's personal history...the narrative does not always bring Muybridge to life, nor does it always mesh comfortably with the larger social history. The writing is skillful and provocative but marred by too many digressions." Library Journal
Book News Annotation:
Writer Rebecca Solnit offers an elegantly written, insightful discussion of the 19th-century technological, artistic, and social transformation of time and space, told through the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), whose fine photographs of the American West still astonish, and whose mastery for the first time of high-speed motion photography made movies possible. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A brilliant cultural historian examines the life and times of the man who invented motion picture technology, and put California at the forefront of the modern world. Photos.
The world as we know it today began in California in the late 1800s, and Eadweard Muybridge had a lot to do with it. This striking assertion is at the heart of Rebecca Solnit’s new book, which weaves together biography, history, and fascinating insights into art and technology to create a boldly original portrait of America on the threshold of modernity. The story of Muybridge—who in 1872 succeeded in capturing high-speed motion photographically—becomes a lens for a larger story about the acceleration and industrialization of everyday life. Solnit shows how the peculiar freedoms and opportunities of post–Civil War California led directly to the two industries—Hollywood and Silicon Valley—that have most powerfully defined contemporary society.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 271-293) and index.
About the Author
Rebecca Solnit, author of six highly praised works of nonfiction, including Secret Exhibition, Savage Dreams, and Hollow City, contributes essays about visual art, public space, landscape, and environmental issues to national magazines and museum exhibition catalogs.
Table of Contents
The Annihilation of Time and Space * 1
The Man with the Cloudy Skies * 25
Lessons of the Golden Spike * 55
Standing on the Brink * 75
Lost River * 101
A Day in the Life, Two Deaths, More Photographs * 125
Skinning the City * 153
Stopping Time * 177
The Artist in Motion and at Rest * 207
From the Center of the World to the Final Frontier * 239
Photograph Credits 297
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