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.
"Noted author Solnit presents the life of the troubled, highly creative Eadweard Muybridge as a metaphor for the technological changes and human agonies that have marked the settlement of the American West and the development of that fast-moving, sometimes bizarre culture Americans know as 'Californian.' Solnit interprets the tumultuous life of Muybridge, the proto-inventor of motion pictures, against the backdrop of the subjects Muybridge photographed and the people who influenced him: wild Yosemite, burgeoning San Francisco, the doomed Modoc Indians, and crafty Leland Stanford. In this absorbing book, Muybridge's life unfolds as a never-ending quest for excellence. He abandons sequential successes with landscapes, war documentary, and panoramas of cities to focus on his cardinal work of transforming photography into a scientific instrument revealing the secret world of motion. Fittingly, the railroad magnate Leland Stanford, who transformed the American West with trains, became the patron of Muybridge's motion studies out of a desire to know if all four feet of a trotting horse were ever simultaneously free of the ground." Reviewed by Patrick LaRochelle, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"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
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.
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.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 271-293) and index.
"Solnit's best book so far" ("Chicago Tribune") is a boldly original portraitof the proto-inventor of motion pictures. The story of Muybridge--who in 1872succeeded in capturing high-speed motion photographically--becomes a lens fora larger story about the acceleration and industrialization of everyday life.320 pp.
This personal, lyrical narrative about storytelling and empathy from award winner Rebecca Solnit is a fitting companion to her beloved A Field Guide for Getting Lost
In this exquisitely written new book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness—Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.
About the Author
Rebecca Solnit is the author of fourteen books, including A Paradise Built in Hell, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, River of Shadows, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. In 2003, she received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award. She lives in San Francisco.
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