A Philosophy of Walking

Occasionally, a book will crook its finger at me and invite me to go slower, to wrap my mind around the contours of its meaning, to seduce me by painting a picture of the idyllic world my heart yearns for with impeccable words and a kick-ass vocabulary. Do you like walking and thinking about the meaning of life? This book is a must read.
Several philosophers have a deep connection to walking, dealt with chapter by chapter (Kant, Thoreau, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Gandhi). The Nietzsche section is one of my favorites, scrambling ever-higher, “there are thoughts that can only occur at 6,000 feet above the plains and mournful shores… for thinking one needs a detached outlook, to be at a distance, to have clear air. One needs to be unconstrained to think far.” After he resigns his teaching position due to migraines, he spends the next 10 years walking and working, walking 8 hours a day and jotting down his thoughts. During these years he wrote “his greatest books, from The Dawn to On the Genealogy of Morality, from The Gay Science to Beyond Good and Evil, Zarathustra. He became the hermit (‘find myself once again a hermit, and do ten hours a day of hermit’s walking’, July 1880); the solitary, the wanderer.” Think while walking, walk while thinking. Cruelly, his life ends in madness and paralysis, wheeled around by his mother, the grand wanderer reduced to a shred of former self.
Rousseau, the inveterate walker, “incapable of thinking properly, of composing, creating or finding inspiration except when walking” (p 65). Writing comes easily after walking, “during long, easy walks on well-traced routes, when all you have to do is follow an interminable set of hairpins, you hatch a thousand plans, invent a thousand tales. The body slowly advances, with measured steps, and that same tranquility gives the mind a day off.”
“With its great shocks, Nature thus awakens us from the human nightmare.” (p 85) “Walking is an invitation to die standing up.” (p 187)
On the freedom brought to you during long wandering, “you feel free, because whenever you remember the former signs of your commitments in hell – name, age, profession, CV – it all seems absolutely derisory, minuscule, insubstantial.” (p 9)
On slowness (p 37):

Haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting… Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints.

On silence (p 62):

Above all, silence is the dissipation of our language. Everything, in this world of work, leisure, activity, reproduction and consumption of things, everything has its function, its place, its utility, and a specific word that corresponds to it… Language is an instruction slip, a price list. In the silence of a walk, when you end up losing the use of words because by then you are doing nothing but walk, in that silence you hear better, because you are finally hearing what has no vocation to be retranslated, recoded, reformatted.

Pilgrimages to Mount Kailash, the sacred space in Tibet, or to Santiago de Compostela, about the journey stripping away your self, your sins.
Nerval’s chapter, p 150:

The anxious exaltation of the mad walker in towns. The streets are an excellent environment for maintaining, nourishing, and deepening the illness. Everywhere sly glances, strange jerky movements, contradictory noises: engine sounds, bells, snatches of speech, the drumming of thousands of feet on the pavements. And as a route has to be found somehow, everything becomes a struggle and delirium is completed.

On gravity p 185:

I think of those abstracted sedentary individuals who spend their lives in an office rattling their fingers on a keyboard: ‘connected’, as they say, but to what? To information mutating between one second and the next, floods of images and numbers, pictures and graphs. After work it’s the subway, the train, always speed, the gaze now glued to the telephone screen, more touches and strokes and messages scrolling past, images… and night falls, when they still haven’t seen anything of the day… Those lives, disconnected from roads and routes, make them forget our condition, as if erosion by changing weather over time didn’t exist.

Minor complaint about the editing: Gérard de Nerval is name dropped on p 22 as if we’ve already been speaking of him and his connection to walking. He shows up much later (p 147), so I assume the Nietzsche chapter was originally intended to follow Nerval’s chapter.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

A non-fiction detective story involving the rescue from obscurity of the classic Lucretius text On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura), peppering the world with the idea that atoms are the basic building blocks of life and the Epicurean way of life is best, written 50BC-ish. Our hero is Poggio Braccioloni of Florence, a high-ranking scribe of the papal court, who dashes off to monasteries across Germany to discover forgotten manuscripts once his pope (Baldassare Cossa – aka Pope John XXIII) is arrested.
Apparently some of the scholarship underlying this work is questionable, so caveat lector. Not being an expert of medieval history, I loved the focus on book-worship, found it quite readable. The deep-dive into rules from monasteries that “he shall be compelled to read,” is awesome. Poggio uses books as an escape to not think about greater events wreaking havoc around him, in his letters he would write, “sometimes I am free for reading” which is such a powerful impulse in my own life. Part of the disputed section is how the West turned to pursuit of pain over pleasure in the dark ages (e.g. rise of Christianity).
Need to get this as an imprint on any books I loan out, a curse laid onto a manuscript by a monastery in Barcelona:

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Word that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

Motto over Epicurus’ garden urging people to linger: “here our highest good is pleasure,” but to explain further, Epicurus explains “when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality… an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, sex, eating fish or other delicacies of a luxurious table” cannot lead to the peace of mind necessary for enduring pleasure.
Random notes:
* 1378 full-scale bloody revolt where gangs of artisans ran through the streets screaming, “Long live the people and the crafts” attempting to get a higher wage.
* Funny that the stereotypes were quite different centuries ago: Poggio’s “constrasting vision of anxious, work-obsessed, overly disciplined Italians and happy-go-lucky, carefree Germans” when he’s viewing the behavior at the baths at Baden.

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age

A sophomoric effort at history. I haven’t read anything else by Kaplan (nor plan to now) but his method of story telling leaves much to be desired. Huge boulders were rained upon our heads early on that made no sense and that showed their grizzly faces later in the book; poor editing/planning/writing?
Saw this one at Powell’s books and thought I’d take it for a ride. Who doesn’t like the Gilded Age? I don’t, apparently, when it’s a poorly formed book. It’s as if Kaplan had the pieces to write a good article and then blew hot air into it to inflate it into a book, but was obsessed with including every tiny factoid he’d uncovered as a reliable interesting fact.
Guess what, the Astors were rich! They built hotels! One of ’em died in the Titanic sinking after hooking up with a teenager half his age! The other cousin tried to buy an English title (and succeeded). Yay money! Only money is quite boring, and Kaplan churns out a tale that is cobbled together by bits of sometimes extremely unrelated history. AVOID.
Also seeds of the current VC-frenzy? Noting what these never-need-to-work dudes did, they create so many worthless “apps” like the improved bike brake, a “rain-inducer”, a “pneumatic road-improver”, a “suction-cup system mounted on the legs of deck chairs to keep them from sliding in heavy weather.” Solve the 1% problem you have and the 99% will make you rich?

Processed World vol 1- 32


At lunch on Monday, after various grumblings about work drudgery, I proposed that office workers may soon revolt. Maggie scoffed, “They’ll never revolt, they’re paid too much for a cushy office gig doing nothing.” Hmm, I thought, and headed to the history stacks of the library, where I spent this morning reading every edition of Processed World in the collection, starting with volume 1 from 1981 through the 20th anniversary edition in 2.001 and a follow-up edition (2.005). Pretty terrific stuff that feels relevant today, which means that office culture has been consistently awful for the past 30+ years, with increased emphasis on data collection and filing, increased emphasis on looking busy sitting at one’s computer. The later issues gain Chris Carlsson’s input, and you see the influence of biking culture enter, with shout-outs to Critical Mass and the Great Bicycle Protest of 1896 which demanded better streets. I was particularly shaken by the article in the 2.001 volume about the Great Speed-Up (“the dramatic intensification of work, ostensibly because computers have made us so much more productive… “). 13 years later, we’re sped up even more. When will it stop?
I see the need for an updated zine; the typists and word processors and filers of the 80s are obsolete and problems now are around obsessive meeting culture (having a meeting to discuss a future meeting– I’ve been in too many of them) along with 24/7 work expectations. Things have changed over the last 15 years. We’re now tethered to the teat of emails and expected to respond within seconds up until 11pm, immediately reaching for the internet upon rising the next day.
I enjoyed articles in the early editions by Christopher Winks, Lucius Cabins, Tom Athanasiou, and appreciated the inclusion of feminist topics through the energy of Maxine Holz.
Graphic from Mother Jones’ article about working harder and longer for less and was reminded of Processed World by the Baffler’s recent issue.

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

Terrific book that unpacks the psychological barriers that keep our tongues mute, creating meta-silence whenever the topic of climate change comes up (“I am constantly dropping the term climate change into conversations with strangers… The words collapse, sink, and die in midair, and the conversation suddenly changes course.”) There are a lot of factors at work: its lack of discussion (how can you remain committed when you look around and don’t see anyone else fretting about it), confirmation bias (cherry-picking evidence that already supports your opinion), biased assimilation (squeezing new information we get into existing schema), the lack of immediacy & salience of the threat (our reptilian brains do well with immediate danger, not so hot on future planning – “our ability to look into the future is one of our most stunning abilities but as Daniel Gilbert says, it is ‘still in the early stages of R&D'”), the bystander effect (seeing no one else reacting), the emotional vs rational brain, the use of codes and symbols that environmentalists rally behind but that alienate people who dislike the greens. Important to create personal narratives that will go a long way to convincing the heart, and the head will follow. Reject the framing of this as a purely environmental issue – it’s an economic and human rights issue as well. Tap into the knowledge that’s been honed for thousands of years with religions requiring short-term losses to avoid uncertain long-term costs.
Climate scientists compartmentalize what they know about the catastrophe lurking and are able to fly around the planet justifying their actions. Important to walk the talk. I’m not sure what else I can do as a bicycling non-car-owning vegan who will not raise any kids (kids triple their parents carbon footprint, adding 9,441 metric tons of CO2) and who recycles, is a conscious consumer, and turns lights off obsessively.

There is no single factor that leads people to ignore climate change. There is a set of interrelated negotiations between our personal self-interest and our social identity, in which we actively participate to shape climate change in ways that enable us to avoid it.

Climate change is a global problem that requires a collective response and so is especially prone to the bystander effect. When we become aware of the issue, we scan the people around us for social cues to guide our own response: looking for evidence of what they do, say, and what they don’t say or do. These cues are codified into rules that define expected or inappropriate behaviors (social norms)… This social conformity is not some preference or choice. This is a strong behavioral instinct that is built into our core psychology…

Stranger still, it is exactly those politicians playing up the uncertainties of climate change who embrace uncertainty as a justification for military preparedness. Romney, the first presidential candidate to openly deny climate change, justified increasing spending for the military because “we don’t know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. So we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty.” Former VP Dick Cheney, another outspoken denier of climate change, said that “even if there is only a 1% chance of terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction, we must act as if it is a certainty.” Rumsfeld supported this argument, “Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it does not exist.” So a 1% chance of a terrorist attack should be acted on as though it is a certainty, but a 90% chance of severe climate disruption is too uncertain for action?

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play

He almost lost me at the very beginning by describing a “law” he invented as “Scott’s Law of Anarchist Calisthenics” (every day or so break some trivial law so that you’ll be ‘in shape’ to break a big law in the name of justice and rationality) but quickly made up ground by offering some solid thoughts. Describing himself as having an “anarchist squint” rather than identifying as a full-blown anarchist, he starts his argument with the belief that abolition of the state is not an option, we must work within its constraints to enact change. The success of the Depression protests in the 1930s, anti-Vietnam, and Civil-Rights moments was enjoyed “at their most disruptive, most confrontational, least organized, and least hierarchical.” Mass disruption and threats to public order play a vital role in the process of reform. The political elite was alarmed at what seemed to be revolutionary ferment, and ferment that was not institutionalized, which made it scarier, no one to negotiate with.
Beyond these, there’s a whole category of “infrapolitics,” like foot-dragging, pilfering, sabotage, desertion, squatting, and flight. The peasantry has resorted to those methods in lieu of raising voices to enact change for a long time. Desertion is exit rather than voice. “Quiet, unassuming, quotidian insubordination… flies below the archival radar… escapes notice. Historically, the goal of peasants has been to stay out of the archives.”
Great example of the fastest-moving assembly line in Lordsville, OH (General Motors) being sabotaged inconspicuously by workers, having it slowed to a humane pace. “What is crucial here is that the resistance by the workforce to its inhuman speed actually made the design inefficient. There is no such thing as labor efficiency in neoclassical economics that does not implicitly assume conditions that the workforce will accept and tolerate.”
Removing a traffic light at busy intersection reduces accidents because everyone is more alert, assessing the risk and danger and cooperating with each other to move ahead. “It shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for their own risk.”

The implications of a life lived largely in subservience for the quality of citizenship in a democracy are also ominous. Is it reasonable to expect someone whose waking life is almost completely lived in subservience and who has acquired the habits of survival and self-preservation in such settings to suddenly become, in a town meeting, a courageous, independent-thinking, risk-taking model of individual sovereignty?

Interesting musings on the impact of history to whitewash away the radicalness of history, to make things seem like pre-ordained acts. An unfortunate sports-analogy follows:

What “history” does to our understanding of events is akin to what a TV broadcast does to our understanding of a basketball game. The camera is placed above and outside the plane of action, like a helicopter hovering above the action. The effect of this bird’s-eye view is to distance the viewer from the play and apparently slow it down… when, rarely, the camera is placed at floor level and close to the action in real time, one finally appreciates the blinding speed and complexity of the game as the players experience it.

Last paragraph:

The condensation of history, our desire for clean narratives, and the need for elites to project an image of control and purpose all conspire to convey a false image of historical causation. They blind us to the fact that most revolutions are not the work of revolutionary parties but the precipitate of spontaneous and improvised action… that the great emancipatory gains for human freedom have not been the result of orderly, institutional procedures but of disorderly, unpredictable, spontaneous action cracking open the social orders from below.

Skip the largely unreadable fantasy of section 5 wherein he imagines Condoleezza Rice as Yale president in 2020 shaking things up by making professors wear digital caps that show the number of citations their work has received.

Two Terrific Tree Books (for San Francisco)

Birding is tough (perhaps it’s for the birds?). How about treeing? Trees stay still long enough to look closely at them, touch them, puzzle over their species. Left in the dark by the massive Sibley Guide to Trees, I turned to a few local books. Sibley might come in handy where native plants are growing, but most of SF is a cultivated garden with extremely exotic species. Of the top 20 species in town, not a single one is a native San Franciscan tree. 7 of the 20 are of Australian/New Zealand origin. (By contrast, Melbourne’s top 20 includes 14 native Australian trees, and 2 native to the US while SF only has 1 native to the US.) No wonder I’ve flung Sibley across the park so many times in frustration, trying to figure out what lies in front of me.
* Trees of the Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco by Elizabeth McClintock and Virgina Moore
Originally published in 1965, the copy I read had an addendum in 1973 noting which trees had disappeared from the park. Includes maps of the trees in the Panhandle, but since it was published over 40 years ago, not many of the trees listed still survive. A cursory walk this morning revealed only the Redwoods, Monterrey cypruses and pines, Eucalyptuses, and a black walnut to be still among us. Decades of having to struggle to breathe alongside the highways of Oak/Fell street took their toll. Trees planted in the Panhandle pre-dated those in the rest of the GGP.
* The trees of San Francisco by Mike Sullivan
A tree nerd by weekend and venture cap lawyer by day, Sullivan guides us through several of the most common trees you encounter in SF. 90% of the forest canopy in GGP and most other SF parks is Monterey pine, Monterey cyprus, and blue gum Eucalyptus. Lombardy poplars are frequently planted as windbreaks (Alamo Square?). I think I have a bead on one of my favorite trees in the Lower Haight- Page @ Scott, the willow-ish tree that’s umbrella shaped = California Pepper Tree? Sullivan’s guide is great, including street addresses for examples of trees and a handful of neighborhood walking tours (self-guided) that I will surely indulge in before handing the book back to the library. Published in 2004, still contains relevant information. Trees in front of my apartment are Bronze Loquats!

Books I’ve Given Up On Lately

* Let Us Now Praise Famous Men – too avant-guard for my current mood. Read 150+ pages, it’s a symphony that requires more concentration and thought than I’m prepared to give it at this moment. Definitely want to read at some time.
* Annals of the Former World – a 700+ page brick filled with geology porn. Chock-a-block full of rock references above my head and beyond what I desired to know. I’m a plate-tectonics junkie who found this book too much. Don’t drown me in scientific jargon and obscure an otherwise delightful story.
* The Sibley Guide to Trees – wide-eyed amateur naturalist that I am, I clutched this in my hand and took a few walks around San Francisco. Strikeout. I later acquired The Trees of San Francisco and Trees of the Panhandle as helpful guides to the bizarre transplanted trees that line my streets. Venn diagram of trees in Sibley’s book that overlap with actual trees in San Francisco = tiny slice.
* Of Time, Work, and Leisure, a 1962 tome almost quaint in its concern that we work too much. A great subject, but this book is not timeless.
* Some book I forget the title of… a young journalist who somehow finagles his way into meeting the South Vietnamese, then goes to live on a commune. Crappy ego-centric writing.
* Gulag: A History (by Anne Applebaum). I couldn’t get into it. But I may give it another whirl later.
* Roots of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, edited by Cott, Boydston, Braude, Ginzberg, Ladd-Taylor. I confess to being overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously. First, awful yet precise title. Bitterness. Second, printed speeches or diaries are a godsend, and sometimes boring; I know this is all that remains of historical records from women, but it’s less than inspiring. Third, the impact of all of these on top of each other– too much. I had to take a break, and by the time I was ready to resume, I decided to skip a huge chunk of the book and dive into the 20th century.

The Waste Land and Other Poems

A Waste(land) of time. I hereby release all future readers from the necessity of reading this poem, regarded as the most influential in the 20th century. Whether or not this is true is impossible to prove, but the poem had little influence over me. The impact of poems and stories should be in how you respond to them, not in how best to revere them. Compare with Moby Dick, an older work that remains completely readable and interesting to modern audiences. The Waste Land continues, like Joyce’s Ulysses, to be a cryptic work requiring an army of poetry spelunkers to guide you through the underwater passages. It also comes with celebrated “Notes” from the author. That a poet needs to provide accompanying notes should be the first flare indicating trouble ahead. The Notes were meant to bolster the size of the book, so they function as filler and a way for Eliot to refute charges of plagiarism. These Notes are now considered a sacred part of the poem itself, according to the talking heads on Coursera (Victor Strandberg of Duke).
I mean, I get it. Modernism, exciting! The chaos of life post WWI. But to a currrent-day reader inundated with choices of what to fill her brain with, this is the last thing I’ll pick off my shelf, except perhaps to peruse Prufrock again, “I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard mermaids singing, each to each.”
The unsung hero in all of this is good old misogynistic Ezra Pound, who despite his other flaws, significantly edited down the poem to its current state. Eliot ends up dedicating the poem to his editor, declaring him “il miglior fabbro,” the better craftsman. Blech.

The Public Library: A Photographic Essay

In June, I saw Dawson’s slideshow of public library photos, appropriately at the public library. The book finally swung into my hands after making its way through the hold-shelf for several others. A great reminder of the photos I’d already seen, some fantastic spaces captured that showcase the splendor and the closure all within the same breath. Juxtaposing Detroit’s decrepit branch against Seattle’s shining star seems almost cruel. The book comes with several essays from fellow library-nerds, like Bill Moyers, Anne Lamott, Chip Ward, and including a letter from E.B. White which was quite perfect. As for Dawson’s introduction and photo notes, I could do without his martyrdom, constantly noting when he’s attacked by bystanders or not allowed to take pictures by Indian Chiefs. But he is photographer, and so he should have remained outside of the realm of text. Learned that the increase in untreated mental illness in California is a result of the Lanterman Act of 1969, closing several large psychiatric hospitals (someone is incoherently screaming at my corner right now, I benefit from the cacophony that trickled down from that momentous Act). The best essay was by Chip Ward – Enriched by what we share: a green perspective on the public library as a cultural commons, detailing the thought that went into designing the Salt Lake City library but also waxing philosophic about current role of libraries. “When an ecosystem is under stress, having numerous possibilities for reconfiguration can be the difference between health and failure. Biodiversity is a key measure of an ecosystem’s viability because it translates into options and possibilities when turmoil happens…” and “The belief that we are responsible for each other’s social, economic, and political well-being, that we will care for our weakest members compassionately, should be the keystone in the moral architecture of a democratic culture. It is not enough to say it. In the public library we try to do it…”
E.B. White’s 1971 letter:

A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

My past: reminiscences of the courts of Austria and Bavaria; together with the true story of the events leading up to the tragic death of Rudolph, crown prince of Austria

A weathered biography over 100 years old provides detail about Marie’s life as a Baroness and Countess in the heyday of Austrian royalty. Most of the beginning details her devotion to her aunt, the Empress, who pulls her into court society (and gets her to marry a cardboard shrub of a man, George Larisch, so that Marie can spend time with the Empress, but George has other ideas). She frequently travels to Vienna for shopping expeditions and continues to spend time with her powerful aunt until she is pulled into the Crown Prince’s love affair with Baroness Mary Vetsera. The ultimate end of the affair is murder/suicide, known as the Mayerling Incident, leaving the Crown Prince dead and the crown’s heir falling to the infamous Franz Ferdinand whose assassination was the first domino in setting off WWI. Some interesting bits about court life and the Empress’s obsession with maintaining a youthful figure, by wrapping wet towels around her waist while she slept, poultices of strawberries while in season, wearing a night mask lined with raw veal, taking baths in olive oil and drinking horrible concoctions of egg whites mixed with salt. Her shampoo (once a month) was raw eggs and brandy, rinsed with disinfectant.
I was turned onto this book from the footnotes of reading that exhausting tome, The Waste Land. Apparently Eliot knew the Countess, and she is the Marie, Marie of the poem. Footnote 4 for Burial of the Dead, Bin gar. . . “I’m not Russian at all, I come from Lithuania, pure German” mentions that this episode derives from Eliot’s acquaintance with the Countess. “The countess believed in fortune-telling by cards. She was murdered at Lake Leman (see line 182).” – INCORRECT. Line 182 “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept… ” is a riff on Psalms 137 “By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept”. Despite the note, I find no corroboration that she was murdered. Her Wikipedia entry notes this source as saying she died in poverty in 1940. Her own memoirs note a few significant drownings, that of the woman who waits for her son to come home after drowning seven years ago and that of King Ludwig II (who Marie claims is holding his doctor underwater for another murder-suicide). Lac Leman (known to us as Lake Geneva) was where Eliot was hanging out and writing the poem.

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal

When the storage space of an apartment building on the Upper West side of NYC sloughed off its steamer trunks into the dumpster, intrepid NYTimes reporter Lily Koppel stumbled onto the story that would produce this book. Koppel was leaving for work when she spied the trunks piled atop each other and dumpster-dove to find various flapper clothing and a mysterious crumbling journal that chronicled the life of a wealthy Manhattanite between the ages of 14-19 and recounting daily life in NYC in the early 1930s. Florence Wolfson is an independent spirit, casually loving both boys and girls, horseback riding in Central Park, devoting herself to writing and painting. Koppel reconstructs the 1930s backdrop around Florence, going backstage at Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre, showing us the hospital beds in the infirmary of the Roxy “Cathedral of the Motion Picture” which were common to large theaters. Florence took herself to concerts and plays, strolled through the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum. The book is a fascinating tour of a long-ago age in New York, told through the eyes of a regular person. This type of history is invaluable, and I wish the book were a bit more polished in order to carry it further.