Book Review: Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe

Outside Lies Magic : Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (1998) by John R. Stilgoe is a book that encourages the reader to become an explorer observing everyday things in everyday places. I learned about John Stilgoe and this book from MetaFilter. The book isn’t so much a textbook for becoming an explorer, Stilgoe says that exploring must be done not taught. Instead its a series of observations connected in a James Burke fashion.

Basically Stilgoe wants us to get out and walk or bike and look at the world around us.

From power lines on creosote-treated poles (apparently unique to America) to

rural free delivery post boxes to

commercial strips to

the frontage road and overpasses of the interstate (much is hidden by the road side) to

Main Street (or our approximation of a past that never existed and how there function was guided by fire insurance) to

Motels and rest areas (places travelers rarely look at in the rush to get to sleep or get back on the road).

We can learn much about how a place came about and how we are connected to the earth and each other. I don’t always agree with Stilgoe’s sometimes snobbish political take on the world, but I enjoy his writing and hope I can become more of an explorer.

Quite coincidentally, this book ties in well with the previous book I read The World Without Us, although this veers to the opposite tact of observing the world with us. Even better companions to Outside Lies Magic are these two books which I’ve read and enjoyed previously: