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‘River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West’ by Rebecca Solnit (Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

Written on August 29, 2007

[For this reading challenge I picked non-fiction titles that are outside the usual scope of my reading and of this website.]nff109×108.jpg

River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit
I enjoyed reading this book quite a lot, in part because many of the events take place in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and other Bay Area locations that I’m familiar with. It’s also a well written account, winner of the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. The book relates the story of Muybridge’s famous motion studies, mostly concentrating on the photographer’s career leading up to and following the innovations that enabled him to capture the details of a trotting horse’s gait. His development of high-speed photographic techniques settled a debate by showing that all four hooves were off the ground at once. The Wikipedia entry for Muybridge cites this book as its source and so gives a fairly good summary of its contents, plus a nice collection of related links.

Solnit also focuses on the changes in the experience of time and space brought about by technological developments of the period such as the railroad and photography. The genealogy from Muybridge’s motion studies to Hollywood and Silicon Valley is just touched on in the last few pages of the book.

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