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The Songlines (1987)

by Bruce Chatwin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,228523,214 (3.96)4 / 132
For its twenty-fifth anniversary, a new edition of Bruce Chatwin's classic work with a new introduction by Rory StewartPart adventure, part novel of ideas, part spiritual autobiography, "The Songlines" is one of Bruce Chatwin's most famous books. Set in the desolate lands of the Australian Outback, it tells the story of Chatwin's search for the source and meaning of the ancient "dreaming tracks" of the Aborigines--the labyrinth of invisible pathways by which their ancestors "sang" the world into existence. This singular book, which was a "New York Times" bestseller when it was published in 1987, engages all of Chatwin's lifelong passions, including his obsession with travel, his interest in the nomadic way of life, and his hunger to understand man's origins and nature.… (more)
  1. 30
    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade (mercure)
    mercure: Wade addresses many of the issues that fascinated Chatwin from a scientific point of view.
  2. 20
    In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (flissp, John_Vaughan)
  3. 20
    One for the Road: An Outback Adventure by Tony Horwitz (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Bruce Chatwin was fasinated by nomads and wanderings, Tony Horwitz qualifies for both, and writes with engaging wit.
  4. 10
    Utz by Bruce Chatwin (John_Vaughan)
  5. 10
    An intruder's guide to East Arnhem Land by Andrew McMillan (MiaCulpa)
    MiaCulpa: Both delve into the traditional beliefs of Australian Aboriginals, the oldest living culture on Earth. While neither provide an explanation about many Aboriginal customs (which is good as many of these customs are secret), they do provide a good starting point for people wishing to learn more about Aboriginal cultures.… (more)
  6. 10
    Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins by Ian Tattersall (elenchus)
    elenchus: There is an intriguing overlap between Chatwin's thesis that human's have a nomadic instinct linked to our early history as prey to the big cats; and Tattersall's exploration of just when hominids moved out of forested areas and into the open edge areas and grasslands, and what implications that had for our diet, behaviors, group organization, and brain development. Each book focuses on other themes, but this overlap is moderately important to each and reinforces one another in useful ways.… (more)
  7. 00
    Ghost milk: calling time on the grand project by Iain Sinclair (elenchus)
    elenchus: Both Chatwin and Sinclair blend fiction, non-fiction, and travelogue / memoir to get their ideas across. Chatwin's prose is more precise, Sinclair's more poetic, but both cast a wide net in terms of material incorporated into their essays.
  8. 00
    Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (KayCliff)
  9. 00
    Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (John_Vaughan)
  10. 00
    In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah (PatMock)
    PatMock: If you liked the concept of stories providing underlying connections
  11. 00
    Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache by Keith H. Basso (elenchus)
    elenchus: A remarkably similar use of story, myth, and nomadism among the Western Apache and Australian indigenous people. Basso's is an accessible scholarly take, but the stories and their use by Apache individuals take center stage. Chatwin's prose is more poetic and less rigorous (he insisted The Songlines was fiction), but highly evocative of story and myth.… (more)
  12. 00
    What Am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin (John_Vaughan)
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English (42)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
"The Songlines" begins like a traditional piece of travel writing, with Bruce Chatwin off having an adventure in Australia. But it soon morphs into something much more valuable than that - though his document attesting the wisdom of the original tribes of the continent possesses much value, "The Songlines" earns its place in the pantheon of great books through Chatwin's exploration of why we wander, and, at its heart, what it means to be human. A fascinating, breathtaking book. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | May 29, 2021 |
I found this much more enjoyable than In Patagonia, perhaps because I have travelled some of the same ground of this work.

Once again Chatwin retells the stories of others for the meat of the book, but this time adds more of his own experience in getting that done.

I found the commonplace book inserts very odd, I wish he would have instead told us about another week in the bush, which was much more rewarding for this reader. ( )
  kcshankd | Jan 31, 2021 |
  dchaikin | Sep 26, 2020 |
  dchaikin | Sep 26, 2020 |
An interesting tale of a man going to Australia to lean about the song-lines of the Aboriginal people. The story of the song-lines was good, but I did not care about his notebook from other travels. Seemed to me to be filler that was unnecessary to the story. ( )
  foof2you | Jul 10, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
It engages the full range of the author's passions: his obsession with travel; his love of nomads and the nomadic way of life; his horror at the vulgarity and exploitativeness of the modern world; his hunger to understand man's origins and essential nature and so find some source of hope for the future. Part adventure-story, part novel-of-ideas, part satire on the follies of ''progress,'' part spiritual autobiography, part passionate plea for a return to simplicity of being and behavior, ''The Songlines'' is a seething gallimaufry of a book, a great Burtonian galimatias of anecdote and speculation and description, fascinating, moving, infuriating, incoherent, all at once
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Andrew Harvey (Jul 12, 1987)
 
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In Alice Springs - a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers - I met a Russian who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals.
Quotations
Das Lächeln, sagte ich, sei wie eine Botschaft aus dem Goldenen Zeitalter. Es habe mich gelehrt, alle Argumente, die für die Schlechtigkeit der menschlichen Natur sprächen, unverzüglich zurückzuweisen. Der gedanke, zu einer "ursprünglichen Einfachheit" zurückzukehren, sei nicht naiv oder unwissenschaftlich oder realitätsfremd.
To "de-programme sacred knowledge meant examining archives for unpublished material on Aboriginals: you then returned the relevant pages to the rightful "owners". It meant transferring copyright from the author of a book to the people it described; returning photographs to the photographed (or their descendants); recording tapes to the recorded, and so forth.
In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: "moleskine" in this case being its black oilcloth binding.
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For its twenty-fifth anniversary, a new edition of Bruce Chatwin's classic work with a new introduction by Rory StewartPart adventure, part novel of ideas, part spiritual autobiography, "The Songlines" is one of Bruce Chatwin's most famous books. Set in the desolate lands of the Australian Outback, it tells the story of Chatwin's search for the source and meaning of the ancient "dreaming tracks" of the Aborigines--the labyrinth of invisible pathways by which their ancestors "sang" the world into existence. This singular book, which was a "New York Times" bestseller when it was published in 1987, engages all of Chatwin's lifelong passions, including his obsession with travel, his interest in the nomadic way of life, and his hunger to understand man's origins and nature.

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