The University of Wisconsin Press

Geography / Philosophy

Romantic Geography
In Search of the Sublime Landscape
Yi-Fu Tuan

“Tuan locates romantic geography in the heroic quests that won a deep understanding of place, the more remote and challenging the better. His vision of humanity’s persistent hunger to reject familiar comfort for the new and strange is highly persuasive.”
—William Howarth, author of Walking with Thoreau

Geography is useful, indeed necessary, to survival. Everyone must know where to find food, water, and a place of rest, and, in the modern world, all must make an effort to make the Earth—our home—habitable. But much present-day geography lacks drama, with its maps and statistics, descriptions and analysis, but no acts of chivalry, no sense of quest. Not long ago, however, geography was romantic. Heroic explorers ventured to forbidding environments—oceans, mountains, forests, caves, deserts, polar ice caps—to test their power of endurance for reasons they couldn’t fully articulate. Why climb Everest? “Because it is there.”

Yi-Fu Tuan has established a global reputation for deepening the field of geography by examining its moral, universal, philosophical, and poetic potentials and implications. In his twenty-second book, Romantic Geography, he continues to engage the wide-ranging ideas that have made him one of the most influential geographers of our time. In this elegant meditation, he considers the human tendency—stronger in some cultures than in others—to veer away from the middle ground of common sense to embrace the polarized values of light and darkness, high and low, chaos and form, mind and body. In so doing, venturesome humans can find salvation in geographies that cater not so much to survival needs (or even to good, comfortable living) as to the passionate and romantic aspirations of their nature. Romantic Geography is thus a paean to the human spirit, which can lift us to the heights but also plunge us into the abyss.

Quest . . . is at the heart of romance. Explorers are driven by the desire to know the source of the Nile, what it is like at the Poles or on top of the highest mountain, with no worldly recompense in mind. Astronomers are glued to their telescopes, located on a mountain or in the desert, peering at stars that shine brightly but were in fact extinct millions of years ago. If one wonders, what for? the answer may well be that they delight in romances of the mind.”

—excerpt from Romantic Geography
© The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

Yi-Fu Tuan is the J. K. Wright and Vilas Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of twenty-two books, including Morality and Imagination, The Good Life, Human Goodness, and his autobiography, Who Am I?, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, and Humanist Geography, published by George Thompson Publishing.


“Called ‘one of the greatest living geographers,’ Tuan waxes rhapsodic about the Earth and humans' relationship to it in this lovely little tome. He offers readers insight into famed explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and David Livingstone, reminding us that there was a time when geographers were akin to rock stars. Tuan finds poetry in geography, and readers will learn much about history and sustainability from his words.”
77 Square

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January 2014
LC: 2013010425 G
216 pp.   5 1/2 x 7 1/4  
6 b/w illus.

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Cloth $24.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-29680-3
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“Yi-Fu Tuan’s examples are bracing, from Captain Nemo to the Adelie penguins. Few people can match his knowledge and ability to write reasonably and resoundingly about important themes and to link those themes to individual meaning, binding people to place.”
—Paul F. Starrs, author of Black Rock



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Updated May 16, 2013

© 2013 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System