Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

A Life

Book - 2017
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"Walden. yesterday I cam here to live." That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to "live deliberately" in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854. But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau's character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, "Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided." Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls renews Henry David Thoreau for us in all his profound, inspiring complexity. Drawing on Thoreau's copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive, full of quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him. "The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one," says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.--Dust jacket.
Publisher: Chicago, IL : The University of Chicago Press, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780226344690
Characteristics: xx, 615 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm


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Dec 18, 2017

I read Walden for the first time for a book report in the eighth grade. I have to admit that I had Thoreau confused with Thurber when I started reading, but I enjoyed reading Walden anyway.Walden was hard going for a kid in the midst of a Heinlein reading spree.
The famous quote "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," stuck with me, but it took quite a few years before I understood it the way I do now. Since the eighth grade, I've read Walden several times.
A decade or so ago, my wife bought me a complete reprint of the 1906 edition of his journals in 14 volumes for Christmas. I've made it a practice each morning to read an entry from the journal corresponding to the day. I often lose control and read much more than a single day's entry. I also jump around between years.
There is an online version of the journals now which is said to be much better edited than the old edition. I'm not a Thoreau scholar so I don't know, but I certainly like my old reprint.
Walls' biography is the first Thoreau biography I've read. It is readable and I discovered quite a bit about his life that I did not know. Walls' Thoreau is not exactly the man I have come to know from his writings. The man in my mind is a little crazier, more inclined to intemperate observations of his neighbors, but that's my impression. I would say that if you have to choose between reading Walden or some of his other writing and this book, read the man himself. His thoughts are more interesting than his life, although his life was fascinating too.


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