Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind


In this new biography, based on a reexamination of Thoreau's manuscripts and on retracing of his trips, Robert Richardson offers a view of Thoreau's life and achievement in their full nineteenth century context.
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In this new biography, based on a reexamination of Thoreau's manuscripts and on retracing of his trips, Robert Richardson offers a view of Thoreau's life and achievement in their full nineteenth century context.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Emerson described his friend Thoreau as ``the bachelor of thought and nature,'' and in this absorbing and sparklingly fresh biography, which examines and relates the private and public contexts of Thoreau's life from 1837, when he was 20, to his death in 1862, Richardson shows him to have been as much a reader and thinker as a saunterer in the woods. We see him entering and emerging from the shadow of Emerson; delving into the Greek and Roman Stoics, ancient Hindu philosophy and contemporary German literature (particularly Goethe); siding with Darwin in the famous Agassiz-Darwin controversy over evolution; forging his philosophy of personal integrity based on his concept of nature as law. Richardson closely scrutinizes not only Walden but Thoreau's other writings, and the result of his composite portrait is that we see Thoreau perhaps more vividly than ever before, as traveler of the mind, significant thinker and likable man. Richardson teaches at the University of Denver. Reader's Subscription Book Club alternate. (September 9)
Library Journal
Thoreau would have appreciated the fact that here, ``mind'' is not limited to abstractions but includes the web of personal relations and political contexts, the physical textures of seasonal life. Further, Richardson, like Thoreau, writes on the level of most significant detail; his account of Thoreau's development from his return to Concord from Harvard in 1837 to his death in 1862 is neither diffusively tedious nor glibly generalizing. He is particularly original in delineating the major foreign influences on Thoreau, especially the German (Goethe), the classical (Cato), and the British (Gilpin, Darwin, and Ruskin). The style is graceful and clear, and the author's admiration for his subject does not lapse into adulation or preachiness. Both a fine introduction and a major scholarly contribution. Martin Bickman, English Dept., Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520063464
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 1/21/1988
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 686,642
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2009


    I felt that I knew Henry Thoreau after reading this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2010

    The Life of a True Walden Mind

    24 years have passed since Robert D. Richardson Jr brought out the first great book of the trilogy of excellent American 19th Century minds he has written, the one about Henry Thoreau; the following ones dealing with Emerson and William James. Nothing in it seems to have lost value, it is as fresh and rewarding to read as it was when it was first published, as essential and indispensable for every one studying Thoreau or just wishing to enter more deeply into the life and the inner world of the writer of that masterpiece world-wide known as "Walden".
    The secret behind Richardson's method is his perfect balance between Leben und Werk, between life and letters, between social individual and inner mind. Here is no vexing wallowing in trifling, insignificant details, so common in the surge of literary biographies to-day. Nor are there any exclusive, over-abstract analyses of texts, also an academic vogue in later days. No, only the elementary facts of Thoreau's life, though still full and rich enough to give you a most satisfying picture of his career and its connections with his writings. And the works are presented in an informative style, easy to read, though advanced enough to give you the pleasure of widening perspective and deepening insights in that free and creative spirit of Thoreau's. This inner biography is an ideal form of studying a writer and his achievement, no exaggerations in any direction, but the focus always in essentials.
    The book is composed in nine main chapters and no less than 100 sub-chapters. This enhances its legibility considerably, even though it leads to a certain insuperable difficulty, when searching for some paragraphs or some lines you want to return to. But this is a trifle, as the wholeness is overwhelming and the 100 sub-chapters inspire you with a majestic feeling of intruding into a territory as divine as the virgin soil into which Thoreau entered with such an enthusism.
    A most stimulative journey into that true Walden mind that made Thoreau one of our perpetual companions in a world where Nature, Environment, Ecology are highly essential fields of concern.

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