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The Thoreau You Don't Know: The Father of Nature Writers on the Importance of Cities, Finance, and Fooling Around
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The Thoreau You Don't Know: The Father of Nature Writers on the Importance of Cities, Finance, and Fooling Around

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by Robert Sullivan
 

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Robert Sullivan, the New York Times bestselling author of Rats and Cross Country, delivers a revolutionary reconsideration of Henry David Thoreau for modern readers of the seminal transcendentalist. Dispelling common notions of Thoreau as a lonely eccentric cloistered at Walden Pond, Sullivan (whom the New York Times Book Review calls

Overview

Robert Sullivan, the New York Times bestselling author of Rats and Cross Country, delivers a revolutionary reconsideration of Henry David Thoreau for modern readers of the seminal transcendentalist. Dispelling common notions of Thoreau as a lonely eccentric cloistered at Walden Pond, Sullivan (whom the New York Times Book Review calls “an urban Thoreau”) paints a dynamic picture of Thoreau as the naturalist who founded our American ideal of “the Great Outdoors;” the rugged individual who honed friendships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and other writers; and the political activist who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and other influential leaders of progressive change. You know Thoreau is one of America’s legendary writers…but the Thoreau you don’t know may be one of America’s greatest heroes.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
Praise for Cross Country: “’Cross Country’ is, by turns, grand, timely, intriguing...fascinating.”
New York Times Book Review
Praise for Cross Country: “Sullivan adopts the mantle of an urban Thoreau.”
Entertainment Weekly
Praise for Cross Country: “Sullivan takes us on a propulsive ride...By book’s end, you’ll feel pleasantly tripped out...wide-eyed at all the sights you’ve seen along the way.”A-
Washington Post
Praise for Cross Country: “Sullivan is everybody’s dad on a long cross-country car trip — setting schedules, getting lost and trying to make the whole experience educational.”
David Gessner
The book starts slowly but picks up just when Thoreau's life does, with the move to Walden to live what he called "a hard and emphatic life." "It was a stunt, plainly put," Sullivan writes. "This was a faraway wilderness retreat right on the edge of town." Its closeness is the point. As Thoreau put it, "It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves." Sullivan's book is an invitation to embrace a new idea of wildness, as something nearby and commonplace. Seeing Thoreau as a guy who danced a jig might not save the world. But it does allow more of us to join the party.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Sullivan (Rats) weaves biography and American history in this playful attempt to recast Thoreau as more a complex (and convivial) creature than a dour and ascetic environmentalist and "anarchical loner." The book may stir controversy among those who have appropriated Thoreau for a particular cause-a welcome prospect for the author, who writes, "I suppose I have an ax to grind. The Thoreau you know bothers me too, in light of the one I think I've seen." According to Sullivan, the man has been lost to the myth, and the myth has removed him from the context of 19th-century Concord, Mass. Was he an eccentric genius? Probably. Was he an isolationist hermit with a lazy streak? No. In fact, Walden was just a stroll from town, and Thoreau thrived on visits from friends. Sullivan gleefully complicates our understanding of Thoreau and the values he championed-civil disobedience and environmentalism. Although the book may not be as revolutionary a study as Sullivan claims, he proves a fine companion on yet another pilgrimage to Walden. (Apr.)

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Kirkus Reviews
"What if the Thoreau you think of as a refuge-seeking mystic," asks literary journalist Sullivan, "is a humorist with the eye of a social satirist?"Readers of his previous volumes on whaling, rats and road trips (Cross Country, 2006, etc.) may be surprised by his latest book. Sullivan did not spend a week on the Concord and Merrimack or journey to the Maine woods or Cape Cod; he did not even go to Walden Pond until the final (dazzling) chapter. His text focuses instead on reading, thinking and writing, with Sullivan's normally remarkable "I" regrettably concealed in a thicket of scholarly diction and convention. All the trappings of traditional academic volumes are here: thick block quotations, lengthy discursive and/or digressive footnotes, cavils with previous Thoreauvians, textual exegeses and dense passages on Transcendentalism, Fourierism, Swedenborgianism. Most chapters do feature some of Sullivan's familiar touches, including detours, often more engaging than his thoroughfare, on the economy of 19th-century Concord, bean growing, the shipwreck that killed Margaret Fuller and utopian communities. Inviting us to imagine Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) at various pivotal or quotidian moments, the author offers thoughts both novel and illuminating. His research is prodigious, though the book seems to have been written to impress academics rather than to attract general readers. Nonetheless, this Thoreau is a more interesting and complex fellow than the pervasive tree-hugging, hermitical caricature. He could be a jerk, but he was manifestly not a loafer. Sullivan spotlights Thoreau's work ethic, his business sense, his willingness to help others, his abolitionist sympathies, his beliefthat nature was all-encompassing and his insistence that change begins within, then ripples outward. If this is the Thoreau you don't know, it's also a Sullivan you don't expect. Author events in Boston, New York and Portland, Maine

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061710322
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/08/2011
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
918,667
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Robert Sullivan is the author of The Meadowlands, A Whale Hunt, Rats, and Cross Country. A contributing editor to Vogue, his writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Dwell magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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The Thoreau You Don't Know: The Father of Nature Writers on the Importance of Cities, Finance, and Fooling Around 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From people who lived in concord prophet without honor in own home town