Understanding Emerson: "The American Scholar" and His Struggle for Self-Reliance / Edition 1

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Overview

"Understanding Emerson is a superb piece of historical research brought to life by a deep intuition about one of the most fascinating phenomena of the nineteenth century: the mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Kenneth Sacks has got that mind exactly right. He has grasped the curiously ungraspable quality of Emerson's thought, and by showing us, in a fineness of detail no one else has approached, how Emerson came to write 'The American Scholar,' he shows us, too, why we continue to read him."--Louis Menand, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"A timely and elegantly written reminder of why Emerson is America's most important intellectual."--Gordon Wood, Brown University

"Kenneth Sacks has succeeded admirably in producing a very important examination of both the ferment of reform and change in which Transcendentalism arose, and Emerson's personal struggle with that ferment. He breaks a good deal of new ground. The picture that emerges is insightful, revealing, and engaging. The book is very well written and, blessedly, jargon free."--Len Gougeon, author of Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform, and past President of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society (2000-2001)

"This is an engaging book--well-written, without jargon, and suitable for the educated reader as well as for the Emerson scholar interested in the details missed by many biographers and intellectual historians. I was carried along as a reader from beginning to end, and often smiled with satisfaction at the author's wit and the aptness of his use of quotations and other documentary evidence."--William Pannapacker, Hope College

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Editorial Reviews

The Philadelphia Inquirer
As Sacks shows, in his public lectures Emerson took pains not to seem too controversial. . . . But standing before a closed circuit of his intellectual peers, he came out foursquare for a notion of scholarship that, for all its influence on American writers, transcended not only national but also institutional boundaries. . . . Sacks is a classical historian and is very good at showing how well Emerson's mastery of classical rhetoric served him in this address. . . . Reading Emerson's speech today, his turns of phrase may strike us as rather demure, but to his auditors they were fighting words.
— Frank Wilson
The Weekly Standard
Sacks's Emerson is very much a man of his milieu, a stubborn and driven Yankee. . . . Sacks reveals Emerson as a struggling, uncertain figure, whose hunger to achieve self-reliance warred constantly against his need for approval from other quarters. His great effort of self-assertion seems more sympathetic, and less self-indulgent, when seen in this light.
— Wilfred M. McClay
Times Literary Supplement
Sack's subtle and fine-meshed Understanding Emerson examines the circumstances in which Emerson's first major public statement . . . took shape. Sacks shows how complicated the occasion was, and how easy it would have been . . . for Emerson to fulfill the expectations of his audience and Alma Mater. Instead, he heeded the hopes of young friends like Thoreau and deliberately insulted almost everyone in the audience.
— Christopher Benfey
Times Literary Supplement"

Sack's subtle and fine-meshed Understanding Emerson examines the circumstances in which Emerson's first major public statement . . . took shape. Sacks shows how complicated the occasion was, and how easy it would have been . . . for Emerson to fulfill the expectations of his audience and Alma Mater. Instead, he heeded the hopes of young friends like Thoreau and deliberately insulted almost everyone in the audience.
— Christopher Benfey
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Frank Wilson
As Sacks shows, in his public lectures Emerson took pains not to seem too controversial. . . . But standing before a closed circuit of his intellectual peers, he came out foursquare for a notion of scholarship that, for all its influence on American writers, transcended not only national but also institutional boundaries. . . . Sacks is a classical historian and is very good at showing how well Emerson's mastery of classical rhetoric served him in this address. . . . Reading Emerson's speech today, his turns of phrase may strike us as rather demure, but to his auditors they were fighting words.
Times Literary Supplement" - Christopher Benfey
Sack's subtle and fine-meshed Understanding Emerson examines the circumstances in which Emerson's first major public statement . . . took shape. Sacks shows how complicated the occasion was, and how easy it would have been . . . for Emerson to fulfill the expectations of his audience and Alma Mater. Instead, he heeded the hopes of young friends like Thoreau and deliberately insulted almost everyone in the audience.
The Weekly Standard - Wilfred M. McClay
Sacks's Emerson is very much a man of his milieu, a stubborn and driven Yankee. . . . Sacks reveals Emerson as a struggling, uncertain figure, whose hunger to achieve self-reliance warred constantly against his need for approval from other quarters. His great effort of self-assertion seems more sympathetic, and less self-indulgent, when seen in this light.
From the Publisher

"A detailed, rigorous, yet highly readable and engaging story."--Library Journal

"As Sacks shows, in his public lectures Emerson took pains not to seem too controversial. . . . But standing before a closed circuit of his intellectual peers, he came out foursquare for a notion of scholarship that, for all its influence on American writers, transcended not only national but also institutional boundaries. . . . Sacks is a classical historian and is very good at showing how well Emerson's mastery of classical rhetoric served him in this address. . . . Reading Emerson's speech today, his turns of phrase may strike us as rather demure, but to his auditors they were fighting words."--Frank Wilson, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Sack's subtle and fine-meshed Understanding Emerson examines the circumstances in which Emerson's first major public statement . . . took shape. Sacks shows how complicated the occasion was, and how easy it would have been . . . for Emerson to fulfill the expectations of his audience and Alma Mater. Instead, he heeded the hopes of young friends like Thoreau and deliberately insulted almost everyone in the audience."--Christopher Benfey, Times Literary Supplement

"Sacks's Emerson is very much a man of his milieu, a stubborn and driven Yankee. . . . Sacks reveals Emerson as a struggling, uncertain figure, whose hunger to achieve self-reliance warred constantly against his need for approval from other quarters. His great effort of self-assertion seems more sympathetic, and less self-indulgent, when seen in this light."--Wilfred M. McClay, The Weekly Standard

Times Literary Supplement
Sack's subtle and fine-meshed Understanding Emerson examines the circumstances in which Emerson's first major public statement . . . took shape. Sacks shows how complicated the occasion was, and how easy it would have been . . . for Emerson to fulfill the expectations of his audience and Alma Mater. Instead, he heeded the hopes of young friends like Thoreau and deliberately insulted almost everyone in the audience.
— Christopher Benfey
The Philadelphia Inquirer

As Sacks shows, in his public lectures Emerson took pains not to seem too controversial. . . . But standing before a closed circuit of his intellectual peers, he came out foursquare for a notion of scholarship that, for all its influence on American writers, transcended not only national but also institutional boundaries. . . . Sacks is a classical historian and is very good at showing how well Emerson's mastery of classical rhetoric served him in this address. . . . Reading Emerson's speech today, his turns of phrase may strike us as rather demure, but to his auditors they were fighting words.
— Frank Wilson
The Weekly Standard

Sacks's Emerson is very much a man of his milieu, a stubborn and driven Yankee. . . . Sacks reveals Emerson as a struggling, uncertain figure, whose hunger to achieve self-reliance warred constantly against his need for approval from other quarters. His great effort of self-assertion seems more sympathetic, and less self-indulgent, when seen in this light.
— Wilfred M. McClay
Library Journal
In 1837, Emerson was invited to give the Phi Beta Kappa address to his alma mater, Harvard University. Sacks (history, Brown Univ.) sees the oration as a turning point in both Emerson's life and American letters, and he includes the entire address as an appendix. He limns Emerson as insecure and doubtful of his own ability and viewpoint prior to the address-in which he excoriates the academy for emphasizing "book learning" instead of encouraging "intuition"-but as subsequently emerging as his "own man," so to speak. The narrative relates Emerson's contacts with notable figures of the time, including Thomas Carlyle, Charles Wilson Elliot, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and others, and shows how Emerson was influenced by the thought of Plato, the Stoics, Goethe, Locke, and especially Kant, elements of whose writings are seen in the Transcendentalism of the time. In addition, Sacks shows how his thought has influenced American pragmatism. Although the case Sacks makes about Emerson's importance as an essayist, poet, and philosopher seems somewhat forced, this is a detailed, rigorous, yet highly readable and engaging story that belongs in American intellectual history and literature collections in academic and public libraries. [The bicentennial of Emerson's birth was May 25.-Ed.]-Leon H. Brodsky, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691099828
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/10/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Recipe

"Understanding Emerson is a superb piece of historical research brought to life by a deep intuition about one of the most fascinating phenomena of the nineteenth century: the mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Kenneth Sacks has got that mind exactly right. He has grasped the curiously ungraspable quality of Emerson's thought, and by showing us, in a fineness of detail no one else has approached, how Emerson came to write 'The American Scholar,' he shows us, too, why we continue to read him."—Louis Menand, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"A timely and elegantly written reminder of why Emerson is America's most important intellectual."—Gordon Wood, Brown University

"Kenneth Sacks has succeeded admirably in producing a very important examination of both the ferment of reform and change in which Transcendentalism arose, and Emerson's personal struggle with that ferment. He breaks a good deal of new ground. The picture that emerges is insightful, revealing, and engaging. The book is very well written and, blessedly, jargon free."—Len Gougeon, author of Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform, and past President of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society (2000-2001)

"This is an engaging book—well-written, without jargon, and suitable for the educated reader as well as for the Emerson scholar interested in the details missed by many biographers and intellectual historians. I was carried along as a reader from beginning to end, and often smiled with satisfaction at the author's wit and the aptness of his use of quotations and other documentary evidence."—William Pannapacker, Hope College

Read More Show Less

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