Walden Pond: A History

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Perhaps no other natural setting has as much literary, spiritual, and environmental significance for Americans as Walden Pond. Some 700,000 people visit the pond annually, and countless others journey to Walden in their mind, to contemplate the man who lived there and what the place means to us today.
Here is the first history of the Massachusetts pond Thoreau made famous 150 years ago. W. Barksdale Maynard offers a lively and comprehensive account of Walden Pond from the early nineteenth century to the present. From Thoreau's first visit at age 4 in 1821—"That woodland vision for a long time made the drapery of my dreams"—to present day efforts both to conserve the pond and allow public access, Maynard captures Walden Pond's history and the role it has played in social, cultural, literary, and environmental movements in America. Along the way Maynard details the geography of the pond; Thoreau's and Emerson's experiences of Walden over their lifetimes; the development of the cult of Thoreau and the growth of the pond as a site of literary and spiritual pilgrimages; rock star Don Henley's Walden Woods Project and the much publicized battle to protect the pond from developers in the 1980s; and the vitally important ecological symbol Walden Pond has become today.
Exhaustively researched, vividly written, and illustrated with historical photographs and the most detailed maps of Thoreau country yet created, Walden Pond: A History reveals the many ways an ordinary pond has come to be such an extraordinarily inspiring symbol.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Delightful and engaging.... Maynard has plumbed the record on Walden as carefully as Thoreau once sounded the depths of its waters. A clear, evenhanded rendering of a complex human drama."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Important, illuminating, and of great narrative appeal. So read this Walden, perhaps after youve reread Thoreau's, at the shores of the pond or ocean of your choice."—Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"A tour de force.... I stand in awe of what Mr. Maynard has been able to do."—Edmund Schofield, Thoreau Society Bulletin

"Ambitious...A worthy book...[Maynard's] insights on the past have real merit."—Jane Holtz Kay, The Nation

"This gem is a biography of a pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau's Walden, published a century and a half ago this year.... All libraries should acquire this superbly crafted work. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—Choice

"Maynard has delivered what will be the enduring chronicle, from Thoreau's first dream to our time, of one of America's and the world's most important historical sites."—Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

"Maynard's move to disengage Walden the idea—the shrine of the environmental movement—from Walden the place, one that 'has long been a beloved swimming hole for greater Boston,' has helped him to construct a scholarly study of an iconic, if less than idyllic place."—John Motyka, New York Times Book Review

"In the century and a half since Henry David Thoreau made it a symbol of the simpler life, Walden Pond has nearly been loved to death by trampling tourists. Rescued only recently by conservationists, the once-again sparkling waters are more alluring than ever, and this photo-filled history illustrates why."—Conde Nast Traveler

"Delightful and engaging.... A clear, evenhanded rendering of a complex human drama."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Traces what the glacier-born lake and its environs have meant to the New England transcendentalists, to developers and environmentalists, to day-trippers and literary tourists, and not least to the residents of nearby Concord."—Chronicle of Higher Education

"Fresh and original. This book is going to be a standard work for anyone interested in the legacy of Thoreau and transcendentalism in America."—Donald Worster, author of Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas

"A painstakingly researched, reportorial history that begins with Thoreau's first glimpse of the pond in 1821 and carries through to the present day. It's a classic tale of Americans loving their national treasures to death.... This book will surely appeal to Thoreau buffs and to those concerned with natural and historic preservation. It provides a comprehensive history of the landscape that inspired one of America's most important authors."—Publishers Weekly

"An eminently readable, deeply informed account of the tangled history of one of this country's most sacred—and contested—places."—Lawrence Buell, author of Emerson

"This is a book we have long needed, and Maynard is clearly the person to have written it. Painstakingly researched, delightfully written—Maynard tells a fascinating story that's a joy to read."—Bradley P. Dean, editor of Thoreau's Faith in a Seed

"Whether Thoreau himself, his biographers, an early 1900s photographer, or dirt-on-the-hands naturalists, each such person's affinity for a special spot at Walden will resonate with Maynard's readers. The intimacy this generates in Maynard's history only strengthens its vitally important contribution to Thoreauvian studies."—Booklist

"Maynard's superb social, cultural, and environmental history of Walden Pond brings alive its history, from geological times through Thoreau's stay there to the trailer park and town dump of the present. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Thoreau, Walden, or the American environmental movement."—Joel Myerson, editor of Transcendentalism: A Reader

"W. Barksdale Maynard picks up where Henry David Thoreau left off. In the pond that Thoreau transformed into a symbol of spirituality, the birthplace of environmentalism, and a classic of American literature, Maynard discerns a fascinating mirror of a changing American culture. Combining environmental, social, and literary history, Maynard surveys the clashing interests at the pond and plumbs the conflicts of American life. As his thorough study makes plain, lovers of Walden have at once helped to preserve and to endanger their sanctuary. If that special place is to survive for new generations, it requires sensitivity to the many purposes it has served. Walden Pond bears a complex past. Thanks to Maynard, it may continue to enjoy an inspiring future." —Robert A. Gross, University of Connecticut

"Essential for readers of Thoreau."—Kirkus Reviews

John Motyka
Maynard's move to disengage Walden the idea -- the shrine of the environmental movement -- from Walden the place, one that ''has long been a beloved swimming hole for greater Boston,'' has helped him to construct a scholarly study of an iconic, if less than idyllic place.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As Maynard dismayingly shows, since the death of Henry David Thoreau, hundreds of thousands of visitors have flocked to Walden Woods each year; they have trampled the flora, polluted the water with debris and urine, blared radios, set up hot dog stands and generally marred the face of this once sacred retreat. Maynard quotes one disheartened visitor who described Walden Pond in the 20th century as "a mass of humanity, a stew of frantic motion, boom boxes and squealing children." In this history of the pond and its surroundings, Maynard relates that in the past 10 years matters have improved markedly. Rock star Don Henley spearheaded the Walden Woods Project, raising millions of dollars for preservation; yet Thoreauvian purists remain skeptical about a Hollywood figure taking charge and pandering for corporate sponsorship. What would Thoreau think about the dramatic changes that have taken place in his name? How did an ordinary pond come to have such extraordinary meanings? Maynard, an architectural historian who has served as a consultant to the Walden Woods Project, tackles all of these questions in a painstakingly researched, reportorial history that begins with Thoreau's first glimpse of the pond in 1821 and carries through to the present day. It's a classic tale of Americans loving their national treasures to death, and though the middle portion of the narrative becomes a bit repetitive with its blow-by-blow account of the growth of crass commercialism, this book will surely appeal to Thoreau buffs and to those concerned with natural and historic preservation. It provides a comprehensive history of the landscape that inspired one of America's most important authors. 85 b&w illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The history-starting mostly from the Emersonian/Thoreauvian era-of America's most famous pond and enduring symbol of the environmental movement. Maynard (Architectural History/Johns Hopkins Univ. and Univ. of Delaware) first visited the site as a student in 1986 and with this work moves near the head of the very large class of pond-o-philes. His study, which follows a loose dawn-to-dark pattern, bears a slightly misleading title: He spends a few pages on the geological history of the pond but his cynosure is principally Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) and his enduring influence. The glacial pond, says Maynard, replaces its water every five years through leaching and rainfall. There is no spring feeding the pond; no streams flow from it. Thoreau first saw the 61.5-acre lake in 1821 and lived his famous two years there in 1845-47. Maynard properly revises several popular misconceptions about Thoreau, who was not alone in the wilderness. From his little house (10x15 ft.) he could see both the Concord road and the railroad; he had many visitors; he frequently saw his family, who lived hard by. Still, he did go to the site countless times-before and after his celebrated sojourn-sounding its depths, staring at stumps, becoming an authority on its flora and fauna. Maynard quotes liberally from Walden and from Thoreau's journals; he quotes, as well, from letters, journals, and publications of many others-Thoreau's coevals and their successors, ranging from Jack Kerouac to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who lived in his own Thoreauvian cabin. Later portions deal with the encroachments of "civilization" over the last 150 years and the ferocious defense of the pond by assorted groups, most successfully theWalden Woods Project (for whom the author has worked), which raised millions of dollars under the leadership of Eagles rocker Don Henley to buy adjacent lands eyed greedily by developers and local government alike and to establish the Thoreau Institute. Great maps show who's owned what around the pond. Essential for readers of Thoreau. (85 halftones)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195168419
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/12/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

W. Barksdale Maynard teaches architectural history at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Delaware and is the author of Architecture in the United States, 1800-1850. He has served as a consultant for The Walden Woods Project and was a visiting scholar at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. He lives in Newark, Delaware.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 In Morning Time 1
2 Visited at All Seasons (1821-1834) 15
3 Intellectual Grove (1835-1844) 29
4 Far Off As I Lived (1845-1847) 63
5 Viewed from a Hilltop (1848-1854) 95
6 Walden Wood Was My Forest Walk (1855-1861) 121
7 All Honest Pilgrims (1862-1882) 153
8 Thoreau's Country (1883-1921) 191
9 Walden Breezes (1922-1959) 229
10 In These Days of Confusion and Turmoil (1960-1989) 265
11 walden.org (1990-2003) 301
Abbreviations 335
Notes 337
Bibliography 363
Index 389
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2004


    I know a good deal about Walden Pond and Walden Woods as a result of many years of personal research. I never thought that anyone would be able to bring together, between the covers of one book, the astonishing amount of information Barksdale Maynard has compiled and integrated in this scrupulously researched and well written book. He has brought together facts from all sorts of sources: newspapers and magazines, books, unpublished letters and diaries, eyewitness interviews, videos, radio broadcasts, maps, and so forth. There are fifty pages of endnotes and bibliography--over 500 of each. I am in awe at what he has been able to do. (Wish I could have done it!) Anyone interested in historic preservation, nature conservation, human nature, grassroots activism, literature, or (most important) Thoreau and Walden itself will enjoy this book. It has lots of information, yet it reads easily and has a good 'story line': how and why Walden has become the symbol it is and what people have done to protect it. The hero of heroes is Don Henley of The Eagles. There are lots of other people--heroes, villains, oddballs, famous people (Emerson, the Alcotts, John Muir, Walt Whitman, the Kennedys, the Clintons, and many others). I recommend the book highly.

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