Representative Men by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Representative Men includes seven lectures on great men -- Plato, Swedenborg, Montaige, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe. It is natural to believe in great men. If the companions of our childhood should turn out to be heroes, and their condition regal, it would not surprise us. All mythology opens with demigods, and the circumstance is high and poetic; that is, their genius is paramount. In the legends of the Gautama, the first men ate the earth and found it deliciously sweet.
Emerson is one of the most influential thinkers in American history. His Transcendentalism preached a close communion with man and nature and is one of the great life-affirming philosophies of any age. Society and Solitude provides a salient exemplification of Emerson's thought.
As one of the architects of the transcendentalist movement, Emerson embraced a philosophy that championed the individual, emphasized independent thought, and prized "the splendid labyrinth of one's own perceptions." More than any writer of his time, he forged a style distinct from his European predecessors and embodied and defined what it meant to be an American. Matthew Arnold called Emerson's essays "the most important work done in prose."