The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau's River Years

The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau's River Years

by Robert M. Thorson


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The Boatman gives readers a Thoreau for the Anthropocene epoch. As a backyard naturalist and river enthusiast, Thoreau was keenly aware of the way humans had altered the waterways and meadows of his beloved Concord River Valley. And he recognized that he himself—a land surveyor by trade—was as complicit in these transformations as the bankers, lawyers, builders, landowners, and elected officials who were his clients. Robert Thorson tells a compelling story of intellectual growth, as Thoreau moved from anger, to lament, to acceptance of the way humans had changed the river he cherished more than Walden Pond.

In his twenties, Thoreau had contemplated industrial sabotage against a downstream factory dam. By the mid-1850s he realized that humans and an “imperfect” nature were inseparable. His beliefs and scientific understanding of the river would be challenged again when he was hired in 1859 as a technical consultant for the River Meadow Association, in America’s first statewide case for dam removal—a veritable class-action suit of more than five hundred petitioners that pitted local farmers against industrialists. Thorson offers the most complete account to date of this “flowage controversy,” including Thoreau’s behind-the-scenes investigations and the political corruption that eventually carried the day.

In the years after the publication of Walden (1854), the river boatman’s joy in the natural world was undiminished by the prospect of environmental change. Increasingly, he sought out for solace and pleasure those river sites most dramatically altered by human invention and intervention—for better and worse.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674545090
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 04/24/2017
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 938,135
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Robert M. Thorson is Professor of Geology at the University of Connecticut.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Preface xi

Introduction 1

1 Moccasin Print 34

2 Colonial Village 50

3 American Canal 64

4 Transition 83

5 Poet Concord 97

6 Wild waters 113

7 River Sojourns 128

8 Consultant 146

9 Mapmaker 164

10 Genius 185

11 Saving the Meadows 201

12 Reversal of Fortune 217

Conclusion 231

Epilogue 247

Abbreviations 251

Notes 253

References 295

Acknowledgments 307

Index 309

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