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American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work
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American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  936 ratings  ·  218 reviews
Even the most devoted readers of nineteenth-century American literature often assume that the men and women behind the masterpieces were as dull and staid as the era's static daguerreotypes. Susan Cheever's latest work, however, brings new life to the well-known literary personages who produced such cherished works as "The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Walden," and "Little Wo ...more
Hardcover, 223 pages
Published December 19th 2006 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2006)
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Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskeyMystic River by Dennis LehaneThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodConfidential Communications by J.R. ReardonJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Boston Books
40th out of 182 books — 179 voters
Walden by Henry David ThoreauLittle Women by Louisa May AlcottThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanSelf-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
17th out of 102 books — 45 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,752)
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Victoria Weinstein
Dec 04, 2013 Victoria Weinstein rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one!
Shelves: non-fiction
What an embarrassment. People have celebrated this book for making Emerson and the rest of the Transcendentalists accessible, but what they don't know -- or haven't realized -- is that Cheever's book is full of egregious errors and obvious lack of understanding and knowledge of her subject matter. Avoid this book; it's garbage. Instead, read Carlos Bakers' book _Emerson Among the Eccentrics_ for a well-crafted and responsibly researched take on the same milieu.
I read this book with high hopes because of its wonderful title. Alas, it is a deep disappointment. My purchase of it was based on a number of factors including personal enrichment, curiosity and interest in the subject, a New England location, the fact that the author's late father, John, is buried a few miles from my home, and it was on sale for $5.
I cannot believe an editor would have allowed this book to go to print. Cheever divides this story into four sections. In each section she repea
St. Expeditus
This book repeats a lot of inaccurate cliches about these writers that haven't been taken seriously for a generation or two. A number of reviewers on Amazon have pointed out its factual errors. But what really surprised me was the old-school Confederate apologia that creeps in throughout the first three quarters and grows into an ugly rant when Cheever gets to the Transcendentalists' support for John Brown.

At the start of her discussion of John Brown, Cheever mentions about as briefly and vague
Joshua Parkinson
Entertaining read on Concord, Mass during the 1840s and 50s. The town was essentially a genius garden cultivated by the money and sweat of Ralph Waldo Emerson. After his first wife (and love) Ellen died young, Emerson inherited a small fortune and used it to buy up properties in Concord and lure New England's most promising minds.

One by one the freeloaders showed up and sucked Emerson dry: first Bronson Alcott and his family, then Thoreau, then Hawthorne and the rest. Margaret Fuller also stopp
You feel smarter after a tour this juicy little piece by Susan Cheever. Susan Cheever can really write too, although sometimes she interjects modern day jargon and her modern life into her scholarly tidbits. (Those parts of the book makes it lose it's momentum and tone.) Cheever's setting is Concord, Mass., before the Civil War. Her cast of characters include Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Branson Alcott, Louisa May's father, Hawthorne, Melville and Margaret Fuller. Wives of th ...more
May 17, 2009 Bridget rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those fond of 19th century literature
Shelves: 2009-reads
Oh how I enjoyed this book! I knew bits and pieces about Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, but it was so interesting to read about them on a more "personal" level. I was not at all familiar with Margaret Fuller, so I was fascinated to learn what an important woman she was, particularly for the literary types of the nineteenth century.

The book is divided into sections, and each character has a chapter related to them within the section. Sometimes you are seeing a situation from the point o
American Bloomsbury is Susan Cheever's account of the "genius cluster" formed in New England by the Transcendentalists. Assembled and funded largely by the great essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, the group prominently included: writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, critic and feminist Margaret Fuller, writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau and the much younger writer Louisa May Alcott who earned her place via her father, the educator and reformer Bronson Alcott. These five authors form the biographical nex ...more
Fascinating book -- and a quick read! Quirky true tales of the transcendentalist writers -- I never that Emerson purchased the land that Thoreau built his Walden Pond cabin on, and I never realized that Thoreau met Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe -- all these amazing writers who were writing at around the same time. I loved the short, focused chapters in this book, which give time to each of the writers mentioned in the title. I was amazed at what Louisa May Alcott went through (Civil War nurse ...more
I really wanted to like this book, but would've just settled for being able to tolerate it long enough to get through it. I did learn some about these literary greats, but about halfway through got so annoyed with the repetition and jumbled narrative that I just couldn't take it anymore. The author would focus on one character and then in the next paragraph switch to someone/something completely different with no transition whatsoever, leaving the impression that she simply transcribed her notes ...more
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne are enshrined in America's literary canon while Louisa May Alcott was the author of one of the most beloved novel for girls ever written. Susan Cheever's eminently readable book about the menage of famous authors and thinkers living in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-19th Century strips away the reverence surrounding these people and gives us a "warts and all" picture of their lives, their writing and their political acts

The pers
What a wonderful read. If only, if only, if only they had used this in my 11th grade honors English course! This gives such a wonderful insight and understanding into the literature they wrote, the times they lived in, and the relationships they held with one another.
Really enjoye this book as well. Put it on the same shelf with American Veda, Emerson's Wife, and the writings of Thoreau, Emerson, Fuller, et al.
this book can't really decide if it's historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction or what -- which makes it alternately charming and obnoxious.
Dave Maddock
Not awful, but not great either. Other reviews critical of Cheever for being factually inaccurate in places gives me pause, but I don't have the knowledge to comment further. However, I would have liked this book to have been less repetitive and grapple with the issues more deeply. Instead, it was basically "crit fic," weaving a gossip-heavy narrative based on over-zealously interpreting parts of their writings as biography. Still, I did learn more about the Transcendental movement's principal p ...more
Annie Garvey
One of my favorite places in Concord, Massachusetts. I love the old town cemetery with its slate stones. I also enjoy Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts are buried. I was touched that a visitor had left a bouquet at Louisa May's grave.
I had read about Margaret Fuller before; however, I didn't know what a tart she was. If I was Lidian Emerson or Sophia Hawthorne, I wouldn't like Margaret Fuller either, and I wouldn’t let her stay in my house. I’m so glad I l
Feb 06, 2010 Melanie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone!
The word "Bloomsbury" conjures a time and place peopled by artistic visionaries whose creativity changed the perception and practice of art, literature, philosophy, and criticism. I think of it as a wheel that radiated outward from Virginia Woolf to Lytton Strachey, Carrington, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Lady Ottoline, Vita Sackville-West, Katherine Mansfield, Ethyl Smith - clearly, not all Bloomsberries, but artists who were reaching out and breaking barriers everywhere.

These people (especially
Sandra Ross
Very well-written. Insightful from a big-picture viewpoint of the intertwining of the lives of Concord, MA's most famous residents and authors. Anything more I could say would be spoilers, but what Cheever has uncovered and accomplished in this book is interesting and gripping.
I found this book a fast-read with an interesting topic and inventive format. My high hopes in the beginning fell a bit
short by the end, as the idea of revisiting the same event
from different people's perspectives became more repetitive
than illuminating. I was okay with Cheever injecting her own
reactions and views into the mix; her voice was clear and
her enthusiasm for her topic contagious. However, again, by
the end, some of the belaboring of topics such as Alcott's
mercury poisoning seemed out o
Terrific and chock full of reveals about this famous nest of writers who changed American Literature. A short accessible read that is an eye-opener debunking a lot of what we thought we knew of this important group of American writers.
Jun 26, 2008 Polly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Polly by: Mumsie
Shelves: polly
I found this time period and place very interesting. The people involved and how they influenced each other created quite an amazing community. It was interesting to me to realize that this was taking place simultaneous to the events detailed in Rough Stone Rolling, which I am also reading. The narrator was too intrusive for me, and I disliked her tendency to suggest more than she could prove. The insinuated love affairs were a bit melodramatic compared with any actual evidence. Looking at the f ...more
Nov 23, 2009 CLM rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Louisa May Alcott
This book is full of fascinating information:

I read that Nathaniel Hawthorne greatly influenced Herman Melville's approach to Moby Dick.

Margaret Fuller bore an illegitimate child, then drowned (I bet many back in Boston thought it served her right).

However, I do wonder if Cheever accepted Geraldine Brooks' fiction about Bronson Alcott too readily: is there any documentation to support Cheever's assertions about Alcott's sexual experiences in the South when he was a peddler?

Although Cheever's to
Jul 28, 2014 Cara added it
A wonderful, well researched book on all my favorite authors out of Concord, MA
Debby Zigenis-Lowery
Before reading American Bloomsbury, I had not realized that the reason the Alcotts, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson all lived in Concord, Massachusetts was not a coincidence. It was almost completely due to the generosity of Emerson. When he came into money as a young widower, he decided to build a literary community, settling in Concord, where Thoreau already lived. He assisted the Alcotts and the Hawthornes in moving to Concord, even helped to pay living their living expenses (espe ...more
Let's say I enjoyed this book but I wasn't mesmerized by it, shall we? The reason I rated it at four stars is because it elicited a desire to dig deeper, to research more, to re-visit other books I've not read in a while. Little Women doesn't count because, well, I actually read it every year.

I approach books as doorways, and an optimal experience with a book -for me- is finding other doorways beyond the one I've just opened. Ms. Cheever, in spite of having trod over well-known ground, and havi
Not uninteresting, but confirms my prejudices against most of these writers as seriously unhappy people whose ideas ranged from odd to dangerous. The book itself, in an effort to weave all these lives together, was choppy and hard to follow. She chose to organize her material somewhat thematically--although even the chapter themes were somewhat obscure at times--rather than chronologically. I do NOT recommend this book.
Very disappointing, superficial treatment of an amazing group of thinkers and iconoclasts. Some paragraphs were so beneath the author (who I have never read before, but thought was some great intellectual(?) : "were they sleeping together? we'll never know" (though in quotes, it's a paraphrase). For a great book on the ideas (and lives) of these characters, I recommend The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand.
A literacy history of Concord, MA during the 1840's through 60's. Who knew it would be like reading a People magazine featuring Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau and others falling in love, lending each other money, consumed by jealousy both personal and professional? A fascinating read, cleverly organized and full of insights about some of America's most beloved writers.
Hal Carim
Fascinating account of the birth of the Transcendentalist movement in Concord, Mass. under the aegis of Emerson; the lives, works, ideas and ideals of Thoreau, Fuller, Hawthorne, Melville, Alcott; with a backdrop of tumultous transformations of the mid 19C: Europe 1848 / Anti Abolitionism and the Civil War in the US; served with a side dish of petticoat and indiscretions.
Learning more about this fascinating group was what I liked best about American Bloomsbury. But after reading reviews from others, I realize I do not know enough about these writers to judge. I plan to read Emerson Among the Eccentrics as was suggested in Victoria Weistein's review.
"There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject, as there is room for more light on the brightest day, and more rays will not interfere with the first." --Henry David Thoreau.

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