Bill Dockery's Reviews > Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

Henry Thoreau by Robert D. Richardson
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Jul 04, 08

Recommended for: people with environmental leanings or interest in 19th century
Read in April, 2008

Richardson is known for his biographies of Thoreau, Emerson, and Wm James. I came upon the most recent (James) first and now have read them in reverse order, just finishing the Thoreau bio recently.

The James & Emerson bios were so rich, so crowded, that the Thoreau books seems diminished by comparison; but in so many ways Thoreau led such a small, parochial life compared to the other two giants of 19th century philosophy and letters. At times I felt that Richardson is having to stretch the Thoreau material, especially in the early years. But as the book draws to a close, the influence of Thoreau in today's moral and environmental philosophy becomes clearer and more central to the reader's interaction with the bio. I was much more satisfied when I came to the end of the book.

Most interesting aspect of both Emerson and Thoreau, as portrayed in Richardson's books, is the degree to which they worked and reworked notebooks, journals, letters, and speeches into the half a dozen crucial books and essays they are known for today. Their accomplishments are as much a tribute to their editing and revising skills as to their native impulse to write.

To round out the set, Richardson now needs to take on Whitman.
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