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Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  400 ratings  ·  24 reviews
The two years Thoreau spent at Walden Pond and the night he spent in the Concord jail are among the most familiar features of the American intellectual landscape. In this new biography, based on a reexamination of Thoreau's manuscripts and on a retracing of his trips, Robert Richardson offers a view of Thoreau's life and achievement in their full nineteenth century context ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published January 21st 1988 by University of California Press (first published 1986)
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Detalladísima biografía sobre la búsqueda de Thoureau, sobre su manera de construirse, en cada tema que le interesó, en sus lecturas. Me tomó mucho tiempo leerlo, pero me encantó. Yo sabia que era un personaje excepcional, pero no tenía idea como se había desarrollado su manera de pensar, su enfoque, y los temas que abarcó y le interesaron durante su vida. Tardó 9 años corrigiendo su obra más conocida, Walden, me parece alucinante como nunca dejó de investigar en todo momento de su vida, siempre ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is a scene in Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose in which the narrator, a retired college history professor, is berating his hippy caretaker for venerating Henry David Thoreau so much, derisively telling her how “Wild Man” Thoreau ended up surveying lots for a housing development. I, too, have venerated Thoreau, so Stegner’s story served as a corrective to my hero worship. Time to escort Henry off his pedestal, I thought, but to be fair I knew I needed to get the other side of the story. So ...more
robin friedman
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The Sun Is But A Morning Star"

In the concluding chapter of "Walden", Henry David Thoreau offers a parable of a great artist in the city of Kouroo "who was disposed to strive for perfection." In Thoreau's story, the artist spends eons working to carve the perfect staff. By the time the artist was satisfied, his friends had died, Kouroo was no more, the dynasty of the Candhars had ended, the polestar had changed, and "Brahma had awakened and slumbered many times". Yet, the artist saw that "for hi
Ian Ayris
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After reading this book, Henry Thoreau is even more a hero of mine than he ever was.

An incredible book on the life of an incredible man.
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
How does one begin to reclaim Thoreau from the two-dimensional image of an early hippie hanging out at Walden, communing with nature? Richardson's approach is to present the man through the books he read. The first, and perhaps most important, benefit is that it reveals T. as an autodidact of impressive scope. T. was no naif strolling dewy meadows sniffing flowers. Whereas Emerson, if early intellectual mentor, articulated the idea of "self-reliance," T. truly lived it, in body and spirit. Richa ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great book for someone interested in Thoreau. It starts with his college years, so unfortunately nothing of his childhood is included. It is pretty long, took me a few months to get through it all. It does have the benefit of short chapters. However, if you aren't fully committed to the time needed to devour this one, I would recommend "Henry Thoreau As Remembered By A Young Friend" By Edward Waldo Emerson. Much shorter (maybe 50 pages total?), it gives a little bit of an overview of Thoreau's l ...more
Lars Reijnen
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great intellectual biography, although Richardson's biography of Emerson Emerson: The Mind on Fire is both more enjoyable and better written. Love the structure, looking for a companion piece which explores Thoreau's philosophy more in-depth. ...more
Mark Mortensen
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is not a complete biography of Thoreau as the historical account begins with his graduation from Harvard College in 1837 and his return to his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. I found it interesting that he then transposed his first and middle name from David Henry to Henry David. As a resident of Concord in the 19th Century Thoreau enjoyed solitude and peace with nature. He was not considered lonely but he was a complex individual, often misunderstood because he was not accomplished at ...more
Keith Skinner
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hands down, the best insight into Thoreau ever written. Robert Richardson has a knack – no, more of a driving urge – to get into the mind of his subject. That he chooses subjects like Thoreau and Emerson who were passionate yet complex people, people who often wrestle with their own beliefs, is not surprising. I credit Thoreau as changing my life in my late teens. I credit Richardson with providing many new insights into Thoreau and a new appreciation for the vast expanse of his intellect.
This is a very interesting, surprisingly readable book. It is a biography of Thoreau, but one framed out by looking at his intellectual and literary influences--which makes it, in my view, a lot more interesting than I expected when I first picked it up. It did emphasize how little I actually know about American intellectual and literary history, but gave me a point from which to seek out more (for instance, while I am/was pretty aware of the impact of German idealism on Russian thought, I someh ...more
Adam Ghory
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Richardson's approach to biography is unique in that alongside a detailed account of historical events he delves into the evolution of his protagonist's reading material in an attempt to unearth the progression of their philosophy.

Having read both the Emerson and Thoreau retrospectives, I must conclude the Emerson volume a stronger book, with a deeper dive into the core of Emerson's thinking, and a more defined picture of Emerson's character. It's also a more daunting read, with more complicate
Bill Dockery
May 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people with environmental leanings or interest in 19th century
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 Thore
Cynthia F Davidson
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Had no idea that Thoreau had died of TB at age 44, and marvel at all he was able to accomplish in the time he had. I savored this book, and it has made me hunger for more 'intellectual biographies.' Although some may think it is a 'heavy read', i didn't want it to end.

Living in New England myself (in Rhode Island), it gave me a historical sense of what's gone on around here, especially in the 'minds' of prior 'settlers'. Wish Thoreau had been able to publish what he'd been working on regarding t
David A. Beardsley
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I know Bob Richardson and he has generously reviewed my books. That said, I think I would still find this book a model for biographers everywhere; clear, thorough (no pun intended), and insightful of the interplay between the man and his environment. Both the literary and natural environments in this case, since Thoreau straddled both. Drawing inspiration from his fellow Concordians--Emerson, Alcott, Fuller, etc.--Thoreau became an icon for bo ...more
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, concord
While lacking in attention to Thoreau's formative years and family life, Richardson's biography of Thoreau is one of the very best yet written. It makes a wonderful companion to Walter Harding's more thoroughly detailed biography, bringing the interpretation and attention to Thoreau's intellectual life essential to Thoreau's existence that was absent from Harding's book. Thoreau's character has a living presence in this book. Though an intellectual biography, this book does not make for dense re ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a methodical , detailed look at Thoreau from age 20 until his death. It was dense and took me much longer than I anticipated to get through it... Not so much technically dense as philosophically.. It was like reading Thoreau. The philosophical bent, frequent quoting and contextualizing of Thoreau's life with his writing made it a solid, memorable biography and added to my understanding of the time period, Emerson, and Transcendentalism. Overall, a good read... and my copy is no littered ...more
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
Fantastic. For the first time, I understood the difference between a biography, and an intellectual biography, the former being a frame for the latter, and little more, at least in this case, for an explorer of the mind in Nature, rather than a body in distant lands. This book has contributed greatly to my understanding of this puzzling character.
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the first biography of Thoreau I've read. I chose it after reading Richardson's biography of Emerson.

I would have enjoyed mixing it up with Henry.

I'll soon reread "Walden" (I first read it 40 years ago. I'll read some of his other works, too.

It was a pleasure getting to meet him through the book.
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I just can't seem to get enough of Thoreau. This book added much to my appreciation and understanding of Thoreau. That said, if you are interested in gaining more insight into the how Thoreau viewed the world I recommend that you read his journals in combination with Richardson's book. ...more
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully readable account of Thoreau’s life of reading and walking, his encounter with books and nature, his investigation into Greek, Roman, Indian, and German thought, and the development of his own philosophy.
Edward Renehan
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
An intellectual biography tracing the evolution of Thoreau's thoughts, and - of course - his influences. Insightful. Important. A book I return to. ...more
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. Insightful and moving. Made me wish I could give Thoreau a hug.
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The best book about Thoreau that I've come across. A great window into the goings on in Concord Mass during the time of Thoreau,Emerson,Hawthorne.... ...more
Brent Ranalli
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An essential resource.
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The son of a Unitarian minister, Robert Dale Richardson III grew up in Massachusetts and earned his bachelor's and doctorate degrees in English at Harvard University. Richardson taught at a number of colleges, including the University of Denver and Wesleyan University. ...more

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