Howard Olsen's Reviews > A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau
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Sep 16, 2007

it was amazing

Throeau's admirers laud him as a nature writer, and often describe this work as a "journal" recording a week's worth of river travel in Van Buren-era Massachusetts. This will not prepare you for the profound pilosophical and literary qualities found in this book. This is no journal. The seven days on the river are a framing device for Thoreau's extended thoughts on nature, religon, America, friendship, fish, and anything else that might cross his mind. Living as we do in an age of specialization, it is humbling to read the work of a man who could comfortably discuss (at great length) Hinduism, colonial history, Classical poetry, the operation of canal locks, etc. Thoreau also includes plenty of exquisite decriptions of nature, which reveal him to have a true poetic soul on top of everything else. His thoughts on local history are especially interesting. The US is often derided as a "young" country, but Throeau reminds us that Englishmen had already been living along the Concord River for 200 years at the time he made his journey. Often the history is fantastically detailed, a reflection of the extent to which the settling of America was a matter of one family going 10 miles farther inland than the last. Interesting biographical note: Thoreau appears to have worked harder on this book than any of his others. He worked on it for 10 years (including the 2 he spent at Walden). He unsuccessfully self-published it, causing him to famously quip that he had a library containing 1000 volumes, of which he was the author of 800. In other words, this book is central to understanding Thoreau as an author.
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