Henry David Thoreau A life

Laura Dassow Walls

Book - 2017

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BIOGRAPHY/Thoreau, Henry David
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Chicago, IL : The University of Chicago Press 2017.
Main Author
Laura Dassow Walls (author)
Physical Description
xx, 615 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 511-586) and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Choice Review

Those would like to fall in love again with Henry David Thoreau should read this new biography. Walls (Notre Dame) traces Thoreau's career as a writer from his education at Harvard through his major works, concluding with his late work on wild fruits and the Allagash and East Branch. Throughout, Walls draws on Thoreau's journal and correspondence with a variety of noteworthy contemporaries to contextualize and illuminate his published work and his life. Walls also explores Thoreau's commitment to surveying and pencil making--occupations that sometimes competed with and sometimes contributed to his life as a writer. Thoreau's family's lifelong influence on him, his many lively and productive friendships, and his vital role in the Concord community come to life in Walls's account. And Walls documents Thoreau's (and his family's) sustained and active commitment to abolition, the evolution of his attitudes toward Native Americans, and the development of his scientific and ecological thinking. Walls's prose is fluid, conversational, and larded with details that flesh out Henry David Thoreau as a brilliant writer and human being. This volume is a rich introduction to Thoreau for those unfamiliar with him and an almost casually brilliant reintroduction for those who know and love him. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. --Gary Douglas MacDonald, Virginia State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

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Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 30, 2019]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this definitive biography, the many facets of Thoreau are captured with grace and scholarly rigor by English professor Walls (The Passage to Cosmos). By convention, she observes, there were "two Thoreaus, both of them hermits, yet radically at odds with each other. One speaks for nature; the other for social justice." Not so here. To reveal the author of Walden as one coherent person is Walls's mission, which she fully achieves; as a result of her vigilant focus Thoreau holds the center-no mean achievement in a work through whose pages move the great figures and cataclysmic events of the period. Emerson, Hawthorne, and Whitman are here; so are Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Details of everyday life lend roundness to this portrait as we follow Thoreau's progress as a writer and also as a reader. Walls attends to the breadth of Thoreau's social and political involvements (notably his concern for Native Americans and Irish-Americans and his committed abolitionism) and the depth of his scientific pursuits. The wonder is that, given her book's richness, Walls still leaves the reader eager to read Thoreau. Her scholarly blockbuster is an awesome achievement, a merger of comprehensiveness in content with pleasure in reading. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A superbly researched and written literary portrait that broadens our understanding of the great American writer and pre-eminent naturalist who has too long been regarded as a self-righteous scold."A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist," wrote Vladimir Nabokov. In Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), this formulation finds its fullest expression, and that's only part of the story. Besides being a great prose stylist and the spiritual father of environmentalism, he was also the author of "Civil Disobedience," which has served as a rallying cry for nonviolent protests ever since. For all that, he's hardly a beloved figure; he's the hermit of Walden Pond, the Concord solipsist sneering at the lesser mortals who lack his independence. In this magnificent new biography, Walls (English/Univ. of Notre Dame; The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America, 2009, etc.) effectively humanizes her subject. The man who will always be regarded by some as the great prig of American literature was deeply involved in 19th-century life. He worked every day, and not just as a relentless writer; he made his living as a handyman, carpenter, expert surveyor, and businessman who helped run his family's pencil-manufacturing company. His friendships, most notably with Ralph Waldo Emerson and others in the transcendentalist movement, were tumultuous but enduring. He was a popular lecturer and an anti-slavery activist. He was also the literary artist who spent nearly a decade trying to describe a year on Walden Pond. The Thoreau on the pages of Walden, writes Walls, "is not the author who so carefully staged the book, but the book's protagonist, who, in the course of the year and a day, is utterly changed by the experience." Thoreau has inspired so many esteemed biographies that it's difficult to claim any new one as definitive. However, Walls delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular American figure. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.