Henry David Thoreau
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This is the book that established Henry David Thoreau as the writer, environmentalist and all-around hardy soul we know him as today. Thoreau's account of his years living on Walden Pond is touching, insightful and at times hilarious. Definitely a must-read.
By the late 1840s, Thoreau was fed up with his government. He abhorred both slavery and the Mexican-American war and saw no reason why he should have to support those activities. As a result, he refused to pay his poll tax and spent a night in jail. This essay arguing that citizens have a duty to oppose an immoral law became inspiration for peaceful resistors from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Mohandas Gandhi.
In 1839, Thoreau and his brother John took a rafting trip down the Concord and Merrimack rivers. After John died tragically in 1842 at the age of 27, Thoreau wrote this book in memory of his brother and best friend. It sold so poorly when first released that Thoreau was forced to buy back 700 of the 1,000 books the publisher had printed.
Harding wasn't Thoreau's first biographer, but he was definitely among the most intrepid. In the 1940s, he excavated the site along Walden Pond where Thoreau's cabin once stood. His in-depth research into the writer's life led to some interesting discoveries (including the realization that Thoreau was not a great carpenter) and the Thoreau Society, an organization dedicated to the writer's legacy.
To the uninitiated, Thoreau can come off as stodgy, dull and preachy. Under the guidance of writer Robert Sullivan, however, Thoreau is a trailblazing environmentalist whose charming mix of curiosity, compassion, humor and nerdiness wins you over. This recent biography is a unique perspective on the author.
Thoreau was a major player in the American intellectual movement known as Transcendentalism. Cheever's book looks at the philosophical movement that sprung out of Concord and involved Thoreau and many of his friends, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and Thomas Carlyle.