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Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind Paperback – January 21, 1988


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (January 21, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520063465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520063464
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A splendidly written book. . . . Richardson's critical discussions of the journals, "Walden, "Cape Cod, and the other works are invariably illuminating and cast a new light on Thoreau's sometimes cross-grained but fascinating personality." --"The Boston Globe

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Richardson's book brings home Thoreau's conviction that human nature is basically the same everywhere and throughout time.
Robin Friedman
With such a sparse collection of Thoreau biographies out there, we're fortunate that Robert Richardson Jr. was able to paint such an intimate portrait of the man.
dtrain487
As a bedtime reader, I love not only the writing, but the 100 chapters the book is divided into, which is great for a nighttime read.
Fred Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Lapins on September 8, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a young man my Holy Trinity was: Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. Emerson's essays are pure poetry; Thoreau's "Walden" and "Civil Disobedience" became a blueprint on how to live and why to write; and Whitman's life and "Leaves Of Grass" taught me about myself.
"A Life Of The Mind" filled each page with the authenticity and richness of a life well lived. Thoreau, the humanness, the naturalist, the friend and son; the poet of the unraveling, entangled soul beating within the humdrum of everyday and ordinary life, leaps from every page. I have read other biographies on Thoreau which never captured the mind and writer of "Walden". Here the man and life equalled and qualified the literature.
Richardson is more than a biographer of Thoreau; he's made from the same stock. He didn't simply tell of a man and his life, he savored, and shared in the same poetics and struggles as the man he researched. The theme of Thoreau's life was an opportunity to express his own convictions and struggles.
It was while reading an anthology of Thoreau's work that I first understood why some poets and writers must write. I came to understand how every sentence could be layered with meaning and timelessness. After reading this biography I must reread my annotated "Walden". I must sit in my backyard amongst the leaves and flowers and shapes and densities I've not paid attention to in some time.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
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 him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure: how could the result be other than wonderful?"

This parable of the nature of the self, freedom, and high purpose, told in the language of Eastern thought, is one of many aspects of Thoreau that Robert Richardson illuminated for me in his biography, "Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind." (1986) Richardson's biography of Thoreau is the first of what has become an outstanding trilogy of studies of American thinkers. Its companions are "Emerson: A Mind on Fire" and, most recently, "William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism." These three biographies cast great light on intellectual and spiritual life and their continuing influence in the United States. Richardson was a professor at the University of Denver when he wrote "Thoreau". He is now an independent scholar.

Richardson's biography of Thoreau (1817 -- 1862) does not begin until its subject reaches the age of 20 and returns from Harvard to Concord, Massachusetts to teach school.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bradley P. Dean on June 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you want to get your mind around Thoreau's mind and the more significant facts of his life, buy and read this book. Because the chapters are brief but meaty, and because Richardson's an accomplished prose stylist in his own right, this book is a joy to read and, I have found, is wonderful to come back to periodically, particularly when looking for a great way to spend ten to twenty extra minutes profitably.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Fred Davis VINE VOICE on July 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book. I like absolutely everything about it. As a bookseller, I can tell you that I like the book as an object: the production values are excellent. As a bedtime reader, I love not only the writing, but the 100 chapters the book is divided into, which is great for a nighttime read. Even the interior art is nice.

Robert Richardson really takes you there, takes you to Concord and inside the life of Thoreau and the Transcendentalist Movement. It's great stuff. I play to read his biography of Emerson (again with 100 chapters) next.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Maher on July 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
Robert D. Richardson takes the busy-bodied world of Thoreau and places each of his accomplishments into context starting with their respective intellectual origin. In the process of doing this, Richardson constructs the world of Thoreau's Concord and creates it for us vividly and realistically. This is by far the best Thoreau bio out there and serves a perfect book-end with his Emerson bio, The Mind On Fire.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By dtrain487 on December 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
With such a sparse collection of Thoreau biographies out there, we're fortunate that Robert Richardson Jr. was able to paint such an intimate portrait of the man. As mentioned in the Preface of the book, this is an intellectual biography. It is a well composed account of Thoreau's life and his insatiable, systematic approach to learning. Through his exemplary writing, Richardson is able to explain the intricacies of Thoreau and the complex subjects that influenced him in a way that is simple to read and easy to understand. He breaks down such topics as Transcendentalism, Stoicism, German idealism, mysticism, and philosophy, combines them with the touch of Emerson, Whitman, Darwin, (William) Gilpin, and Goethe, and lastly mixes a little poetry, nature, art, and economy to explain the mind of Thoreau. I've read most of Thoreau's major writings. This book provided supplemental information regarding the message of those works, and methods in which Thoreau composed them that was enlightening. In reading this book, we not only learn an incredible amount about Thoreau, but we're also the beneficiaries of the authors' research into the various topics that influenced his subject. I opened the book with questions about Thoreau's genius and left with more questions about an array of topics for which I previously had little or no interest in. That, in my opinion, is the proof of a great read.
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