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The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man's Unlikely Path to Walden Pond Hardcover – February 18, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It’s the boy who loved to walk in the woods, ice skate, and sing, and the ardent reader who studied the classics at Harvard and nature’s wonders with equal diligence that Sims (The Story of Charlotte’s Web, 2011) brings forward in this surpassingly vivid and vital chronicle of Thoreau’s formative years. Exceptionally smart, peculiar looking, imaginative, and upright, Thoreau, who craved both solitude and conversation, was surrounded by people, including his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, like him, chronicled their daily lives, providing Sims with a great bounty of primary sources. As Sims portrays a solemn boy nicknamed “the Judge,” we gain fresh understanding of Thoreau’s choices and convictions on his way to becoming a seminal environmentalist and civil-disobedience guru. We see Thoreau quit a teaching job in protest against corporal punishment and go to jail rather than pay his poll tax, suffer heartbreak and tragedy, accidentally burn down the woods near his beloved Walden Pond, experience an epiphany in Maine, build his famous cabin, and turn himself into a world-altering writer who continues to enlighten and astonish us. --Donna Seaman

Review

"Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject." —Kirkus Reviews

"[A] surpassingly vivid and vital chronicle of Thoreau’s formative years. As Sims portrays a solemn boy nicknamed "the Judge," we gain fresh understanding of Thoreau’s choices and convictions on his way to becoming a seminal environmentalist and civil-disobedience guru." —Booklist

"[A] lively biography . . . Nature lovers will revel in the vivid descriptions of Thoreau's adventures and mishaps, fromplaying the flute to a mouse, to boat trips on the Concord river . . . Sims explores the development of a bookish and sometimes prickly young man into the icon he is today." —Financial Times

"An amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond . . . an animated portrait. Sims has once again proven himself to be a distinctive writer on the subjects of human nature and humans in nature." —Bookpage

"An affectionate and lively recreation of the world that surrounded [Thoreau]." —Christian Science Monitor, picked as one of the 10 Best Books of February

"I confess I picked up this biography not because of a burning interest in Thoreau . . . but because I loved Michael Sims' previous book about E. B. White and the writing of Charlotte's Web. Sims made White's youthful world of 1920s New York come alive and he does the same thing here for Thoreau's Concord. . . . The Adventures of Henry Thoreau is a rich, entertaining testament to the triumph of a young man who never comfortably fit in, but who made a place for himself, nonetheless." —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

"A well-researched and richly detailed portrait . . . The Henry David Thoreau portrayed here is no ‘marble bust of an icon.’ He's restless, prickly and possessed of a relentless intellectual curiosity—a complex, fully realized human being. With this picture in mind, anyone who admires Thoreau's life and work will view him with fresh eyes." —Shelf Awareness

"Sims offers intriguing sidelights and memorable details . . . [he] helps us to see Thoreau as a colorful, crotchety human being." —Washington Post

"Sims gracefully captures what he calls Thoreau’s ‘ecstatic response to nature.’" —Wall Street Journal

"[A] highly readable book . . . draws from an impressively broad range of early writings from those who knew Thoreau personally, and the result is indeed a very human 'Henry' as opposed to, as Sims notes, 'a marble bust of an icon.'" CHOICE
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1620401959
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620401958
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Much academic nonsense has been written about Thoreau.
J. Mills
This book creates a good context for understanding the writings of this man of great depth and intensity.
Kevin I. Clinton
Thanks to writers like Michael Sims, we're learning even more about our old friend Henry Thoreau.
Corinne H. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover
From this refreshing re-examination of a national icon, we learn that Henry David Thoreau was a non-conformist, a bit "on the spectrum" as we might deduce through today's lens, but not quite the utter hermit some have supposed him to be. The cabin at Walden Pond was arrived at by logical steps, and was neither the beginning nor the end of a short but memorable life. Author Michael Sims describes Thoreau's youthful progression in vivid, emotionally evocative language.

Thoreau was a child obsessed with science and nature. Surrounded by trees and streams, his people were not farmers. His mother was an early, self-styled abolitionist, and his father was a pencil manufacturer. They were remarkably tolerant of their son's quirks; Thoreau was a demandingly curious, rough cut, woods wanderer who managed to scrape into Harvard on the bottom rung. These days, his trajectory would be considered pretty typical: a rebel without a cause for much of his youth, he dropped out of his first profession --- teaching --- because he did not believe in corporal punishment, at that time considered necessary to learning.

A born naturalist, Thoreau roved the local landscape, seemingly measuring each plot for possible occupation. He once scandalized the region on one of his romps, by starting a fire that went out of control and burned a wide swath, calling forth the fire brigade and understandably inciting local wrath. Though he pretended to ignore the general outrage, Sims records that" he felt an inconsolable grief over the loss of the woods." He also suffered a deep personal loss when his more sociable older brother, John, whom he idolized, died of tetanus: "Henry was holding John in his arms when he gasped his last choking breath.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By William G. Schmidt on March 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
As an amateur Thoreau scholar, having walked in Thoreau's footsteps at Walden, on Cape Cod and to the top of Mount Katahdin, I've always felt as though I've come to know the man fairly intimately. While Sims book follows the well-established chronology of Thoreau's life, it contains a wealth of details I've never read before (who helped raise the rafters at the Walden cabin, for instance). And he doesn't remove a bit of the reverence I feel for the man by painting his everyday life, because Thoreau was hardly everyday.in any sense of the world. And yet he lived a common life, even a "mean" one by most economic standards, but rose above all others, in my opinion, by his beautiful constructions with words. We are lucky to have Thoreau's life-changing words; we are lucky to have Sims' description of the man who wrote them.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mary Kelly ODonnell on June 25, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers interested in history, the Transcendental movement, daily life in Concord, ecology and, of course, Henry Thoreau. In Michael Sims' portrayal, homely, ordinary, somewhat eccentric Henry becomes a sympathetic, fascinating character. The descriptions of Henry's explorations, his family life, his experiences as a teacher and writer, and his friendships with neighbors are compelling. The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims is a worthwhile, joyful read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on March 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
... with the help of terrific insights, like the ones Michael Sims offers us here. There's nothing like a new Thoreau biography to re-introduce our favorite author-naturalist to another population. And veteran Thoreauvians are entertained as well, because it gives them new material to chew on and to debate.

Yes, quite a few Thoreau biographies already exist. In the beginning they were written by Henry's friends, as a way of honoring and remembering him. Then a few fans at the turn of the last century (and on both sides of the Atlantic) took on the task of adding to and refining the information, because they could still ask crucial questions of those few remaining people of Concord who had once known Henry. During the WWII years, the literary scholars joined the crowd; and they set the standard for many decades. Today we hear a diversity of voices, from a variety of sources -- many of them, from those folks who encountered Thoreau in high school or in college in the 1960s-1970s-1980s. Like Michael Sims. (Like me.)

We all have our own personal versions of Henry. For Sims, he's forever young and vital. The focus here is on the first 30 years of Henry's life: up until the time that he leaves Walden Pond in 1847. He paints the picture of a highly sensitive man who is curious about the behaviors of both Nature and mankind. Someone who wants to be at least a little successful at being a writer, but who encounters difficulties in getting published. Included are naturally the usual stories and the near-myths of Henry's life -- abruptly resigning after teaching only two weeks at a public school; becoming devastated by his brother John's death; accidentally setting the woods on fire; moving to Walden Pond; spending a night in jail for non-payment of the poll tax, etc. etc.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Renee Louise Osborne on July 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't know much about Thoreau, but saw the author on TV and wanted to learn more. I enjoyed the book very much. It really takes you back to a former time and makes you feel what it was like to live in the 1800's in the Concord area. I found Thoreau to be such an interesting character, and plan to read Walden next.
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