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Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Centennial Books) Paperback – November 6, 1996

4.9 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The maverick intellectual life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) is the focus of this imposing, highly erudite biography. In 1832, Emerson resigned his Boston ministry to pursue a career as an essayist, orator and poet, delivering more than 1500 lectures in his lifetime, including "The American Scholar" (1837), and publishing essays such as Nature (1836) and Representative Men (1850). As America's foremost prophet of individual experience, he was also a founder of the Transcendentalist Club, editor of the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, and spokesman for many reformist causes. Drawing on unpublished personal journals, correspondence and lectures, Richardson (Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind) charts, in exacting detail, the minutia of Emerson's daily life in Concord, Mass., and extensive travels; the literature and philosophy he read over several decades and how his reading shaped his steadily evolving intellect. Although the nuances of Emerson's personality are eclipsed by textual analysis, Richardson balances the often chilling puritanism of Emerson's writing with a portrait of the man as hungry for friendship, maintaining close relationships with Carlisle, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller; and whose icy doctrine of individualism reflects the loneliness caused by the premature deaths of his beloved first wife, his two younger brothers and numerous friends.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Using freshly available materials on Emerson, Richardson (Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, LJ 8/86) here fashions a lively intellectual biography of the "sage of Concord." In exacting detail, the author traces the development of Emerson's great imagination from his early student days at Harvard to his later associations with Coleridge and Carlyle. Through a study of Emerson's wide-ranging reading, Richardson reveals the origins of key Emersonian doctrines such as self-reliance, the transcendence of the soul, and the mind as an ever-erupting volcano. The great value of the biography lies in its exploration of the influences of Coleridge, Goethe, Madame de Stael, and Hindu thought on Emerson. While the intimate detail in which Emerson's life is examined is reminiscent of the pedantry of much late 19th-century American biography, Richardson offers a captivating account of the originality, creativity, and genius of the American Coleridge. This biography goes beyond John Mc-Aleer's Emerson: Days of Encounter (LJ 8/84). Recommended for large public libraries and academic collections.
Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Westerville P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Centennial Books
  • Paperback: 684 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (November 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520206894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520206892
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James H. Fedor on October 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Richardson has given us a profound biography of one of the world's most profound men. And in this case, I'm almost as impressed with the biographer as the man he reports. This book has 100 chapters, each one as full of outstanding ideas as some entire books I've read. I owe many wonderful evenings and mornings to Richardson who has given me the keenest insights into my favorite teacher and author. Richardson so accurately portrays Emerson's journey of a self-realized soul marching in his conviction of the final authority of the individual Self, that at times I felt I was making the same journey myself. In so many moments, something swelled within me while reading this book, and I thought perhaps even such a one as myself might grasp these elevated concepts Richardson so lucidly explains. Emerson himself said, "only that book is good which puts the reader in a working mood." While reading this book I have felt encouraged in my quest to do the work of unfolding my own nature with reverential awe--as Emerson admonishes us--by keeping a journal and studying to unify myself with the eternity at the core of my being.

Richardson not only studied Emerson to write this book, he studied the books that Emerson studied, thereby showing Emerson's method, intellectual origins, and native genius that courageously broke with contemporary traditions to create a cohesive world-view so inspirational to many.

Emerson, more than any other author I have read, believed in the grandeur of the soul--not just his own--but in each of us. He wrote in his journal, "When I look at the rainbow I find myself the center of its arch. But so are you; and so is the man who sees it a mile from both of us. So also the globe is round, and every man therefore stands on the top.
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Format: Paperback
I must confess that I don't understand the reader review below who found this biography of Emerson to be a difficult read. Although not quite a page-turner, I managed to read this in very little time at all. I must also confess that I do find Emerson himself incredibly difficult to read. But what I find to be the case in Emerson himself, I did not find to be true in Richardson's biography. While I find that Emerson constructed one stunning sentence and aphorism after another, I generally find his essays to be slow going. Nonetheless, while I am not his biggest fan, he is unquestionably one of the four or five greatest figures in American intellectual history, and Richardson's biography does him great justice.
The great merit of this biography is that at the end of it, you feel that you have gained considerable insight both into Emerson and New England intellectual life in the 19th century. I was especially intrigued with Richardson detailing of Emerson's reading. Emerson was, without any question, a great reader. Great readers rarely read books from cover to cover. Samuel Johnson, who was himself one of the most accomplished readers in the history of civilization, once said that we have more of a need to reread than to read. But he also once quipped, "What, you read books all the way to the end?" Emerson did not read books all the way to the end. But like Johnson and other great readers, he had a genius for picking out the most important points. What Boswell wrote of Johnson is true also of Emerson: "He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end."
One comes away from the book also enormously impressed with Emerson's character.
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Format: Hardcover
Once I started reading this book I could not stop for very long. It was so good I did not want it to end. This book traces Emerson's intellectual and spiritual path in such great detail that it enables the reader to further investigate Emerson's sources if he or she so chooses. The biographical information was quite complete as well. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Emerson or Transcendentalism. I noticed that Richardson has also written a biography of Thoreau and I will likely read it. This book represents a very high degree of scholarship and a great effort on the part of the author. I also greatly appreciated the photos of Emerson and the people close to him.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen a few more photos of his second wife and his children. I would have also liked to have learned how his wife managed after Emerson died and perhaps some information regarding his descendants. However, these are my own personal preferences and are in no way meant to diminish the excellence of this book.
The material is well structured into about 100 brief chapters which I thought made the reading easy. I never felt bogged down due to the length of the book. This is not a short book.
I really came away from the book with a sense of the man and an appreciation of the events and societal pressures of his time. After reading this book I think anyone familiar with Emerson's writings would feel like sitting down with the man to have a discussion to clear up a point or two.
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