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Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau Hardcover – January 3, 2017
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"Far from the well-worn paths of academic scholarship, Dann acquaints his reader with a protagonist who is an American mystic, a new-age prophet, a cosmic explorer … Dann takes the road less traveled, leading a reader into out-of-the-way places, through hidden passages in Thoreau’s personal life … Expect Great Things is eccentric, strange, even far-fetched, but nonetheless admirable — a bit like Henry David Thoreau.” --John Kaag, New York Times Book Review
"[I]n plumbing Thoreau’s own singular and profoundly personal quest for the infinite, [Dann] delivers keen insights. A refreshing new perspective on an American icon." -Booklist, starred review
“A graceful, attentive inquiry into the mind of Henry David Thoreau … Dann shows an ease with the metaphysical (which is typically considered at odds with the discipline of the historian), making a warm sympathetic argument for Thoreau as a mystic and visionary and redefining his reputation.” –Publishers Weekly
"A reappraisal of the writer's life, focusing on Thoreau's connection to, and celebration of, the invisible and ineffable ... Thoreau emerges from this admiring portrait as a man richly connected to the cosmos." -Kirkus Reviews
“If you think you know all about Thoreau think again. Expect Great Things reintroduces an American icon in a thoroughly fresh and vital way, bringing to crackling life a time and place full of drama, achievement, adventure, and excitement. Thoreau reached spiritual maturity in an age like our own, full of uncertainty and potential. Kevin Dann’s highly readable prose places Thoreau amid an assortment of eccentric characters and shows how his philosophy of solitude and nature may be more relevant today than ever before.” –Gary Lachman, author of The Secret Teachers of the Western World
“A vivid and beautifully written portrait not only of Thoreau but of his milieu. And it does full justice to Thoreau’s nature mysticism.” –Richard Smoley, author of How God Became God: What Scholars Are Really Saying about God and the Bible
“Kevin Dann’s biography of Henry David Thoreau offers a refreshing perspective on the most down-to-earth of the Transcendentalists. Dann shows how Thoreau’s free-ranging musings encompassed many of the otherworldly interests of his contemporaries, such as a fascination with faeries, mysterious appearances of gossamer, and other curiosities. Dann makes a strong case that while Thoreau’s writings were grounded in tough-minded observations of nature, his own worldview and ‘sympathetic science’ were far from disenchanted.” –Fred Nadis, author of The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Adventure and Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America
About the Author
Historian, naturalist, and troubadour Kevin Dann is the author of ten books, including Across the Great Border Fault: The Naturalist Myth in America and Lewis Creek Lost and Found. He received his PhD from Rutgers University in American History and Environmental History. Dann has taught at Rutgers, University of Vermont, and the State University of New York. In the spring of 2009, he walked from Montreal to Manhattan to commemorate the 400th anniversaries of Hudson's and Champlain's voyages, and, having crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, decided to make his home there.
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In every book I read I look for the eponymous quote, the passage in which the book's title is revealed, and here is where I found it. Thoreau had just been surveying and found flowers he had never seen before in the area.
[[page 258] Owning that "a botanist's experience is full of coincidences," in that thinking about a flower never seen nearly always meant you would find it nearby someday, he turned his botanical experience into a general law of life: "In the long run, we find what we expect." We shall be fortunate then if we expect great things."]
Unfortunately, most people act as if they expect bad things to happen to them, and the universal rule still applies, namely, whatever you suppose is going to happen will likely happen to you. I gave this the form of a rule with an easy to say acronym, EAT-O-TWIST, which stands for Everything Allways Turns - Out - The Way It's Supposed To. When you find yourself supposing something bad might happen, you can quickly say the three-syllable phrase, eat-oh-twist, to remind you to change your own supposing. If you learn to apply this in your own thinking, you will drop every negative concept and replace it with a positive. For example, instead thinking this is going to be bad weather, you'll think we'll get some good weather where we live. If you study hypnosis, you learn that creating vivid images puts people into trance states. The word not cannot remove the negative image you create in your mind, for example, when you say, "This is not going to be a bad day for me." By the time you've thought that, some bad image will have been created in the form of an expectation. Saying, "This is going to be a good day" will create a better expectation. If you truly learn the power of expectation, you will agree with Thoreau that it is best to expect great things. Did Thoreau stop expecting great things for his book Walden when he was storing in a closet 500 unsold copies returned to him by his publisher? Given his statements above, we can predict that he expected great things to come from Walden, and that expectation led to great things, in its enormous popularity throughout the world and the salubrious effects it has had on so many lives.
Did Thoreau have a sense of humor? Not many biographers would notice that. But, yes, he did and admittedly a wry one such as in this story where he is confronted by farmers whose property he must cross for his surveying job. When one of them asked Thoreau if he were lost, not having seen him before on this land, Thoreau mused, "If the truth be known, and had it not been for betraying my secret, I might with more propriety have inquired, 'Are you not lost, as I have never seen you before?'" Who really owns the property but the one who walks it the most often?
Here is Henry's last entry in his Journal.
[[page 340, 341] He then turned to describing the storm of the previous evening and the long striations that the winds had left in the gravel along the railroad causeway. He gave the exact dimensions of the minute tracks: From behind each pebble projected a ridge an eighth of an inch high and an inch long. The very last line in this his very last journal entry reads: "All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most. Thus each wind is self-registering." With his last steps in life, Thoreau surely was leaving racks that could be made by no other man.]
Henry grew weak and asked Edmund Hosmer to stay the night with him.
[[page 342] The next morning, Sophia read to her brother the "Thursday" section of "A Week" and, anticipating the "Friday" section's description of the exhilarating return journey home, he murmured, "Now comes good sailing." At nine o'clock on the morning of May 6, Henry Thoreau set sail.]
Once more, as I did on Dec. 14, 2009 when I finished reading Volume 14 of his Journals, I am sad as I say Goodbye and Bon Voyage to my fellow traveler whose journey on the Earth ended some eighty years before mine began. I have read your long journals, your Walden, and have saved for later your other books, so that your memory, Henry, will never stay very far out of my consciousness and my soul. This is an excerpt from Bobby Matherne’s full review which can be read in DIGESTWORLD ISSUE DW#173.