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Henry David Thoreau: A Life Hardcover – July 7, 2017
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insisted on his own way of seeing the world, however quirky. . . . Walls earns her keep, digging into Thoreau’s aphoristic letters and journals, finding acute reflections by his contemporaries, and drawing a wonderfully brisk and satisfying portrait. . ."
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In any event, maybe waiting all my life was technically an exaggeration, but certainly most of my life. I have read a lot of Thoreau (even Wild Fruits) and many works about him. I probably own 7 or 8 books on him and have read many others. As Thoreau kept a volume of Homer open at Walden Pond to peruse, so have I one of Walden almost always open at home. Remarkably, as much as I love his work, probably more than that of any other author of non-fiction that I’ve ever read, I never have read any book about him, whether biographical or analytical, of his work, that I thought did him justice. I had always hoped for a great biography about one of our greatest authors. Recently, stating that to a friend, he said, "Well, his life was boring." But it wasn't. If you are in tune with Thoreau, you know this intuitively. But, the works I had read about him might make anyone think it was. His life was the opposite of boring. I imagine I know why he could die stoically. He had lived the lives of many men in his experiences. Naturally, he was a man and suffered the same slings, arrows, dealt with the same emotions and losses as all of us. But, the spirit in which he did so was remarkable.
At the end of the book, when he is being buried, Walls notes that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia, thinks “Concord in one man.” (ps. 499-500). Indeed, though Concord seemed a magnet for great men and women in the 19th century, none embodied it or reflected it as Thoreau did. And that is one of the things that makes Walls’ book special – it is not quite a biography about Concord, but as Concord was the main subject in Thoreau’s life, as a microcosm of life on earth, so Concord is a main subject of his biography. And though I often find myself starting a biography thumbing through the introduction and opening chapters, this time I savored it. And savored is perhaps the best word to discuss my mindset until I finished it. I don't know that I've read any other great biography, say Chernow's Hamilton or one of Caro's books on LBJ, and not found at least some areas which dragged a bit, where there was not at some points too much detail or too esoteric issues.
Many reviewers write about the contents of books. I don’t so much unless there is something in it I think it is important to disagree with and think I can make a pithy argument why it was wrong. I’ll leave that to others here as I have no quarrel with anything I read (although I disagree with Thoreau himself that he was a mystic - he was the opposite of a mystic - he just relished Indian mysticism). I won’t even tell you how much of my life I find roughly parallel to Thoreau's. I started reading him long enough ago that I do not really know if I love him because he so well reflects many of my own thoughts or because he influenced me. I think the former, but I’m not sure. Perhaps it was a mix. I’ll just say, this is by far the best book I have ever read on Thoreau and one of the best biographies I have ever read. I have been an insatiable reader for most of my life, and when reading in any of the topics that interest me, now often find that though I admire a book, I learn little I haven’t read elsewhere. I can’t say that about this book. Though there was no main theme or important event I did not know about, the volume of facts (which would delight Thoreau) taught me a lot – a lot. Nor was it trivia. I congratulate her editors as well.
At the talk I attended. Prof. Walls said that she had written as much again that she had to cut. I wish instead there was just a second volume. I would start reading today, and I just finished this one. Hint, professor, hint!
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I am still reading the 600+ page biography of Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls (released July 2017, for Thoreau's 200th...Read more