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Ralph Waldo Emerson : The Making of A Democratic Intellectual (American Intellectual Culture)

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0847688425
ISBN-10: 0847688429
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Editorial Reviews


Field's book is a welcome addition to the literature that examines Emerson as a product of his times and explores how, throughout his life, he attempted to situate himself as a spokesman for a particular issue or issues. . . . Field has produced an excellent, suggestive evaluation of the public Emerson―the one who continually refashioned himself as his ideas and venues changed―and a book that deserves to be placed among the best studies of Emerson's intellectual and professional development. (Joel Myerson The New England Quarterly)

Field stands atop the current reassessment of Ralph Waldo Emerson's public voice with his fresh sense of all the relevant texts and contexts, from origins in the Boston ministry through national politics of the Civil War era. This book makes an admirable case for nineteenth-century America's most influential thinker. (Phyllis Cole, Penn State University, Delaware County)

Field does a convincing job of showing the growth of this public thinker, and his volume certainly adds to our understanding of the man and his times. (Susan L. Roberson H-Shear)

None of Ralph Waldo Emerson's accomplishments was more important than his reinvention of himself. Peter S. Field persuasively traces Emerson's transformation from Unitarian minister to public intellectual in this able biography of one of the 19th century's most enduring figures. (Conrad Edick Wright, Massachusetts Historical Society)

As a brief for Emerson as a public intellectual, Field's book is valuable and has the virtue of offering readers a focused examination of the ways in which, from the years of his first ministry on, this seminal thinker understood that the age demanded a new kind of cultural critic. (Philip F. Gura Reviews In American History)

Peter Field's new study of Emerson portrays him in very human and compelling terms, searching for his self, finding his voice and vocation, and becoming America's prototypical 'public intellectual.' Emerson springs to life in its pages, engaged with the challenges facing his age. A wonderful introduction to the Sage of Concord. (John F. Wilson, Princeton University)

A sharply-etched portrait of America's first public intellectual and his search for a vocation. (John L. Thomas, Brown University)

It is often said―and the claim is supported persuasively in Peter Field's fine study―that Emerson was America's first 'public intellectual.' But Field goes further than that, seeing in Emerson an especially prophetic exponent of the possibilities of democracy itself, a lone voice attributing American intellectuals' famous 'alienation from the crowd' not to the insufficiencies of the American people and the doleful effects of 'democratic leveling' but to the failures of the thinking class itself. (The Weekly Standard)

About the Author

Peter S. Field teaches history at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is the author of The Crisis of the Standing Order: Clerical Intellectuals and Cultural Authority in Massachusetts, 1780-1833 and coauthor of The Promise and Paradox of American Freedom. He has previously taught at Columbia University and Vanderbilt University, and in 1998-99 he was a fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Series: American Intellectual Culture
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (February 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847688429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847688425
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,990,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
****Four Stars****

It is a joy to review this book. I've had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with Peter on a couple of occassions. Although, I review this book not because of this acquaintance, but because I am deeply interested in American history, literature and, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

First off, this is an academic book with proper scholarly references, footnotes etc. But still it does not take away from its readability. In the opinion of this reviewer, the book can be read and enjoyed by non-academic readers.

You can find numerous biographical books on Ralph Waldo Emerson. But what makes this book unique is that it traces the evolution of Emerson's mind and his growth as a thinker and writer. The biographical details in the book are very enjoyable, so are Emerson's evolving viewpoints regarding his aesthetics of literature, his ideas on individualism and his political opinions on the issue of race and slavery.

However, I believe, at times this book judges Emerson's opinions on race from the lens of current times. All thinkers and writers, regardless of how objective or progressive they may be, are prone to be influenced by contemporary views, politics and knowledge.

If Emerson, at times, considered African-Americans to be an inferior race-- compared to Europeans--he was merely reflecting what majority of men, even the most learned, thought to be true. No man, as they say, is an island. Emerson, despite his avowal of fierce independent thought, was no exception.
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