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Wild Fruits: Thoreau's Rediscovered Last Manuscript Paperback – February 17, 2001

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Henry David Thoreau was 44 years old when he died of tuberculosis in the early spring of 1862. He had acquired a measure of notoriety in his lifetime largely for his fervent support of abolitionism and his refusal to pay taxes to support the American war of conquest against Mexico, the subject of his widely circulated pamphlet Civil Disobedience. Closer to his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, he was known as something of an eccentric who kept a home in the woods and took long walks when the citizens of the town were at work or church.

We scarcely know Thoreau better, writes archivist and scholar Bradley Dean: we still remember him today for having spent time in jail and spinning philosophy out of the New England woods. On the strength of this lost, and now published, final manuscript of Thoreau's, Dean would have us think of him as a protoecologist, and for very good reason. In the last years of his life, Thoreau resolved to learn better the science behind nature, and in Wild Fruits he collected the lore and facts surrounding the plants around his home, observing such things as the quantity of chestnuts that local trees were producing, the myriad shapes of pine cones as they unfold, the taste of "fever bush," and the smell of sweet gale.

The unfinished manuscript, cataloging dozens of species, affords a fascinating glimpse into Thoreau's method as an amateur student of nature--a method worthy of close study and imitation. Dean adds greatly to it with his intelligent commentary, which revisits Thoreau's sources, corrects a few of his errors, and emphasizes the writer's importance to natural history and belles-lettres alike. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Thoreau's Walden (1854) is regarded both as a masterpiece of American prose and as a forerunner of modern environmentalism. Its author spent much of the 1850s learning what botany could teach him about the New England woods he chronicled. Thoreau brought that knowledge to bear on this sometimes very beautiful essay about plants, fruits and nuts, left incomplete at his death in 1862 and here printed for the first time. Thoreau's brief preface echoes the passions of Walden: "What are all the oranges imported into England to the hips and haws in her hedges?" The rest of the work is arranged fruit by fruit: we begin with elm-fruit ("most mistake the fruit before it falls for leaves, and we owe to it the first deepening of the shadows in our streets"), and proceed through several dozen entries to sassafras, skunk cabbage, strawberries, cranberries, juniper berries and, finally, "winter fruits." Though many plants' entries comprise just a few sentences, some offer plenty of room to meditate. Huckleberries prompt a 20-page essay, and pitch pine leads Thoreau to explain how "the restless pine seeds go dashing over [snow] like an Esquimaux sledge with an invisible team until, losing their wings or meeting with some insuperable obstacle, they lie down once for all, perchance to rise up pines." Though the book as a whole reads like the rough draft it is, plenty of individual essays and sentences retain Thoreau's famous confidence and attention. Editor and Thoreau scholar Dean (Faith in a Seed) appends copious notes, along with passages from Thoreau's still unpublished, unfinished The Dispersion of Seeds. Illustrations by Abigail Rorer. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321159
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #994,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I received Wild Fruits from my parents for Christmas, read it last spring, and finally have gotten around to writing a small, informal review. First of all, I'd like to thank Dr. Dean for bringing this last Thoreau manuscript to light-- he has done a great service to Thoreau enthusiasts, lovers of literature and nature, and posterity with this work (I'd tell him personally but I seem to have misplaced his e-mail address).
There isn't a great deal I feel need to add, as previous reviewers have done a good job already. Over the past year, Thoreau's words on these wild fruits have been steeped in my consciousness. Henry's loving, beautiful depictions of these various gifts of nature were with me as I worked this summer at a garden center, realizing that Henry's "shad bush" and our "serviceberry" were one and the same. After reading this book, I was much more aware of the fruits of my own native Michigan fields and woods-- blackberries, rose hips, elderberries, wild grapes, and viburnums were all there this summer, more numerous and beautiful than ever before. I found myself collecting and tasting plants I never would have thought to try before, Henry's words openened a whole new world to me. Then, in August, I made a pilgrimage to Massachusetts, looking for and tasting the fruits of New England, even the fabled huckleberries, on Cape Cod National Seashore and in the Walden Woods, as I sauntered along the railroad tracks into Concord from the pond. Even this fall, when I came back to my university in Colorado, I discovered and gathered the fruits of the prickly pear cactus, and have saved the seeds, hoping to possibly propagate them.
Read these last sweet words from our friend Henry-- let him teach you to love the simple natural joy that can be found nestled among the shrub-oaks and pitch pines: our free, wild American fruits.
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By A Customer on February 15, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This may sound silly, but I was surprised to find out that this book is actually about WILD FRUITS. I mean everything you ever wanted to know about every kind of fruit the New England landscape has to offer: when it blooms, where it can be found, texture, color, everything. If you're looking for another Walden or a deeper understanding of the Transcendentalist movement, start elsewhere and come back to this one. As always with Thoreau this book is marvellously written, and the philosophy is there. It's just scattered and half-hidden throughout the landscape like wild strawberries (and just as delicious). It's a great read, just be warned: it's first and foremost about fruit!
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By A Customer on February 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Legendary nineteenth-century environmentalist, philosopher, and writer Henry David Thoreau has had a profound effect on American literature and ecology. His honest and poetic, down-to-earth writing style has inspired millions, influencing how we think about the natural resources around us. Wild Fruits, the recently published rediscovered text, is a collection of final notes from three years of writing and research (Thoreau died in 1862 just before completing the book). The pages were in storage at the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library until Thoreau specialist, Bradley P. Dean chanced upon them, and began decoding Thoreau's notoriously difficult handwriting. The actual text of Thoreau's Wild Fruits takes up only a fraction of the book-239 of its 409 pages. Dean then includes a chronology of Thoreau's life, other notes Thoreau took during the writing of Wild Fruits, a glossary of botanical terms, and notes on the original manuscript. The elegantly composed chapters catalog the berries and fruits of New England, with beautiful pen and ink illustrations and botanicals. Thoreau's observations leave nothing untouched. His talent for finding beauty in the smallest things is well represented in his descriptions of the flowering of black spruce, the arrivals of thimble berry, and fall bayberry-to name just a few. Thoreau's ability to find the sacred in commonplace is replete throughout Wild Fruits. A favorite passage celebrates seasonal flora and fauna: "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit...be blown by all the winds. Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Having read a good portion of Thoreau's diaries, I expected to find little else in this new manuscript. I was wrong. I found more and better observations on nature - specifics on white pine cone seed disbursement is hardly water cooler talk and not for everyone - written in a manner that is interesting and relevant.
Intertwined with the topic of wild fruit and seed information is more of Thoreau's philosophy, that which has driven me to read him for all these years.
If you like Thoreau, you simply cannot fail to read this piece of his puzzle. I can't wait for someone to tackle and publish what remains of his unpublished work.
Finally, I must say that while closing the final page I was struck with a deep appreciation for the immense effort involved in publishing this book, given the quality of his handwriting and the poor organization of the manuscript. It is indeed appreciated.
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