cover image Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

Robert D. Richardson. University of California Press, $50 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-520-05495-0

Emerson described his friend Thoreau as ""the bachelor of thought and nature,'' and in this absorbing and sparklingly fresh biography, which examines and relates the private and public contexts of Thoreau's life from 1837, when he was 20, to his death in 1862, Richardson shows him to have been as much a reader and thinker as a saunterer in the woods. We see him entering and emerging from the shadow of Emerson; delving into the Greek and Roman Stoics, ancient Hindu philosophy and contemporary German literature (particularly Goethe); siding with Darwin in the famous Agassiz-Darwin controversy over evolution; forging his philosophy of personal integrity based on his concept of nature as law. Richardson closely scrutinizes not only Walden but Thoreau's other writings, and the result of his composite portrait is that we see Thoreau perhaps more vividly than ever before, as traveler of the mind, significant thinker and likable man. Richardson teaches at the University of Denver. Reader's Subscription Book Club alternate. (September 9)