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Emerson: The Mind on Fire | [Robert D. Richardson]

Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most important figures in the history of American thought, religion, and literature. The vitality of his writings and the unsettling power of his example continue to influence us more than a hundred years after his death. Now Robert D. Richardson Jr. brings to life an Emerson very different from the old stereotype of the passionless Sage of Concord.
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Publisher's Summary

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most important figures in the history of American thought, religion, and literature. The vitality of his writings and the unsettling power of his example continue to influence us more than a hundred years after his death. Now Robert D. Richardson Jr. brings to life an Emerson very different from the old stereotype of the passionless Sage of Concord. Drawing on a vast amount of new material, including correspondence among the Emerson brothers, Richardson gives us a rewarding intellectual biography that is also a portrait of the whole man.

These chapters present a young suitor, a grief-stricken widower, an affectionate father, and a man with an abiding genius for friendship.

The great spokesman for individualism and self-reliance turns out to have been a good neighbor, an activist citizen, a loyal brother. Here is an Emerson who knew how to laugh, who was self-doubting as well as self-reliant, and who became the greatest intellectual adventurer of his age.

Richardson has, as much as possible, let Emerson speak for himself through his published works, his many journals and notebooks, his letters, his reported conversations. This is not merely a study of Emerson's writing and his influence on others; it is Emerson's life as he experienced it. We see the failed minister, the struggling writer, the political reformer, the poetic liberator.

The Emerson of this book not only influenced Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, he also inspired Nietzsche, William James, Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Jorge Luis Borges. Emerson's timeliness is persistent and striking: his insistence that literature and science are not separate cultures, his emphasis on the worth of every individual, his respect for nature.

Richardson gives careful attention to the enormous range of Emerson's readings - from Persian poets to George Sand - and to his many friendships and personal encounters - from Mary Moody Emerson to the Cherokee chiefs in Boston - evoking both the man and the times in which he lived. Throughout this book, Emerson's unquenchable vitality reaches across the decades, and his hold on us endures.

©1995 Robert D. Richardson, Jr. (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

What Members Say

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4.2 (70 )
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  •  
    John Raynham, MA, United States 12-11-12
    John Raynham, MA, United States 12-11-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Entertaining, erudite, engaging"

    Emerson was a fascinating individual, and this biography details his life and thinking in ways that are compelling. I was sorry when it was over.

    Richardson also goes into great detail about Emerson's sources, and parses his essays and books, delves into his relationships and gives us a full portrait of the man.

    A great biography. No wonder it is the standard in Emerson studies.

    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susie Santa Cruz, CA, United States 11-28-12
    Susie Santa Cruz, CA, United States 11-28-12 Member Since 2012

    I'm Audible's first Editor-at-Large, the host of In Bed with Susie Bright -- and a longtime author, editor, journo, and bookworm. I listen to audio when I'm cooking, playing cards, knitting, going to bed, waking up, driving, and putting other people's kids to bed! My favorite audiobooks, ever, are: "True Grit" and "The Dog of the South."

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Benchmark in American Biographies"

    Devour the vulnerable and era-changing details about the man who was the leading voice of intellectual culture in the U.S.

    As an essayist and poet, Emerson spearheaded the Transcendentalist movement, spoke for the rights of the individual (including opposing slavery), and famously mentored Henry David Thoreau, who wrote Walden while living on Emerson’s land. He was the most influential writer of 19th-century America, and Richardson’s critically-acclaimed biography more than lives up to that legacy. A tour de force.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-31-15
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-31-15 Member Since 2015

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The sage of Concord"

    Richardson says he wrote an intellectual biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) but had to include the normal biography information so the reader would have context to the events. Richardson has, as much as possible, let Emerson speak for himself through his published works, his journals and note books, his letters and reported conversations. The author not only covers Emerson’s writings and his influence on others but his life as he experienced it. Richardson gives careful attention to the enormous range of Emerson’s readings and to his friendships. Richardson goes into Emerson’s founding of the Transcendentalist Club.

    The author points out the wide range of people that Emerson influenced such as, Thoreau, Alcott, Dickerson, Fuller, Whitman, and Frost. He also inspired Nietzsche, William James, Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Jorge Luis Borges.

    Richardson did meticulous research for the book. The book is more or less easy to read but I felt there were too many repetitions and diversions that were unnecessary to the main point of the biography. I did enjoy learning more about Emerson. The book was 27 hours long and Michael McConnohie narrated the book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Austin, TX, United States 12-05-14
    John Austin, TX, United States 12-05-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Excellent Account"

    This is a valuable biography. It puts Emerson in his New England context but doesn't expect context alone to tell the story. Instead the author provides a crisp, clear intellectual biography as well. It has prompted me to go back to Emerson's writings for the pleasure and stimulation of his company.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brett 12-29-13
    Brett 12-29-13
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    "All I was looking for and more"
    Any additional comments?

    I really wanted to learn 'why do I know this name'. Sure I knew he was a famous writer, but sadly I knew nothing else. This was completely engaging! 26 hours and I have listened twice through already. Excellent work by the author and narrator.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Groetzinger 04-10-15 Member Since 2013

    noregroetz

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    "What Emerson Read"

    After having listened to this book, I don't really feel like I know Emerson better. The book is like a really long list of what he read. And there seems to be a lot of repetition. The reader made me think of a bored Walter Cronkite.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 08-15-14
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 08-15-14 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Finally!"

    A comprehensive study of Emerson! How long have we been waiting for that! Back in the 90's, I read everything by Emerson, the essays, the poetry, the travel books, absolute every delicious metaphor and trope. I have read bios of the man before, but none so in-depth and comprehensive as this marvelous volume. If Emerson had written a formal autobiography, I suspect it would have been much like this book. An absolute must read for the Emerson fan!

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Prsilla 07-27-15
    Prsilla 07-27-15 Member Since 2014

    Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "SCHOLARLY TOME"

    Maybe it was me. This book seemed all I could have wished for, and yet while I got through it, I was hardly enthralled. I majored in English! And as another reviewer commented, the book does have a lot to say about what Emerson was reading, as well as who he wrote to, who stayed with him and vice versa. The man was phenomenal! If I were still in college, I would want the print book for sure. The narrator seemed okay, perhaps not fully understanding what he read. Maybe that is unfair to say.

    For anyone driving in traffic or doing fiddly knitting and wanting a worthwhile listen, well, no. I'm moving on to some novels and Maugham's short stories in hopes of having a little more fun. I love to give FIVE STARS and I even send print copies of favorite books to my friends. Not this time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gail Northport, ME, United States 11-11-13
    gail Northport, ME, United States 11-11-13 Member Since 2010
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    "ho hummmmm"
    Would you try another book from Robert D. Richardson and/or Michael McConnohie?

    Can't tell if it was the subject that so bored me or the reader. Both, probably.


    Has Emerson turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No, I enjoy biography and histgory


    Would you be willing to try another one of Michael McConnohie’s performances?

    I don't think so.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Emerson?

    Most of it.


    3 of 19 people found this review helpful

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