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.
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."
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.
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.
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