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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.

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • John
  • Raynham, MA, United States
  • 12-11-12

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.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 12-05-14

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 07-31-15

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.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Susie
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 11-28-12

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.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

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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!

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Great but...

The middle was only a summary of whatever Emerson read and thought. The beginning and ending were less concerned with summarizing and more interested in explaining. There the book shined. I wanted factual information and a narrative around the facts. There was narrative in places at the start and end. But the middle, or most of Emerson's life, washed together as a series of readings and lectures. I learned a lot about Emerson, too much even. I wanted the author to share his opinion more rather than recede behind yet another diary entry of Emerson. Don't get my wrong I like Emerson on Emerson. This is a good biography. But I value a biographers voice as much as their subject. So I can't give it a 5/5 though the sheer density of research worn with ease warrants that. Check it out if you want to learn about Emerson. Be prepared for a camouflaged biographer.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A lot of material but hey it's Emerson

Wonderful history and connections. The only thing I wish were different is the organization of the materials or at least an outline or recap of when we were because there often would be moments when it sounded much later in Emerson's life than when were led to believe. .But I get that he wanted to take the topical approach. I was sad to reach the end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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 7 people found this review helpful

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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.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Tony
  • Woods Cross, UT, United States
  • 12-04-17

Incredible Exhaustive Read

Where does Emerson rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This may be the best one I have ever listened to, in part because I love Emerson, but more so because of the author's depth of understanding and explanation.

Who was your favorite character and why?

RWE (?)

Have you listened to any of Michael McConnohie’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I don't recall but his voice is perfect for this...

If you could give Emerson a new subtitle, what would it be?

The Mind on Fire is a perfect capture!

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  • Niall Doherty
  • 01-11-17

Transcendent

Excellent presentation of Emerson's thought and life, deftly written, thoroughly researched with superb narration. An inspirational listen!