The Adventures of Henry Thoreau
A Young Man's Unlikely Path to Walden Pond
By Michael Sims
(Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781620401958, 384pp.)
Publication Date: February 18, 2014
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Henry David Thoreau has long been an intellectual icon and folk hero. In this strikingly original profile, Michael Sims reveals how the bookish, quirky young man who kept quitting jobs evolved into the patron saint of environmentalism and nonviolent activism.
Working from nineteenth-century letters and diaries by Thoreau’s family, friends, and students, Sims charts Henry’s course from his time at Harvard through the years he spent living in a cabin beside Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.
Sims uncovers a previously hidden Thoreau—the rowdy boy reminiscent of Tom Sawyer, the sarcastic college iconoclast, the devoted son who kept imitating his beloved older brother’s choices in life. Thoreau was deeply influenced by his parents—his father owned a pencil factory in Concord, his mother was an abolitionist and social activist—and by Ralph Waldo Emerson, his frequent mentor. Sims relates intimate, telling moments in Thoreau’s daily life—in Emerson’s library; teaching his neighbor and friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, to row a boat; exploring the natural world and Native American culture; tutoring Emerson’s nephew on Staten Island and walking the streets of New York in the hope of launching a writing career.
Returned from New York, Thoreau approached Emerson to ask if he could build a cabin on his mentor’s land on the shores of Walden Pond, anticipating the isolation would galvanize his thoughts and actions. That it did. While at the cabin, he wrote his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and refined the journal entries that formed the core of Walden. Resisting what he felt were unfair taxes, he spent the night in jail that led to his celebrated essay “Civil Disobedience,” which would inspire the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Chronicling Thoreau’s youthful transformation, Sims reveals how this decade would resonate over the rest of his life, and thereafter throughout American literature and history.
Michael Sims is the author of the acclaimed The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination, Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, and editor of Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories and The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories. He lives in western Pennsylvania.
A new biography reveals that young Thoreau took quite a few detours on his path to Walden. A gossipy young man who loved eating popcorn, ice skating and listening to his music box, schoolmates and neighbors found him standoffish and regarded his fascination with plants and Indian relics as downright odd. More at NPR.org
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"[A] surpassingly vivid and vital chronicle of Thoreau’s formative years. As Sims portrays a solemn boy nicknamed "the Judge," we gain fresh understanding of Thoreau’s choices and convictions on his way to becoming a seminal environmentalist and civil-disobedience guru." –Booklist"An amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond…an animated portrait. Sims has once again proven himself to be a distinctive writer on the subjects of human nature and humans in nature." –Bookpage"An affectionate and lively recreation of the world that surrounded [Thoreau]." –Christian Science Monitor, picked as one of the 10 Best Books of February"I confess I picked up this biography not because of a burning interest in Thoreau . . . but because I loved Michael Sims' previous book about E. B. White and the writing of Charlotte's Web. Sims made White's youthful world of 1920s New York come alive and he does the same thing here for Thoreau's Concord. . . . The Adventures of Henry Thoreau is a rich, entertaining testament to the triumph of a young man who never comfortably fit in, but who made a place for himself, nonetheless." –Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air"Sims offers intriguing sidelights and memorable details. . . [he] helps us to see Thoreau as a colorful, crotchety human being." –Washington Post"Sims gracefully captures what he calls Thoreau’s ‘ecstatic response to nature.’" –Wall Street Journal"A well-researched and richly detailed portrait… The Henry David Thoreau portrayed here is no ‘marble bust of an icon.’ He's restless, prickly and possessed of a relentless intellectual curiosity--a complex, fully realized human being. With this picture in mind, anyone who admires Thoreau's life and work will view him with fresh eyes." –Shelf Awareness"Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject." –Kirkus Reviews