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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Niall Doherty on 11-01-17

Transcendent

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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By John on 11-12-12

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.

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16 of 17 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By John on 05-12-14

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.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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