Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: The Thoreau You Don't Know

"The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant"  by Robert Sullivan http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/233045640" 4 of 5 stars
     H.D. Thoreau is undoubtedly an oft-misunderstood figure in American letters. As he is in some sense a creature both of and out of his times, he stands alone (far surpassing his mentor Emerson) as a figure of initiative, simplicity, and uncommon sense. This little book helps to elucidate those facets of his personality which were mis-characteried as misanthropic, vainly rebellious, and antisocial.
     Thoreau sought to bring an alchemistic balance to modern life such as it was- to find the Eratosthenian prism through which one might live a full and fully realized existence, apart from the mediocrity of consumerism, and apart from the everyday bigotry that could typify frontier culture in his time. Noted as an Abolitionist, Pacifist, and iconoclast, yet Thoreau could conceive "circumstances in which to kill or be killed might be the only recourse." The man was no spring tansy, gathering nuts in May.
    Indeed, neither was he the solitary Luddite  which today's modern "Green" movement as would like to lionize him... He and his family made their "fortune" manufacturing pencils. How's that, Treehugger? He sought to exemplify a form of individualism which has been miscast in today's world as "loner" and "asocial" when in fact, he thrived on human discourse, was held in the greatest of esteem (and sometimes, less) by his colleagues and his mentor, Emerson, as a lucid and erudite social critic, and yet, by pushing the boundaries even of their compliments and praise, by his very extreme reduction of his own needs, he was tarred with all those negative labels by a country that could but barely grasp the branch upon which he sat for decades.
    It is signal that his work became better known only after his death, and that his influence only waxed then, as well. In a world that barely understands the meaning of individual greatness any longer, and indeed seeks to discount each individual's attempt for such as "delusions of grandeur", Thoreau still yet points out the way, and perhaps, the only way and method, by which a man might rise above the herd by sheer virtue and integrity.

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