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August 17 , 2007

The Thoreau You Don't Know


Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors that readers think they know, even if they don't. He's the solitary curmudgeon with the shack out in the woods, the mystic worshipping solemnly in the quiet church of nature. He's our national Natural Man, the prophet of environmentalism. But here Robert Sullivan—who himself has been called an "urban Thoreau" (New York Times Book Review)—presents the Thoreau you don't know: the activist, the organizer, the gregarious adventurer, the guy who likes to go camping with friends (even if they sometimes accidentally burn the woods down). Sullivan argues that Walden was a book intended to revive America, a communal work forever pigeonholed as a reclusive one, and this misreading is at the heart of our troubled relationship with the environment today. Sullivan shows us not a lonely eccentric but a man in his growing village: a man who danced and sang, who worked throughout his short life at the family pencil-making business, and moved into his parents' house after leaving Walden, but always paid his father rent. Passionate yet whimsical, The Thoreau You Don't Know asks us to re-examine our everyday relationship with the natural world, and one another.

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