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The Adventures of Henry Thoreau Summary and Reviews

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau

A Young Man's Unlikely Path to Walden Pond

by Michael Sims

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims X
The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims
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  • Published Feb 2014
    384 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau-chronicling the ten years in his life beginning with Harvard in 1837 and ending as he walked away from Walden Pond after living in his long dreamed-of cabin for only two years - tells the dramatic (and at times heartbreaking) story of how a troubled young man found a meaningful life in a tempestuous era.

Who was this unsophisticated young man who immediately became a protégé of Ralph Waldo Emerson, himself leading a cultural revolution in tiny Concord, Massachusetts? Why did Thoreau go to Walden? Why did he leave so soon? In the detailed and textured narrative style that made The Story of Charlotte's Web a best book of 2011 on many lists-including Washington Post, Boston Globe, and IndieBound-Michael Sims brings to life the insecure, boyish Henry, long before he became the literary icon Thoreau.

Thoreau came of age during the period that would create the modern world-with the establishment of trains, the invention of the telegraph, the discovery of anesthesia, the rise of grass-roots politics. But America in 1837 was a rowdy, primitive world. A whipping post still stood on the Concord square; fires were built with flint and steel; the blackboard was the latest educational innovation.

Thoreau's family and upbringing play a larger role in Sims's book than in any previous account of Thoreau's life. Delving into nineteenth-century letters and memoirs by people who grew up with and worked with the Thoreaus, Sims portrays a loving, supportive family rising out of poverty but plagued with tuberculosis. Henry's nature-loving, politically radical mother; his quiet, history-obsessed father; and most of all Henry's older brother, John Jr., a laughing, religious, popular contrast to his moody, skeptical, younger brother. Together they launched a progressive school that boasted field trips and a rejection of corporal punishment. They worked well together until both proposed to the same young woman. Henry worshipped his brother and wrote up their adventures on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers as a tribute after John died a horrible death from lockjaw, in Henry's arms.

Concord neighbors considered Thoreau-a wanderer of fields and creeks and the accidental burner of three hundred acres of woodland-a ne'er-do-well. He thought of his move to Walden and his building of his own home, in terms of a larger definition of freedom-physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Thoreau considered no question more urgent than what kind of domicile and livelihood might best serve the needs of a fulfilled and responsible life. Sims weaves the theme of freedom around the story of the cabin itself, its planning and construction, its visitors both humble and distinguished. During this time, Thoreau committed to the anti-slavery movement and spent his now famous stint in jail because of his refusal to support a war he considered unjust.

Rather than a curmudgeonly recluse, Henry Thoreau emerges as a socially embedded family man who feels a desperate need to find his own life. With emotion and texture, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau sheds illuminating light on one of the most iconic figures in American history.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject." - Kirkus

"In this uneven biography ofHenry David Thoreau, Sims (The Story of Charlotte's Web) succeeds in his ambition "to find Henry" rather than "admire the marble bust of an icon," though the portrait that emerges is far from flattering." - Publishers Weekly

This information about The Adventures of Henry Thoreau was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Michael Sims

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.

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