Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Thoreau You Don't Know by Robert Sullivan * *

Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors people think they know, announces the book jacket of The Thoreau You Don't Know by Robert Sullivan. More accurately, it might say that Thoreau is an author that Robert Sullivan studied for years, and, reasons only known to him, he expects you have done the same. His book on Thoreau is a meta-biography, not a book about the life of Thoreau, but rather a book about the books about Thoreau. This volume spends more time reviewing, analyzing, and critiquing what has been written about Thoreau than it does on the man himself.

We do learn something about Thoreau. For example, when Thoreau's publishing contract required him to purchase 706 unsold copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he placed them in his library and bragged:
I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred I wrote myself.
However, these glimpses into Thoreau's life are overwhelmed by debates with Thoreau critics - imagined and/or deceased, but certainly unknown to most readers. Unless you are a Thoreau scholar, I'd recommend another of the many Thoreau biographies.

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