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The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau: Selected and Edited by Lewis Hyde

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Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully annotated and arranged in the order of their composition. This definitive edition includes Thoreau's most famous essays, "Civil Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully annotated and arranged in the order of their composition. This definitive edition includes Thoreau's most famous essays, "Civil Disobedience" and "Walking," along with lesser-known masterpieces such as "Wild Apples," "The Last Days of John Brown," and an account of his 1846 journey into the Maine wilderness to climb Mount Katahdin, an essay that ends on a unique note of sublimity and terror. Hyde diverges from the long-standing and dubious editorial custom of separating Thoreau's politics from his interest in nature, a division that has always obscured the ways in which the two are constantly entwined. "Natural History of Massachusetts" begins not with fish and birds but with a dismissal of the political world, and "Slavery in Massachusetts" ends with a meditation on the water lilies blooming on the Concord River. Thoreau's ideal reader was expected to be well versed in Greek and Latin, poetry and travel narrative, and politically engaged in current affairs. Hyde's detailed annotations clarify many of Thoreau's references and re-create the contemporary context wherein the nation's westward expansion was bringing to a head the racial tensions that would result in the Civil War.


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Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully annotated and arranged in the order of their composition. This definitive edition includes Thoreau's most famous essays, "Civil Thoreau's major essays annotated and introduced by one of our most vital intellectuals. With The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau, Lewis Hyde gathers thirteen of Thoreau's finest short prose works and, for the first time in 150 years, presents them fully annotated and arranged in the order of their composition. This definitive edition includes Thoreau's most famous essays, "Civil Disobedience" and "Walking," along with lesser-known masterpieces such as "Wild Apples," "The Last Days of John Brown," and an account of his 1846 journey into the Maine wilderness to climb Mount Katahdin, an essay that ends on a unique note of sublimity and terror. Hyde diverges from the long-standing and dubious editorial custom of separating Thoreau's politics from his interest in nature, a division that has always obscured the ways in which the two are constantly entwined. "Natural History of Massachusetts" begins not with fish and birds but with a dismissal of the political world, and "Slavery in Massachusetts" ends with a meditation on the water lilies blooming on the Concord River. Thoreau's ideal reader was expected to be well versed in Greek and Latin, poetry and travel narrative, and politically engaged in current affairs. Hyde's detailed annotations clarify many of Thoreau's references and re-create the contemporary context wherein the nation's westward expansion was bringing to a head the racial tensions that would result in the Civil War.

30 review for The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau: Selected and Edited by Lewis Hyde

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    I really enjoyed the political discourses, but the nature stuff was pure torture. My theory is that he was so distraught by the political situation of his time, that he went insane and began getting high and talking long walks. Being so tired of his real writings falling on deaf ears, he decided to try making his political foes commit suicide by reading his nature writings. Lord knows I almost gouged out my eyes several times.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Reading Thoreau is like taking a nice, long walk in the woods and then, halfway through, starting a big argument about politics. Yes, his writings are more complex than that -- admittedly Thoreau's essays often intertwine politics and nature, and are neither wholly one or the other -- but to a layperson like me, that offers a reasonable enough description. And that description is not offered as a negative. We are political beasts, even when we think we aren't; "not-politics" is still a kind of po Reading Thoreau is like taking a nice, long walk in the woods and then, halfway through, starting a big argument about politics. Yes, his writings are more complex than that -- admittedly Thoreau's essays often intertwine politics and nature, and are neither wholly one or the other -- but to a layperson like me, that offers a reasonable enough description. And that description is not offered as a negative. We are political beasts, even when we think we aren't; "not-politics" is still a kind of politics, a fact that Thoreau sometimes overlooks in his nearly constant throat-clearing about how debasing politics is. This collection of essays by Henry David Thoreau opens a window to another time and place -- the bustling, burgeoning but still mostly rural New England of the mid-Nineteenth Century, in an America still chained by the sin of chattel slavery. It is slavery that draws out Thoreau's politics most strongly, though he seems overly admiring of John Brown's dubious character (though perhaps rightly laudatory of his 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry, an attempt to foment a slaver rebellion). Since John Brown's actions prior to Harper's Ferry do little to differentiate him from a modern terrorist -- i.e., killing innocents in the name of a religious cause -- I have to part company with Thoreau's near-idol worship of that man. Rather, it's Thoreau's writings prior to 1859 that hold the most authority and grace. His essay on "Civil Disobedience" is well-known (and his arguments are closely examined even in our times, including a serious treatment by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice). Although Thoreau's argument doesn't necessarily support the type of nonviolent resistance many believe, it's clear that Thoreau provided a major source of inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. For a man who professed to despise politics, he seemed to possess a great gift for political invective, made abundantly clear in his sarcastic, hilarious, and brilliant "Slavery in Massachusetts" (just think about that title for a second) -- a damning attack on Northerners who profited from the raw materials provided by Southern slave labor and the complicity of the North in supporting the Fugitive Slave Law. Elsewhere, Thoreau writes what might be called "poetry in prose," such as in "A Winter Walk," reading so evocative that it should be mandatory on Christmas mornings. Thoreau's descriptive ability is so engaging that reading him is like reading a painting. When it comes to his essays that focus mostly on nature, at times I found myself mesmerized, reading along and, without realizing it, becoming completely immersed, like I were actually standing there in a bucolic setting in 1843. It's clear why many still read Thoreau today. Then there's the writing, nearly flawless, and which conveys hope and despair at once. I'll end on this sample from "Walking" -- another gem found in this highly recommended, but not necessarily easy-to-read, collection: "We are accustomed to say in New England that few and fewer pigeons visit us every year. Our forests furnish no mast for them. So, it would seem, few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste, —— sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill, and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch on. They no longer build nor breed with us. In some more genial season, perchance, a faint shadow flits across the landscape of the mind, cast by the wings of some thought in its vernal or autumnal migration, but looking up, we are unable to detect the substance of the thought itself. Our winged thoughts are turned to poultry. They no longer soar."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    As with any collection, some essays were better than others. My favorites were "Wild Apples" and "A Plea for Captain John Brown" (because John Brown is awesome). As with any collection, some essays were better than others. My favorites were "Wild Apples" and "A Plea for Captain John Brown" (because John Brown is awesome).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    Great collection. I think I'd rather just have the natural history essays though, as this is what I picked up the book for. Great collection. I think I'd rather just have the natural history essays though, as this is what I picked up the book for.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  6. 4 out of 5

    Niccole

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kenn Prebilic

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jason Walker

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Madden

    Perfect collection for those who already own Walden.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julian

  13. 4 out of 5

    صديق الحكيم

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leeloo

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian Mccooley

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben Beach

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Young

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Davis

  20. 4 out of 5

    Deb cambria

  21. 4 out of 5

    M.L. Rudolph

  22. 4 out of 5

    Craig Lutes

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Nosowsky

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  28. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  29. 4 out of 5

    John

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

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