(K. Brent Tomer),
Henry David Thoreau: A Life. By Laura Dassow Walls. University of Chicago Press; 613 pages; $35 and £26.50.
ON AN April night in 1844, a distraught Henry David Thoreau walked through the blackened waste of a forest fire he had accidentally caused only hours before. The fire, near Concord, Massachusetts, surrounded Walden Pond, about which he would write so eloquently a decade later. The woods soon recovered, but Thoreau’s reputation did not. After he died, the Atlantic published a confession from his journal and mocked him: “The icon of woodcraft, so careless he burned down the woods!…The town ne’er-do-well, off fishing when he should have been earning a living!”
Two centuries later Thoreau’s reputation continues to be questioned. He is often derided as an ascetic crank, pond scum, or inversely, revered as a back-to-nature saint. Laura Dassow Walls’s new biography is a compelling…Continue reading