In terms of non-architectural books, this is probably the most interesting book I've read in a long time. In The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant, Robert Sullivan thoroughly and cleverly tells the real story of Henry David Thorough. It's a different story than the one we've all become accustomed to hearing. But it's fascinating and compelling. And if you've ever thought of invoking the name of Thoreau in support of this or that environmental cause, give it a read before doing so.
I know I will from now on, because Thoreau was a lot more complicated than the guy who simply built a small house near Walden Pond using borrowed materials and land. He's a lot more complicated than the guy who paid his debts or went to jail.
Thoreau was a pencil maker and a really good one. He knew the business and innovated to make better pencils. He was smart and deliberate and observant. Of course, we all know he was a writer and some of his work was better than others. But I didn't realize the extent of his relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Did you? Did you know about his comings and goings in Concord or within the community? I didn't.
It's hard not to enjoy the portrait that Sullivan paints. And to be honest, I hope Sullivan's representation turns out to be more than just today's piece of the Thoreau Historiography — a modern day projection of our idiosyncrasies on the real David Henry Thoreau. The book certainly reads and feels comprehensive. In fact, the The Thoreau You Don't Know has to be the closest thing we have to an objective look at the man. As far as I can tell …
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