[UCP Books]: Henry David Thoreau: A Life, by Laura Dassow Walls

For his bicentennial, one of the most admired and beloved American writers gets the landmark biography he deserves


“The best all-around biography of Thoreau ever written.”

Robert D. Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind





A Life
Laura Dassow Walls


Publication date: July 12, 2017 $35.00/£26.50
International publication date: 24 July 2017  



“In this definitive biography, the many facets of Thoreau are captured with grace and scholarly rigor. . . . To reveal the author of Walden as one coherent person is Walls’s mission, which she fully achieves; as a result of her vigilant focus Thoreau holds the center—no mean achievement in a work through whose pages move the great figures and cataclysmic events of the period. Emerson, Hawthorne, and Whitman are here; so are Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Details of everyday life lend roundness to this portrait as we follow Thoreau’s progress as a writer and also as a reader. . . . The wonder is that, given her book’s richness, Walls still leaves the reader eager to read Thoreau. Her scholarly blockbuster is an awesome achievement, a merger of comprehensiveness in content with pleasure in reading.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review


When it comes to key American figures, Henry David Thoreau ranks right up there with the Founding Fathers. Yet whereas it seems we get a big new biography of Washington, Jefferson, and the like every five years or so, it’s somehow been thirty years since the last major book on Thoreau—and a half century since the last attempt at a full biography. Even as countless new readers discover Thoreau every year through Walden and Civil Disobedience, Thoreau the man slips ever further into the past.

No longer. With Laura Dassow Walls’s magisterial Henry David Thoreau: A Life, we finally have the biography of Thoreau that we’ve needed. And it’s worth the wait: for the first time, we see Thoreau in the round, a living, dramatically compelling personality set firmly in the context of his place and time even as he and his unforgettable, expansive writings transcend it. In these pages, we meet an unforgettable man who even in his lifetime awed his friends and neighbors with the force of his personality and the power of his convictions. This will be the new standard biography of Thoreau for generations to come.


Laura Dassow Walls is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is available for interviews.



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