Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Thoreau You Don't Know

© 2009, HarperCollins Publishers, used with permission

I just finished reading The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant by Robert Sullivan, published in March 2009. From the outset let me say that Bob's daughter is a fellow musician in the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra. Therefore, I have had passing conversations with Bob on several occasions. So yes, this is a somewhat biased review.  Please read it anyway!

Before reading this book, I knew virtually nothing about Thoreau and his writings. If I read Walden or Civil Disobedience, it was back in the Stone Age when I attended high school and I don't remember them at all.

I can remember being tempted to buy this book when as part of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra I played at its launch in a Brooklyn bookstore. However, I didn't actually purchase my copy of The Thoreau You Don’t Know until about a year later. Publishers send uncorrected proof copies to news organizations, hoping for reviews. Every so often Thomson Reuters, my employer, clears out books, donating all the generated money to a few well chosen charities. At the annual clearing-out sale, I saw Thoreau and thought it would be interesting to read an uncorrected proof of a book written by someone I know, and so I bought it.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons. First and foremost, I liked its creative approach. It looks at Thoreau as a whole person as opposed to people’s preconceived notions of him as an environmentalist. I appreciated how thoroughly Bob Sullivan had immersed himself in the period and in all details related to Thoreau’s life. I have never read a nonfiction work that so lifted me out of my own time and transported me back to another era. Throughout, I was entertained by the writing style. Bob writes just like he talks. It’s almost like he’s narrating the book to you. Knowing him and his family, I enjoyed the references he occasionally made to them. Similarly, I enjoyed the way he related Thoreau's concerns to similar modern-day concerns.

I didn’t know that Thoreau played the flute. Living when he did, he would have played a wooden flute like the one I now play. That made me feel connected to this man from long ago. Moreover, Thoreau struggled with the necessity to make a living to support his "real" interests. It was comforting to know that people from other eras faced the same dilemma that many writers and musicians face today, a dilemma with which I'm altogether too familiar.

The book ends with Bob’s own pilgrimage to Walden. He uses music to tie it all together. I won't say another word, not wanting to spoil the ending for you. I will just add that this book was a most interesting read, and I highly recommend it. You can buy the book here, from Amazon.com

What's next, Bob?

Interesting reviews:
Book review by Green LA Girl
New York Times review of The Thoreau You Don't Know, April 16, 2009
Harper Collins (the publisher) page for The Thoreau You Don't Know
Robert Sullivan's blog for The Thoreau You Don't Know
Thoreau, Walden and civil disobedience in the age of climate change, review in Grist, the ezine of environmental news and commentary, August 27, 2009

To see blog posts about other books I've read, click HERE.

© 2010, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

No comments: