Stem's Thoreau is almost a modern Saint Francis, radiating love, but turning to nature instead of man because ""his own standards were so high few could meet them."" A safe enough judgment in light of the climate of appreciation which currently surrounds Thoreau, but this respectably thorough, and thoroughly pedestrian, biography does little to substantiate it. Thoreau's efforts to get his writings published and to make ends meet financially, his friendships, his political forays, even his last words (""moose. . . Indian"") are faithfully recounted, but in the midst of the lifeless prose, Hawthorne's quoted remark that Thoreau was ""as ugly as sin"" stands forth as a flash of insight. The editor of the Annotated Walden, Stern is most lucid on the book itself; he does not offer any new perceptions: explaining, for example, conservationist Thoreau's unlikely delight in contemplating the forest fire he accidentally set, Stern says, ""Thoreau was a complicated person who sometimes came up with strange ideas."" To find out what those ideas were, read Walden.