The 13 essays gathered here are among Thoreau’s best writing: crackingly sharp, like a bright winter morning after a snowfall. Such favorites as “Walking,” “Civil Disobedience,” and “Natural History of Massachusetts,” as well as “Wild Apples” and “Autumnal Tints” distill his customary preoccupations with nature and how to live in the world. Given that these pieces are reprinted regularly, what makes this collection special is the thoughtful introduction from Hyde (Creative Writing/Kenyon Coll.; Trickster Makes the World, 1998, etc.). He offers access to the essays by way of Thoreau's prophetic voice speaking “of things that will be true in the future because they are true in all time.” Hyde notes the declarative, redemptive, spontaneous, imaginative, and intuitive nature of Thoreau's words. “My genius makes distinctions which my understanding cannot,” the naturalist once wrote. Yet he is no unworldly sage; two essays defending abolitionist John Brown show that Thoreau can get down in the political trenches as well.
A century and a half after they were written, as Hyde notes, the power of these essays comes “quickly back to life for any reader with ears to hear the many registers of their author's voice.”