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Ably directs readers back to the primary works of Thoreau and his contemporaries.

Delving into the observations of people around Thoreau, such as family, other transcendentalists and townspeople, as well as the famed writer’s works, Sims (The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, 2011, etc.) aims to flesh out this uniquely American genius.

An ecstatic observer of nature, an admirer of the Native American ways, practical builder and idiot savant, Thoreau was both a local boy schooled in the marvels of the natural scenery of the Concord River and a Harvard-educated scholar; he was erudite yet mocked for his homespun ways. With parents who seemed to have been extremely understanding of their son’s unconventional proclivities—his father had made a good living manufacturing pencils; his mother was a vocal opponent to slavery—young Thoreau tried his hand at teaching, like his other siblings, but quit due to the fact that he could not whip the children. Tramping about with his beloved older brother, John, Thoreau also grew more intimate with the “calm and lyrical revolutionary,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had moved into Concord with his wife and family in 1835 and suggested that the young freethinker keep a journal. While Emerson had a profound effect on Thoreau, the younger man also touched the poet as having “as free & erect a mind as any I have ever met.” Their deepening understanding encouraged Emerson’s other protégés, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, to overcome their initial criticism of Thoreau’s uncouthness, and his generous mentor allowed Thoreau to live in his home and even build a shack on his newly purchased acres around Walden Pond, where Thoreau would reside for two-plus years. Building his chapters with deliberate, sometimes-tertiary detail, Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject, as the "quirky but talented young man named Henry evolve[d] into an original and insightful writer named Thoreau."

Ably directs readers back to the primary works of Thoreau and his contemporaries.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62040-195-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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