Review: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement, Ashton Nichols

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m not in two minds after finishing this book—but I can’t deny that when I started it sounded a bit odd. In particular, Mr Nichols’ treatment of Thoreau and Emerson was the poorest, but once we moved from those into general transcendentalism and the less well known people—Douglass, Whitman, Alcott, and Fuller—the story became a whole lot more compelling.

As someone who’s never been that much into the simplified ‘ignore taxes because government is evil’ narrative that can be spun out of transcendentalism, the way Mr Nichols turned this into a description on education and equality was a lot more enjoyable. In that, and in bringing in the less-well-known thinkers, the author did a favour for everyone learning about the philosophy.

On the other hand, it would have been good to be introduced to Emerson and Thoreau in a more wholesome way—it seemed to me that instead of being genuinely interested in them, Mr Nichols wanted to say a few words and leave them in the dust. This was particularly annoying when the author considered some quotes by either, which was done rather concisely to conclude with ‘most people misunderstand it’ without actually explaining what the misunderstanding is.

I would recommend this as a stellar work on the philosophy, but not for people wanting to learn more about Emerson and Thoreau.

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