From Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy to Martin Luther King and Leo Tolstoy, the works of Henry David Thoreau – author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, surveyor, schoolteacher, engineer – have long been an inspiration to many. But who was the unsophisticated young man who in 1837 became a protege of Ralph Waldo Emerson? The Adventures of Henry Thoreau tells the colourful story of a complex man seeking a meaningful life in a tempestuous era. In rich, evocative prose Michael Sims brings to life the insecure, youthful Henry, as he embarks on the path to becoming the literary icon Thoreau.
Using the letters and diaries of Thoreau's family, friends and students, Michael Sims charts his coming of age within a family struggling to rise above poverty in 1830s America. From skating and boating with Nathaniel Hawthorne, to travels with his brother, John Thoreau, and the launching of their progressive school, Sims paints a vivid portrait of the young writer struggling to find his voice through communing with nature, whether mountain climbing in Maine or building his life-changing cabin at Walden Pond. He explores Thoreau's infatuation with the beautiful young woman who rejected his proposal of marriage, the influence of his mother and sisters – who were passionate abolitionists – and that of the powerful cultural currents of the day. With emotion and texture, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau sheds fresh light on one of the most iconic figures in American history.
Michael Sims is the author of acclaimed non-fiction titles The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination and Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, as well as the editor of numerous anthologies, including his own Connoisseur's Collection series for Bloomsbury, which includes Dracula's Guest (vampire stories), The Dead Witness (detective stories) and the upcoming The Phantom Coach (ghost stories). Michael Sims lives in western Pennsylvania with his wife and son.
"This appealing story succeeds beautifully in accomplishing Sims's goal to "find Henry" rather than "applaud Thoreau." [...] With attentive research that elaborates but never intrudes, Sims invites twenty-first century readers to discover their own Thoreau among his various identities"
– Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, author of To Set This World Right
"The closest you are ever going to get to going on a walk with Thoreau in his natural habitat [...] A beautifully evocative book [...] A splendid piece of research and a superb introduction to the young writer, thinker and insurrectionary"
– Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking and A Field Guide to Getting Lost
"Building his chapters with deliberate, sometimes-tertiary detail, Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject"
"[A] surpassingly vivid and vital chronicle of Thoreau's formative years"
"The author is brilliant at evoking the life and seasons of 19th-century Concord [...] To discover the local world and wilderness in which Thoreau lived, this biography is an excellent place to start"
– Country Life
"How Henry became thoroughly Thoreau is the theme of this lively biography"
– The Times
"Michael Sims looks at Thoreau's early life in order to frame a quite narrow question: why did Thoreau make his experiment at all [...] Sims provides a way in to understanding Thoreau's times. ****"
– Daily Telegraph
"Michael Sims's bid to find what Thoreau was like bubbles with an amateurish enthusiasm that is deceptive, for his fresh, engaging style conceals colossal reading [...] This beguiling book makes you want more"
– Sunday Times
"An absorbing and touching account of his intensely felt life"
– Independent on Sunday
"This biography will excite his readers and draw newcomers to a thinker who reminds those who want change"
"A great new book"
– Conde Nast Traveller
"A lively biography [...] An in-depth portrait of the fledgling author"
– Financial Times
"Sims creates a sensuous natural environment in which to appreciate his subject."
– Kirkus Reviews
"[A] surpassingly vivid and vital chronicle of Thoreau's formative years. As Sims portrays a solemn boy nicknamed 'the Judge,' we gain fresh understanding of Thoreau's choices and convictions on his way to becoming a seminal environmentalist and civil-disobedience guru."
"An amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond [...] an animated portrait. Sims has once again proven himself to be a distinctive writer on the subjects of human nature and humans in nature."
"An affectionate and lively recreation of the world that surrounded [Thoreau]."
– Christian Science Monitor, picked as one of the 10 Best Books of February
"I confess I picked up this biography not because of a burning interest in Thoreau [...] but because I loved Michael Sims' previous book about E. B. White and the writing of Charlotte's Web. Sims made White's youthful world of 1920s New York come alive and he does the same thing here for Thoreau's Concord [...] The Adventures of Henry Thoreau is a rich, entertaining testament to the triumph of a young man who never comfortably fit in, but who made a place for himself, nonetheless."
– Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
"A well-researched and richly detailed portrait [...] The Henry David Thoreau portrayed here is no 'marble bust of an icon.' He's restless, prickly and possessed of a relentless intellectual curiosity – a complex, fully realized human being. With this picture in mind, anyone who admires Thoreau's life and work will view him with fresh eye."
– Shelf Awareness
"Sims offers intriguing sidelights and memorable details [...] [he] helps us to see Thoreau as a colorful, crotchety human being."
– Washington Post
"Sims gracefully captures what he calls Thoreau's 'ecstatic response to nature.'"
– Wall Street Journal