What a great book, really.

I borrowed it from the library, but with everything I had going on, especially the other reading I needed to do, it was clear I wasn’t going to have time to finish it before the due date (there was a long-ish waiting list for it). So, I pre-ordered the softcover version (because, as much as I want good books to succeed, that doesn’t mean I have to pay for a hardback copy; especially since it was so much less awkward to hold and read the paperback, even an oversized one).

It is not about Transcendentalism, but about the town of Concord, Massachusetts from the 1790s to mid 1840s. The opening history is about the town figuring out how to memorialize its role in the Revolutionary War and it closes with Henry David Thoreau giving the lectures that would make up Walden. It’s a close reading of the history and archives of a particular place that happened to have been very important in American history.

The structure is a thing of magic. It manages to move chronologically through time, while, at the same time, being arranged thematically. There is a section about religious change, as the long-time minister of the official church moves towards Unitarianism and rival churches are formed. There is a section about the rise of manufacturing. And, of course, there is a great deal about Ralph Waldo Emerson, though he does not dominate the book, because it is, ultimately, social history, not intellectual history.

Highly recommended.