Celebrating Thoreau’s 200th Birthday with Books He Would Love

To this day, Henry David Thoreau remains one of the most popular naturalist writers of all time. And for good reason – his iconic work, Walden, helped change the way we think about nature, art and self. A big part of the Transcendentalism movement, he also helped define “Civil Disobedience,” which has been influencing world leaders and activists for decades. As an essayist, a poet and a philosopher, Thoreau was one of those thinkers who always felt like he was ahead of his time.

henry david thoreau book

Today, July 12, just happens to be Thoreau’s birthday, and we’re more than excited to celebrate it. And not only that – Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord Massachusetts, which means today is actually the 200th anniversary of his birth. It’s crazy to think that Thoreau has been influencing our world for 200 years already. But because of that, it’s also the perfect time to celebrate everything he’s done for society, from his work as an abolitionist, to his contributions to politics and the natural world. Work based on his life continues to emerge, including the latest release, just in time for his birthday, Laura Dassow Walls’ Henry David Thoreau: A Life (Univ. of Chicago Press, July 7, 2017) and it’s already a bestseller on Amazon in the Environmentalist & Naturalist Biographies.

The Thoreau Society is certainly no stranger to celebrating Thoreau’s work and life. Their mission is to “stimulate interest in and foster education about Thoreau’s life, works, legacy and his place in his world and in ours.” So of course they’re celebrating his 200th birthday in style, with a reading and celebration in Bayfield, Wisconsin. But if you can’t make that event, then join us in celebrating Thoreau’s 200th right here. Not only is it a great time to dive back into Thoreau’s greatest works, but we’ve also hand-selected a few recent books that we’re sure Thoreau would have loved.

As a present to the late, great philosopher, here are four books that we would love to gift wrap for Thoreau’s 200th birthday:

The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs (Simon & Schuster, June 6, 2017)

The Bright Hour ThoreauAt the heart of most of Thoreau’s works is a thoughtful examination of his place in the world. That’s the same thoughtfulness that Riggs brings to her new memoir about life and death. After being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at a young age, Riggs decided to confront her reality head on. Her memoir is a bold grappling of her diagnosis and what it means to live when you know your time is running out. About Riggs’s life and her certain future, The Bright Hour is one of those books that will have you laughing, crying, and contemplating what it means to be human. And, fun fact, Riggs is the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson (something she also grapples with in her memoir), a writer who also happened to be very close friends with Thoreau.

Natural Selection, Dan Pearson (Guardian Faber Publishing, May 2, 2017)

Natural Selection ThoreauThere’s no denying that Thoreau loved nature, particularly man’s place in the natural world. So we know that he would have been drawn to Natural Selection, a close look at Pearson’s personal experience with gardening over the course of a year. Pearson walks the reader through his own plots, both in the city and the country, showing that nature can exist in lots of different forms. From the abundant gardens of late summer to the quiet cultivating winter, this book is both a guide and a treatise on what it means to garden in our modern world. Bringing man back to nature is a theme close to Thoreau’s heart, so Natural Selection would have made a perfect gift for the 200-year-old naturalist.

A Column of Fire, Ken Follett (Viking, September 12, 2017)

A Column of Fire ThoreauIn addition to being a writer and a naturalist, Thoreau was also a historian who looked to the past to help understand the world around him. Since no one writes historical fiction quite like Follett, we’re positive that Thoreau would have been a fan. In his latest, Follet brings us back to Kingsbridge Cathedral in 1558, where the politics and religions of England are more uncertain than ever. At the heart of his story is Ned Willard and his love, Margery Fitzgerald, who are torn apart by their differing religious backgrounds. Enter Queen Elizabeth, a fledging secret service, and even more religious conflict, and you’ve got a complex narrative that only a writer of Follett’s caliber could pull off. Thoreau was no stranger to political strife, and this is exactly the book we could see him escaping inside of while he sat by the shores of Walden Pond.

A Beautiful Composition of Broken, r.h. Sin (Andrews McMeel Publishing, July 25, 2017)

a beautiful compostition of broken r.h. sin ThoreauThoreau was a beautiful poet, and his poems about nature still stand out 200 years later. We’re sure he’d love A Beautiful Composition of Broken, a new collection by popular poet r.h. Sin. This time, Sin is tackling concepts of identity, race and sexuality, and what it means to be on the outside, persecuted and misaligned. Since Thoreau always had a voice for the marginalized, we know this is a message he’d get behind. Personal as well as universal, A Beautiful Composition of Broken is the modern collection of poetry that you’ve been waiting for.

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