In his influential book “Walden,” Henry David Thoreau expressed his concern for the future of nature and the need to preserve it. He realized people have a relationship with nature, and therefore are obligated to protect it. Thoreau insisted that we need “wildness” in our lives: “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness …” Henry David Thoreau’s words live on, encouraging today’s Environmental Movement. More than 150 years later, Thoreau’s work continues to inspire scholars, writers, naturalists, and budding environmentalists.
Paul Brooks. “Speaking for Nature: How Literary Naturalists from Henry Thoreau to Rachel Carson Have Shaped America.” Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983. Brook’s book analyzes some of the most notable nature writers in American history, such as Sidney Lanier, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. Brooks considers Thoreau to be the “father of the nature essay in literary form.” He touches upon those nature writers who have been influential in the last 150 years. He identifies the various methods in which both nature writers, like Thoreau, as well as the public have taken action towards conservation.
Lawrence Buell. “The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture.” Belknap Press of Harvard, 1995. Lawrence Buell uses Thoreau’s “Walden” for the focal point of his argument that all “humans are accountable for the environment.” Not only does Buell explore Thoreau’s other works, but goes into detail regarding Thoreau’s mental fortitude and how he continues to influence nature writers today. Buell examines the American perception of “sense of place” and how this relates to nature. Buell contends that the concept of wilderness is created by civilization, and that Americans need to change this concept in order to relate to nature on a different level.
Richard F. Fleck. “Henry Thoreau and John Muir Among the Indians.” Archon Books, 1985. Fleck compares and contrasts the experiences Thoreau and Muir each had with North American Indians. He discusses Thoreau’s venture into the “wilds” of Maine and climbing Mount Katahdin. Fleck also reveals Thoreau’s exposure to Indian spirituality and its effect on his view towards the relationship between man and nature. Fleck spends a chapter on the strong influence Thoreau’s works had on Muir. Included in the book is an interesting appendix of Thoreau’s unpublished manuscripts on Native American cultures.
Roderick Frazier Nash. “Wilderness & the American Mind.” 4th ed. Yale University Press, 2001. Nash examines the changing conceptions towards wilderness from the early Puritan settlers to today. Nash contends that Christianity (Calvinism) certainly bears a heavy cross when it comes to environmental destruction in America. Nash also thoroughly discusses the history of wilderness preservation efforts, beginning with the Conservation Movement to the Environmental Movement of the 1960s – ’80s. Nash devotes entire chapters to Thoreau. He reveals how Thoreau rejected the mainstream view towards nature, and in turn, developed the idea of wilderness that has become the prevalent viewpoint today.
Richard Schneider, ed. “Thoreau’s Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing.” University of Iowa Press, 2000. In this essay collection, several scholars comment on Thoreau’s growing identity as an environmentalist and what this means to the literary field. In several essays, Thoreau is compared and contrasted to other nature writers like Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Annie Dillard. The collection is divided into four themes based on the concept of place: relating, imagining, socially constructing, and saving. The essays address Thoreau’s attempts at creating a sense of place in “Walden” and his other works. The scholars agree that through his work, Thoreau formed his own identity as a conservationist in American culture. The book ends with a discussion on the effects of Thoreau’s works on nature writing in America.
Donald Worster. “Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas.” 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Worster’s main argument is that all ecological concepts are products of human culture. Worster explores the history of ecology starting in the 18th century and how it has formed the human perception of nature. In his discussion of Thoreau, he examines the effect “Walden” and transcendentalism had on the public’s interpretation of the term “environment.” He puts Thoreau’s writings in context with the then national views towards nature and land such as the concept of Manifest Destiny. Worster describes Thoreau as an ecologist and notes that Thoreau diligently studied Carl Linnaeus’ works.
Quote – Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”