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Understanding Emerson: "The American Scholar" and his Struggle for Self-Reliance

SACKS, Kenneth S.

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ISBN 10: 0691099820 / ISBN 13: 9780691099828
Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003
Used Condition: fine Hardcover
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Sparsely illustrated in black & white. 199pp. Slim & tall 8vo, black cloth, d.w. Princeton: Princeton University Press, (2003). A fine copy in a fine dust wrapper. Bookseller Inventory # 240581

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Understanding Emerson: "The American Scholar...

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Date: 2003

Binding: hardcover

Book Condition:fine

Dust Jacket Condition: fine

About this title


A seminal figure in American literature and philosophy, Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered the apostle of self-reliance, fully alive within his ideas and disarmingly confident about his innermost thoughts. Yet the circumstances around "The American Scholar" oration--his first great public address and the most celebrated talk in American academic history--suggest a different Emerson. In Understanding Emerson, Kenneth Sacks draws on a wealth of contemporary correspondence and diaries, much of it previously unexamined, to reveal a young intellectual struggling to define himself and his principles.

Caught up in the fierce dispute between his Transcendentalist colleagues and Harvard, the secular bastion of Boston Unitarianism and the very institution he was invited to honor with the annual Phi Beta Kappa address, Emerson agonized over compromising his sense of self-reliance while simultaneously desiring to meet the expectations of his friends. Putting aside self-doubts and a resistance to controversy, in the end he produced an oration of extraordinary power and authentic vision that propelled him to greater awareness of social justice, set the standard for the role of the intellectual in America, and continues to point the way toward educational reform. In placing this singular event within its social and philosophical context, Sacks opens a window into America's nineteenth-century intellectual landscape as well as documenting the evolution of Emerson's idealism.

Engagingly written, this book, which includes the complete text of "The American Scholar," allows us to appreciate fully Emerson's brilliant rebuke of the academy and his insistence that the most important truths derive not from books and observation but from intuition within each of us. Rising defiantly before friend and foe, Emerson triumphed over his hesitations, redirecting American thought and pedagogy and creating a personal tale of quiet heroism.

From the Back Cover:

"Understanding Emerson is a superb piece of historical research brought to life by a deep intuition about one of the most fascinating phenomena of the nineteenth century: the mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Kenneth Sacks has got that mind exactly right. He has grasped the curiously ungraspable quality of Emerson's thought, and by showing us, in a fineness of detail no one else has approached, how Emerson came to write 'The American Scholar,' he shows us, too, why we continue to read him."--Louis Menand, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"A timely and elegantly written reminder of why Emerson is America's most important intellectual."--Gordon Wood, Brown University

"Kenneth Sacks has succeeded admirably in producing a very important examination of both the ferment of reform and change in which Transcendentalism arose, and Emerson's personal struggle with that ferment. He breaks a good deal of new ground. The picture that emerges is insightful, revealing, and engaging. The book is very well written and, blessedly, jargon free."--Len Gougeon, author of Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform, and past President of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society (2000-2001)

"This is an engaging book--well-written, without jargon, and suitable for the educated reader as well as for the Emerson scholar interested in the details missed by many biographers and intellectual historians. I was carried along as a reader from beginning to end, and often smiled with satisfaction at the author's wit and the aptness of his use of quotations and other documentary evidence."--William Pannapacker, Hope College

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