Book Reveals Thoreau’s Enduring Relevance for Today’s Environmental and Democratic Crises

Bob Pepperman Taylor, the Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor of Law, Politics, and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont, has published an important new book titled Lessons from Walden: Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy. In this original and passionate work, Taylor presents a wide-ranging inquiry into the nature and implications of Henry David Thoreau’s thought in Walden and Civil Disobedience. As Taylor says in his introduction, “Walden is a central American text for addressing two of the central crises of our time: the increasingly alarming threats we now face to democratic norms, practices, and political institutions, and the perhaps even more alarming environmental dangers confronting us.” Taylor pursues this inquiry in three chapters, each focusing on a single theme: chapter 1 examines simplicity and the ethics of “voluntary poverty,” chapter 2 looks at civil disobedience and the role of “conscience” in democratic politics, and chapter 3 concentrates on what “nature” means to us today and whether we can truly “learn from nature”—and if so, what does it teach? Taylor considers Thoreau’s philosophy, and the philosophical problems he raises, from the perspective of a wide range of thinkers and commentators drawn from history, philosophy, the social sciences, and popular media, breathing new life into Walden and asking how it is alive for us today.


“A reading of Thoreau for the age of Trump—and really for any moment when our courage as individuals and as a polity seems to be flagging. This is a book that will make you think, and perhaps even act!” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Falter

Lessons from Walden delivers exactly what its title promises—an educational guide for an individual life committed to simplicity, moral responsibility, and ethical integrity. Like Thoreau, Taylor’s goal is to wake us up.” —Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, author of Thoreau in His Own Time

Read more here.