Lessons from Walden
Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy
- American Political Science Association Section Award: Best Book in American Political Thought
Throughout this original and passionate book, Bob Pepperman Taylor presents a wide-ranging inquiry into the nature and implications of Henry David Thoreau’s thought in Walden and Civil Disobedience. 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.” 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.
In Lessons from Walden, Taylor allows all sides to have their say, even as he persistently steers the discussion back to a nuanced reading of Thoreau’s actual position. With its tone of friendly urgency, this interdisciplinary tour de force will interest students and scholars of American literature, environmental ethics, and political theory, as well as environmental activists, concerned citizens, and anyone troubled with the future of democracy.
“Bob Taylor’s Lessons from Walden brings Thoreau’s classic text to bear on the present moment, into Trump’s America, into an age of environmental degradation, into a time of cultural self-absorption, instrumental rationality, and neoliberal indifference to what is local, communal, and particular.” —Shannon Mariotti, author of Thoreau’s Democratic Withdrawal
“Lessons from Walden allows Thoreau to enter today’s conversation in a way that seldom happens: Bob Taylor's measured and fair-minded mediation allows the fullness of Thoreau’s stance to appear to the reader with all his contradictions intact. The result is a true conversation in which Thoreau becomes the springboard to further deliberation. Time and again, Taylor returns to Thoreau as to a moral lodestone, bringing the discussion to a reasoned conclusion that still leaves one thinking.” —Laura Dassow Walls, author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life
“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
“Lessons from Walden is a welcome tonic in this moment of political and environmental crisis. Bob Pepperman Taylor’s always-trenchant and insightful analysis reveals Thoreau’s enduring relevance for modern democracies. His lessons are both important and timely.” —Kimberly Smith, author of The Conservation Constitution
"What would Thoreau say about the latest rise of populism and threats to the environment? 'One of the points I make is that Walden doesn’t provide prescriptions for political crisis,' Taylor said. 'Thoreau's . . . contribution helps us think beyond the immediate crisis, to how we can each live as more responsible citizens.” —EurekAlert.org
"The year of a presidential election seems like a particularly good time to revisit the qualities necessary for American self-governance. Bob Pepperman Taylor’s book, Lessons from Walden: Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy attempts to do just that. Reaching back to Jacksonian democracy, Taylor uses Henry David Thoreau as a tour guide to reveal the threats and temptations in the contemporary American landscape." —Law and Liberty
"Lessons from Walden [is] an extraordinary book. . . . It offers a compelling, well-thought out argument about the relevance of Thoreau in our political time.” —Perspectives on Politics