Book Reviews - Autumn 2021

The Capital of Self-Reliance

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How a backwater became a philosophical powerhouse

By Anne Matthews | September 7, 2021
Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers a speech to a rapt audience at the Concord School of Philosophy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers a speech to a rapt audience at the Concord School of Philosophy.

The Transcendentalists and Their World by Robert A. Gross; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 864 pp. $40

“I have never got over my surprise that I should have been born into the most estimable place in all the world,” Henry Thoreau told his journal in 1856, “—& in the very nick of time, too.”

The citizens of Concord, Massachusetts, have hyped their home for centuries: first town to rout the British, transcendentalist mecca, birthplace of the Concord grape, America’s perfect village. They may have overdone it (Thoreau’s old house on Main Street is now valued at $2.6 million), but the paper trail is extraordinary, and reconstructing Concord between 1760 and 1850 has been the life’s work of Robert A. Gross, emeritus professor of history at the University of Connecticut.

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