The Transcendentalists and Their World

Farrar. Nov. 2021. 864p. ISBN 9780374279325. $40. hist
Award-winning historian Gross (emeritus, Univ. of Connecticut; The Minutemen and Their World) looks at the small but not closed world of Concord, Massachusetts, and asks: why did the cultural ideal of individualism come to the front there in the 1830s? And what form did it take? He proposes that in Boston, spurred by reformers like Orestes Brownson and George Ripley, the Transcendentalist ideal of self-culture was linked directly to radical social reform (abolitionism, women’s rights), but for Concord’s Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the path to improvement was through individual reflection, one soul at a time, not won in concerted social reform. Emerson and Thoreau loom large in this study, but the bulk of the book is about Concord, as a prequel to how Transcendentalism emerged there and the form it took. What were the young people of Concord looking for, and failing to find, in the communitarian dicta of their parents? How did the lectures and writings of Emerson resonate with them, and why? While studying these questions, Gross also explores the roles of Concord women in the phenomenon of individualism.
VERDICT This lively social and cultural history should reward most readers interested in this critical period of American history.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing