Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most important figures in American nature writing, yet until now readers have had no book devoted to this central theme in his work. "The Best Read Naturalist" fills this lacuna, placing several of Emerson’s lesser-known pieces of nature writing in conversation with his canonical essays. Organized chronologically, the thirteen selections—made up of sermons, lectures, addresses, and essays—reveal an engagement with natural history that spanned Emerson’s career. As we watch him grapple with what he called the "book of nature," a more environmentally connected thinker emerges—a "green" Emerson deeply concerned with the physical world and fascinated with the ability of science to reveal a correspondence between the order of nature and that of the mind. "The Best Read Naturalist" illuminates the vital influence that the study of natural history had on the development of Emerson’s mature philosophy.
If you thought you knew Emerson, think again! Here at last is the ‘green’ Emerson, in this well-chosen gathering of sermons, lectures, and essays from his earliest years to his last reflections—most of them virtually unknown except to the most thorough of Emerson scholars. What they reveal is an Emerson who registered the beauty of nature in incomparable prose, who thought his day was incomplete without a walk in the woods, and who based his new philosophy of life on the findings of natural science—certain that the true Poet was the prophet who could marry science with the sacred. We’ve long needed this collection, which together with its splendid introduction brilliantly illuminates the entire Emerson canon.
This book restores the ‘green’ Emerson to a deservedly prominent place in the narrative of American nature writing. Much of Emerson’s most insightful and compelling work as an environmental thinker is not available in the standard Emerson collections, including notable later lectures on the mind and natural history. Bringing the ecocritical community into contact with these theoretically rich, nature-focused texts is a vital contribution to contemporary environmental scholarship.
[A]collection of little-known essays by one of the greatest nature writers of all time. They reveal Emerson to be not only a master of the written word, but one of the world’s first environmentalists.
Michael P. Branch is Professor of Literature and the Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the author or editor of numerous books, including Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness and John Muir’s Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa. Clinton Mohs is a doctoral student in English at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the author of articles on American literatures of the long nineteenth century.