America's Bachelor Uncle

Thoreau and the American Polity

Bob Pepperman Taylor

Emphatically revisionist, Bob Pepperman Taylor reveals a Thoreau most people never knew existed. Contrary to conventional views, Taylor argues that Thoreau was one of America's most powerful and least understood political thinkers, a man who promoted community and democratic values, while being ever vigilant against the evils of excessive or illegitimate authority.

Still widely viewed as a remarkable nature writer but simplistic philosopher with no real understanding of society, Thoreau is resurrected here as a profound social critic with more on his mind than utopian daydreams. Rather than the aloof and very private individualist spurned by conservatives and championed by radicals and environmentalists, Taylor portrays Thoreau as a genuinely engaged political theorist concerned with the moral foundations of public life. Like a solicitous "bachelor uncle" (a self-referential phrase from his journals), Thoreau persistently prodded his fellow citizens to remember that they were responsible for independently evaluating the behavior of their government and political community.

“Taylor provides a thoughtful analysis of all of Thoreau’s writings in addition to a keen understanding of Thoreau’s profound political insights.


“Taylor’s revisionist reading of Thoreau is lucid, well organized, and admirably defended. . . . Whether or not one agrees with Taylor’s interpretation, his book will send the reader scurrying back to reread Thoreau and begin anew the dialogue with him.

—Journal of American History
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Taylor contends that, far from being confined to a few political essays ("Civil Disobedience," "Slavery in Massachusetts," and "A Plea for Captain John Brown"), Thoreau's political critique was a lifetime project that informed virtually all of his work. Taylor's persuasive study should send readers back to Walden, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and the 14-volume Journal, among many other writings, for a provocative new look at one of America's most influential writers.

About the Author

Bob Pepperman Taylor is Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor of Law, Politics and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont. He is the author of six books, including Horace Mann’s Troubling Legacy: The Education of Democratic Citizens.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series