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The writings of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) have captivated scholars, activists, and ecologists for more than a century. Less attention has been paid, however, to the author’s political philosophy and its influence on American public life. Although Thoreau’s doctrine of civil disobedience has long since become a touchstone of world history, the greater part of his political legacy has been overlooked. With a resurgence of interest in recent years, A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau is the first volume focused exclusively on Thoreau’s ethical and political thought.

Jack Turner illuminates the unexamined aspects of Thoreau’s political life and writings. Combining both new and classic essays, this book offers a fresh and comprehensive understanding of Thoreau’s politics, and includes discussions of subjects ranging from his democratic individualism to the political relevance of his intellectual eccentricity. The collection consists of works by sixteen prominent political theorists and includes an extended bibliography on Thoreau’s politics. A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau is a landmark reference for anyone seeking a better understanding of Thoreau’s complex political philosophy.

Jack Turner is assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington. His articles have appeared in Political Theory, Raritan, and Polity.

Over a dozen authors write a chapter that explores Thoreau’s political activism, and through this gain an glimpse of the political discourse that led to the start of the American Civil War. -- Naval District of Washington Waterline

The first comprehensive collection focused exclusively on Thoreau as a political thinker. --

A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau sheds new light on Thoreau’s literary repertoire. . . . The collection also serves Thoreau well by setting him apart from his literary contemporaries . . . . [It] lift[s] Thoreau out of the American literary canon and recontextualize his work within the traditions of political theory. As such, researchers working beyond the confines of nineteenth-century literature will benefit greatly from this collection. -- The Year's Work in English Studies

The world knows Thoreau as a transcendentalist and literary naturalist, but less as a political thinker. Turner moves us in a fresh direction with this provocative new collection of essays by leading scholars in political science, philosophy, and ethics. -- William L. Howarth, Princeton University, former editor in chief of The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau

A first-rate collection of essays, exploring Thoreau’s contributions to the study of politics on issues ranging from freedom and democracy to individuality, self-cultivation, and the political imagination. Demonstrates persuasively that Thoreau continues to illuminate questions at the center of political theory today. -- Sharon R. Krause, director of graduate studies and associate professor of political science, Brown University

Promises to reinvigorate debates about a whole range of under explored themes in Walden and in the political thought of nineteenth-century America. -- Bryan Garsten, associate professor of political science, Yale University

An excellent starting point for the study of Thoreau as a political thinker. . . . This necessary companion for any serious student or scholar comprises Turner’s informative overview of Thoreau’s reemergence in contemporary political theory; eight reprinted essays published in the last 15 years by such established scholars as Nancy Rosenblum, Bob Pepperman Taylor, Jane Bennett, and Turner himself; eight new essays; a judiciously selected bibliography of commentary since 1950; and a substantive index. Critically and conceptually the collection covers a lot of ground. -- William Rossi, American Literary Scholarship

Critically and conceptually the collection covers a lot of ground, with essays arranged in four broad topics, ranging from debating Thoreau's identity as a democrat; analyzing his reception in post-1060s politics; his contributions to political theory, classical as well as contemporary; and the meteaphysical and ethical dimensions of his politics. -- American Literary Scholarship

Jack Turner has given us a remarkable and exemplary collection of essays in his A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau . . . It is a special merit of the way in which this collection of essays is conceived and organized that it presents itself as an ongoing conversation in which the individual critics discuss, again and again, not only and conventionally the philosophical opinions and political stances advanced by their predecessors, but also the positions taken by their colleagues in the volume itself. -- Amerikastudien

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Henry David Thoreau, Political views, Social views, Politics, Literature


Literature in English, North America

A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau
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