Book Reveals Thoreau’s Enduring Relevance for Today's Environmental and Democratic Crises

Author: Kathryn Pitts

Lessons from WaldenLessons from Walden

Bob Pepperman Taylor, the Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor of Law, Politics, and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont, has published an important new book titled Lessons from Walden: Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy. In this original and passionate work, Taylor presents a wide-ranging inquiry into the nature and implications of Henry David Thoreau’s thought in Walden and Civil Disobedience. As Taylor says in his introduction, "Walden is a central American text for addressing two of the central crises of our time: the increasingly alarming threats we now face to democratic norms, practices, and political institutions, and the perhaps even more alarming environmental dangers confronting us." Taylor pursues this inquiry in three chapters, each focusing on a single theme: chapter 1 examines simplicity and the ethics of "voluntary poverty," chapter 2 looks at civil disobedience and the role of "conscience" in democratic politics, and chapter 3 concentrates on what "nature" means to us today and whether we can truly "learn from nature"—and if so, what does it teach? Taylor considers Thoreau’s philosophy, and the philosophical problems he raises, from the perspective of a wide range of thinkers and commentators drawn from history, philosophy, the social sciences, and popular media, breathing new life into Walden and asking how it is alive for us today.


“A reading of Thoreau for the age of Trump—and really for any moment when our courage as individuals and as a polity seems to be flagging. This is a book that will make you think, and perhaps even act!” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Falter

Lessons from Walden delivers exactly what its title promises—an educational guide for an individual life committed to simplicity, moral responsibility, and ethical integrity. Like Thoreau, Taylor's goal is to wake us up.” —Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, author of Thoreau in His Own Time

Lessons from Walden is a welcome tonic in this moment of political and environmental crisis. Bob Pepperman Taylor’s always-trenchant and insightful analysis reveals Thoreau’s enduring relevance for modern democracies. His lessons are both important and timely.” —Kimberly Smith, author of The Conservation Constitution

“Bob Taylor's measured and fair-minded meditation on Walden allows the fullness of Thoreau’s stance to appear to the reader with all his contradictions intact. The result is a true conversation in which Thoreau becomes the springboard to further deliberation.” —Laura Dassow Walls, author of Henry David Thoreau

“Bob Taylor’s Lessons from Walden brings Thoreau’s classic text to bear on the present moment, into Trump’s America, into an age of environmental degradation, into a time of cultural self-absorption, instrumental rationality, and neoliberal indifference to what is local, communal, and particular.” —Shannon Mariotti, author of Thoreau’s Democratic Withdrawal


Bob Pepperman Taylor Book Talk
January 8, 2020, 7:00pm
St. Johnsbury Athanaeum
St Johnsbury, VT

Bob Pepperman Taylor Book Talk
Friday, March 6, 2020, 1:30pm
Osher Lifelong Learning Inst. of UVM
Rutland, VT

View the book video.

Bob Pepperman Taylor is available for interviews.

Lessons from Walden is available in hardback and digital editions on March 30, 2020, from the University of Notre Dame Press. For more information, contact: Kathryn Pitts at or 574.631.3267.