|Get your own copy at Indiebound or Betterworldbooks|
and sample Matteson's prose at Amazon.
It's the biography - beautifully written, at that - of Bronson Alcott, poor, basically illiterate farm boy, who rises to such prominence as a philosopher-educator that Emerson and Thoreau become his close friends and he winds up an acquaintance of four U.S. presidents, not to mention practically every notable intellectual of his era. And, oh yes, he fathers four girls (often leaving them to "do his philosophical thing" elsewhere), one of whom is you-know-who. She's the fiery spirit in the family, born on her father's 33rd birthday, and brings her passion to bear on an eventful life of her own, chronicled alongside Bronson's in Eden's Outcasts.
My Take: It's stellar tandem biography of father and daughter (earning the Pulitzer Prize), both of whom lived extraordinary lives alongside virtually all the leading political, intellectual, and literary lights of their day. Take your time with this one, and you'll find yourself pondering how much America - and especially the opportunities for economically challenged individuals to rise through their own hard work - has changed in the past two centuries. Depressing in some ways, as the Alcott's could rise as thinkers with international influence simply by casually crossing the paths of famous intellects and political leaders in the course of their daily lives. Us, now? Not so much. The poor cannot get physically close to the powerful and the elite, much less prevail upon them for an hour or two of conversation on the spur of the moment. However, the Alcotts' idealism and endurance is still inspiring, so much so that I'm ready to try Little Women again!
Who would value reading this book? Well, fans of Louisa May, of course, and anyone who's interested in the Transcendentalists, the Civil War, the entire 19th century in the United States, or major American authors. Educators will find this biography particularly interesting, as it reminds us how much times have changed, both for better and for worse.
My Action: Provoked by Bronson Alcott's ever-evolving educational (and other) philosophies, I sat down to hammer out my own current philosophy of education. I'm finding the endeavor quite heartening in the abstract; I hope it pans out better in the concrete application next month than Bronson's did back in the day.
Thanks, Mom, for loaning me this one and encouraging me to continue when I was trying to speed through it. Slowing down made all the difference.
FYI: I became a tad obsessed with this book, and featured poems related to it in all these Poem In Your Post entries: "Thoreau's Flute" by Louisa May Alcott, "Be Kind" by Michael Blumenthal, and Thoreau Couplet worthy of learning by heart.