Unlike many of the rather stuffy and sententious figures in early American history and literature, Thoreau is popular with young readers. There are several reasons for this popularity, one of which was his unconventional approach to the problem of making a living. The flexibility that modern society requires is the same quality that Thoreau always exemplified in his own career as a teacher, manufacturer, surveyor, scholar, philosopher, poet, and natural scientist. Young people who are faced with parental and social pressures to fit into careers that may not be compatible with their tastes and temperaments will welcome Thoreau’s advice and example. Another reason for Thoreau’s popularity with the young is his famous doctrine of passive resistance to evil. The use of nonviolence by such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Civil Rights movement and by Mahatma Gandhi in India demonstrated its effectiveness. A third, and probably the most important, reason for Thoreau’s popularity with the young is his love of nature. Thoreau admired Native Americans, who were displaced by European immigrants. Europeans wanted to exploit the new land by forcing it to give up its natural treasures; the native inhabitants believed that humanity should revere nature and seek to live in harmony with its laws.
Concord Rebel is attractive to young adults because Derleth wrote it like an ad-venture story. The story begins with Thoreau as a young man with a...
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Since its publication in 1962, Derleth’s Concord Rebel has appeared on numerous lists of assigned or recommended reading in high-school American literature and American history courses. Derleth was a highly successful and respected poet, historian, biographer, editor, publisher, teacher, and author of mysteries, supernatural tales, and numerous works of fiction and nonfiction written especially for young people. He was richly qualified to carry out his design of interweaving a discussion of Thoreau’s life with an explication of his philosophy and combining both with an overview of the American scene during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Derleth, who died in 1971, was thoroughly steeped in the period that he wrote about in Concord Rebel, his one hundredth published book. Concord Rebel remains the best short biography of Thoreau available, and it can be regarded as biography, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, geography, travel, nature study, and literature. In addition to introducing the young reader to one of the great figures in world literature, the book also provides intriguing sketches of other distinguished Americans with whom Thoreau came into contact, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Thoreau was described by nearly everyone who knew him as cold and aloof. Derleth has performed the challenging task of making Thoreau understandable and sympathetic to young readers, who live in a world that Thoreau and his contemporaries never could have imagined.