Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls review – radical, unsettling, relevant

A superb new biography of the seer of Walden Pond reconsiders his reputation as tax-refuser, recluse, environmentalist and writer

In March 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe and set off for Walden Pond, near his home in Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to build a hut, and he knew exactly where: on a spot near the water, backed by a pine grove and fronted by smaller pines and a chestnut tree. Before stopping for his first lunch break, Thoreau had cut and trimmed enough of these pines to make the house’s main timbers.

Then he paid $4.28 to buy a shanty from a railroad worker who was moving on – the line had just been built past Walden Pond. Thoreau dismantled it and dried its planks in the sun to become the hut’s roof and sides. He laid a chimney foundation using cobblestones from the pond. When he ...