Featured Book: “Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement”

Transcendentalism is a 17-letter word which describes a liberating philosophy that upholds three main values: individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature. One source declares, “It’s all about spirituality…[which] cannot be achieved through reason and rationalism, but instead through self-reflection and intuition.” It flowered in New England in the first half of the 19th century, and was, if not for long, “a profoundly influential movement that would reshape many beliefs,” to hear Ashton Nichols tell of it.

An English professor at Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College, he “explains the movement with practised ease,” as attests one viewer of his Great Courses DVD that assays transcendentalism. “[A]mazingly,” writes another, the “central ideas continue to inspire and challenge us today.” “I never guessed how much the transcendentalists helped make our modern world,” a third declares.

Such writers and philosophers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, they especially, were its prophets and popularizers. And, as the course overview attests, “Prof. Nichols introduces us to these two remarkable thinkers, and a diverse group of intellectual activists, literary figures, and social reformers, whose ideas…would remake American society.” These “extraordinary members of this informal movement provided intellectual and moral leadership for many social transformations.”

“Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement” [DVD]
Ashton Nichols, instructor
The Great Courses, 2006