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Representative Men

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Book Overview: 

A series of biographical lectures originally published in 1850. Each chapter is a philosophical treatment of the life of an intellectual. The six representatives are Plato, Swedenborg, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Napoleon and Goethe.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Greek love of boundary, and his skill in definition. In reading logarithms, one is not more secure, than in following Plato in his flights. Nothing can be colder than his head, when the lightnings of his imagination are playing in the sky. He has finished his thinking, before he brings it to the reader; and he abounds in the surprises of a literary master. He has that opulence which furnishes, at every turn, the precise weapon he needs. As the rich man wears no more garments, drives no more horses, sits in no more chambers, than the poor,—but has that one dress, or equipage, or instrument, which is fit for the hour and the need; so Plato, in his plenty, is never restricted, but has the fit word. There is, indeed, no weapon in all the armory of wit which he did not possess and use,—epic, analysis, mania, intuition, music, satire, and irony, down to the customary and polite. His illustrations are poetry and his jests illustrations. Socrates' profession of obstetric art is goo. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Emerson is America’s great Transcendental philosopher of nature. I’m not a nature lover, however. I don’t think more truths are to be had walking through a forest than walking down a city street. I don’t think nature is an unambiguous good, extolling lessons of virtue and justice. Nature, to me,...more

I'm adding this on 12-17-09:
I have been checking this in and out of the library since August, I think will just post as I go. It is just too dense to somehow, summarize with a simple “Thumbs up!” More recently I have been focusing on how Emerson represented and interpreted a certain climate that...more

Emerson was one of the most influential writers of my adolescence. I read his entire collected works, even the journals, and felt a deep communion with him always.

The first essay contained herein is the eight part essay, “Nature.” Emerson writes aphoristically and compellingly, each paragraph contained a line I feel drawn to underline. His writing is not always easy to understand without close reading, since he often uses common terms in idiosyncratic ways...more

Turns out Emerson is remembered for his best work. The collected work is interesting because it reveals more of the mind behind the essays, but the essays themselves feel more like a product of their time than bolts of genuine, timeless insight like his best pieces. He raises interesting question...more

Beautiful prose and an insightful outlook on the human condition.

“Our age is retrospective,” wrote Emerson. Emerson fought for individuals to trust the divine within and stop relying on past individuals to tell us what to do. “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst...They are for nothing but to inspire.” Fascinating read. I think I’m...more

Emerson was - in my mind - beyond brilliant. While I have always heard of him, he was brought to my attention after reading Thoreau's Walden for the first time in 2017. It was then, that I was seriously introduced to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

NOTE #1: I read his famous "Nature" in this book. Then I we...more

In alluding just now to our system of education, I spoke of the deadness of its details. But it is open to graver criticism than the palsy of its members: it is a system of despair. The disease with which the human mind now labors, is want of faith. Men do not believe in a power of education. We...more

I appreciate Emerson's passion, but his rhetoric is overblown and sophistical. He excuses his inconsistency with a pithy phrase that has become his trademark, but his careless thinking isn't so much a hobgoblin as a morass. He has a good heart, so it's hard to give the man a pitiful two-star revi...more

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