I'm not sure where to start in this review: do I talk about what a great addition it is to Thoreau scholarship? or do I slam the previous review for being so totally wrong?
Let's start with Cramer's book. In many ways this is a "Best of.." Henry Thoreau collection! Thoreau's journals run into many, many volumes and are easily over 2 million words, and few of us have read the entire thing! And, unless you're an Historian like me, you probably don't want to!
But Cramer has done everyone a service by taking the best of Henry's journals and put them into one volume. It spans his entire journal writing life, from his first entry on October 22, 1837 to his last entry on November 3, 1861-he would die less than 6 months later at the age of 44.
Everything you would want from Thoreau is in this book; his social commentary, his humor, his Natural observations, his spiritual views. But more than this, Cramer has annotated the selections in order to explain what exactly Thoreau is talking about, or what was going on in Henry's life at the time that caused him to write or think the way he did. A good example: in March of 1851 Thoreau writes a lengthy passage about slavery and the Fugitive Slave Bill. Cramer amplifies this passage by explaining the historical context behind Thoreau's rant. He then goes on to mention that this passage, and others, later appeared in Thoreau's amazing essay, "Slavery in Massachusetts."
This is the way the whole book reads. You look first at Thoreau's awe-ispiring, beautiful words. Then you read the footnotes to see why Thoreau said what he said, or to find an explanation about whom or what Thoreau is talking about. It puts Thoreau into an historical context and by reading this book you see that, while Thoreau was ahead of his time in some ways, in others he was very much a product of his era.
It's very well done, indeed. As a Thoreau Historian (and the guy who often portrays Thoreau) I have used the book a number of times for research, or to find a cool little quote to give my presentation some extra "ooomph"! I highly recommend it!
As for the other review here: the reviewer clearly doesn't know a lot about Thoreau's life. Thoreau did not go up the Connecticut River: it was the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
"Thoreau helping Bronson Alcott build his house and living in the attic...while tutoring" the Alcott girls??? Thoreau's "mental love affair with with the pre-teen Louisa and the reason he abruptly left the Alcott household"????
Where do these ideas come from? There's a reason why they aren't in Thoreau's journals; they NEVER HAPPENED!!
Henry never lived with the Alcott family. Ever. He briefly tutored Louisa but it was not in any Alcott home. And he never helped Alcott build any house other than a summer shack they worked on together for Emerson in 1847-48.
None of the Alcott houses ever burned. And after Thoreau's death his journals were actually protected by his sister Sophia. She later gave Bronson some of them. Eventually, many years later, they wound up in the NY Public Library, where they still reside today.
"Mental love affair"? the reviewer has been reading too much crap, like "American Bloomsbury" or "Mr. Emerson's Wife". Cramer's book is REAL history, not some fictionalized account of Thoreau's life. Please forget everything you've ever read about Concord if it was written by Susan Cheever or Amy Belding Brown.
As for the "rather strange bilblical references" Cramer used as annotations, there's a reason; Thoreau's writings are filled with Biblical references!!
If you're going to review a history book, please have some historical knowledge about the subject!
In a nutshell: buy Cramer's book! Along with his recent Annotated "Walden" you will have an exquisite collection that will help you understand Thoreau, his writing process and the times he lived in.