Thoreau: An Editor's Nightmare

Philosopher, poet, and pond-dweller Henry David Thoreau occupies an esteemed place in America’s imagination and reading lists. But earlier this week, The New Yorker’s Kathryn Schulz wrote a scathing takedown of the writer, calling him “self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control,” sparking debate across the Internet. So far, my favorite characterization of Thoreau is “a genuine American weirdo,” written by Jedediah Purdy in a rebuttal to Schultz. One reader wrote in response: “I like some Thoreau. Lots of authors are dicks, just like artists of many types. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy their work.” Another reader:

I love Thoreau. What is piggish about living simply and deliberately, not taking more than you need, respecting individual rights, being anti-slavery and practicing Civil Disobedience? I think a lot of it comes down to extroverts being generally put off by anyone who dares to be an introvert.

Email your thoughts here. The Atlantic has a unique stake in this debate, since Thoreau was one of the earliest contributors to the magazine, publishing a number of essays here in the last years of his life. And if that experience is anything to go by, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be his editor.