Emerson was a transcendentalist, writer, essayist, and poet. His philosophy lives on to this day. Here are the best books by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Born more than 200 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the most influential American poets and essayists. Emerson made a lasting contribution to American literature and was ahead of his time with his views as an abolitionist and transcendentalist. His influence went far beyond America through his writings and correspondence with Europe-based authors.
Here you’ll find a list of Emerson’s essays alongside the best books by Ralph Waldo Emerson and about him by authors such as Robert D. Richardson.
Biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in the nineteenth century in Boston, Massachusetts, to mother, Ruth Haskins and father William Emerson. Emerson’s father was a unitarian minister. The family had limited means, and when Ralph was eight years old, his father passed away. One year later, Emerson began writing poetry. At that time, his aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, joined the family household to support his mother. Emersonian experts believe that her Calvinist outlook laid the foundation for Emerson’s ideas on individualism.
In 1921, at the tender age of 14, Emerson started his studies at Harvard University. After graduating, he decided to devote his life to God and joined the Harvard Divinity School. But illness forced him to interrupt his studies. While recuperating, he wrote sermons and poems. He went on to preach throughout New England and met his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, on a visit to Concord. They married in 1829, the same year he joined the Second Church of Boston as a Unitarian minister.
Ellen died two years later, and Emerson became increasingly at odds with church teachings. He resigned from his ministry in 1832. A year later, Emerson traveled to Europe and struck up a friendship with romanticist writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, and William Wordsworth. On his return to America, he met his second wife, Lydia Jackson. After getting married, they settled in Concord.
The following year, Emerson lectured and wrote while developing his spiritual ideas. The American author published Nature expressing his views on transcendentalism, whereby God is omnipresent. In 1838, he delivered his infamous Harvard Divinity School address, questioning Jesus’ divinity while propagating individualism. Despite the dismay of Harvard scholars, Emerson pressed ahead with his passion for transcendentalism, founding The Dial magazine with Margaret Fuller. The first issue was published in 1840, with subsequent editions providing a platform for famous writers, including Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. During that time, Emerson published his first series of essays including Self-Reliance and The Over-Soul.
The Dial proved financially unviable despite its popularity. The essayist continued writing, publishing his second essay series in 1844. But the unity within the transcendentalist movement no longer existed. Emerson traveled to Europe again. On his return, he released Representative Men, a depiction of six significant figures; Goethe, the Writer, Napoleon, the Man of the World, Plato the Philosopher, Shakespeare the Poet, Montaigne the Skeptic, and Swedenborg, the Mystic. The book explores the makings of a great man.
During the 1860s, Emerson became a vocal abolitionist. Unfortunately, he suffered from various health issues but continued writing with the support of his friends. Ralph Waldon Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882.
Best Ralph Waldo Emerson book
Below, you’ll find some of the best Ralph Waldo Emerson books by him and about him.
English Traits (1856)
In this book, the essayist delivers his thoughts on life, race, and society in Europe.
The Conduct of Life (1860)
This book provides an insight into Emerson’s thinking on many human issues including, fate, power, wealth, culture, worship, and beauty.
Essays: First Series (1841)
This series includes the following essays:
- The Law of Compensation
- Spiritual Laws
- The Over-Soul
- Emerson Circles
Essays: Second Series (1844)
This collection was published three years later and features the following titles:
- The Poet
- Manners are the Happy Ways of Doing Things
- Nominalist and Realist
- New England Reformers
The following titles provide the most interesting analyses of a prolific and influential writer.
Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson
Published by the University of California Press, The Mind on Fire breaks the mold by going beyond the facts and figures and depicting Emerson as a husband, friend, neighbor, activist, and brother.
Individuality and Beryond: Nietzsche Reads Emerson (2019) Benedetta Zavatta
The author painstakingly outlines the depth of influence Emerson had on Nietzsche’s philosophy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1884)
Holmes’ Emerson biography is the reference guide for all other Emerson biographers.
Listen to the best Ralph Waldo Emerson audiobooks on Speechify
You can also delve into the best of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Speechify. The expansive audiobook library features multiple Emerson titles, including a selection of choice Emersonian essays. Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is also worth checking out. So too, the enthralling book by Amy Belding Brown, Emerson’s wife Lydia Jackson. Mr. Emerson’s Wife delivers an intimate insight into the American scholar from an opposing perspective. To venture deeper into American literature and poetry, check out Karen Karbiener’s Walt Whitman and the Birth of Modern American Poetry.
Speechify also provides text to speech tools to help you get through reports, emails, and documents. You can access it on any device in 14 languages.
What is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s most famous writing?
Self-Reliance is the American essayist’s most famous piece of writing in which he delivers his fundamental Emersonian message: Everybody must escape conformity and follow their instincts and ideas.
What were Ralph Waldo Emerson’s beliefs?
As an advocate of transcendentalism, Emerson believed that God is in everything and everybody, like a breath or a spirit. The 19th-century writer was ahead of his time with his beliefs.
What did Emerson believe about how people should live their lives?
Ralph Waldo Emerson urged people to find their individuality and assert it entirely and without hesitation: “Insist on yourself; never imitate.” He often warned against foolish consistency, meaning people waste time fitting into society. A New York Times article attributes contemporary self-actualization trends to the American poet.
What was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view on nature?
To the American essayist, nature is the body of God’s soul. Nature as a collective is a universal being, and you enter paradise by finding what role you play in it.
What did Ralph Waldo Emerson think of society?
In some ways, Emerson viewed society as a threat to self-realization. Although he conceded that living outside society is impractical, he believed people should spend much time in solitude.
What did Ralph Waldo Emerson do for a living?
The American scholar made a living by traveling the country as a lecturer. From the 1850s onward, he gave as many as 80 lectures per year.