Robert D Richardson

Robert D Richardson

Robert Richardson was born in Milwaukee in 1934, brought up first in Medford then in Concord Mass., went to school at Harvard, then pursued a teaching career mainly at the University of Denver. He has been married twice, first to Elizabeth Hall, then to Annie Dillard. He has two daughters by his first marriage and three step-daughters by his second. He has taught at many schools, including Harvard, Yale, The University of Colorado, The Graduate Center and Queens College of CUNY, Sichuan University in China, Wesleyan, and UNC Chapel Hill.

After writing books on Literature and FilmThe Rise of Modern Mythology (with Burton Feldman) and Myth and Literature in the American Renaissance, he turned in his mid-forties to intellectual biography, spending ten years each on Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, (Univ of California press, 1986) Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Univ of California Press, 1995), and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Houghton Mifflin Nov 2006). He currently divides his time between Key West, Cripple Creek, VA, and South Wellfleet on Cape Cod. He is working on a group biography set in eleventh century Persia and 19th century England centered on the poets of the Rubaiyyat, Omar Khayyam and Edward FitzGerald.

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“This slim, small book packs a sweet wallop, both emotionally and intellectually..(a) little gem.”
Eloise Kinney writing in ALA Booklist.

Photo by Phyllis Rose

Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

1986. An intellectual biography in narrative form of the life of Thoreau. Designed and illustrated by Barry Moser. Winner of the Melcher Prize, the Forest History Society Prize and the Colorado Seminars Prize, this book, along with the same author’s Emerson: the Mind on Fire and his William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, has been called by John Banville “one of the glories of contemporary American literature.

Emerson: The Mind on Fire

1995. An intellectual biography, written for the general reader as well as the academic reader. Edward Hirsch, reviewing it for the New Yorker (July 10, 1995) said it was “the first biography that locates the source of Emerson’s volcanic power in his emotional depth and searing intellectual intensity.” The book won the Parkman Prize from the Society of American historians, and the Melcher prize. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. David Robinson predicted the book “will quickly come to be regarded as the definitive biography of Emerson.” Mary Oliver wrote, “to read this book is to be touched on the shoulder by a thousand years of poetry and thought.”

William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism

2006. Third in the author’s trilogy of American thinkers and writers, this book won the Bancroft Prize, and the Boston Authors Club Award. It was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Publisher’s Weekly. Brenda Wineapple called it “a stunning book, eloquent, learned, ebullient, and fully commensurate with its impassioned subject…every unerring, brilliant page is a gift. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Michael Dirda called it “a magnificent biography, written with ease and panache…and suffused with a well-judged admiration for its subject.” Robert Stone wrote, “in Robert Richardson, James has a kindred spirit. This biography does more than define  a world-historical figure. It exhibits the same strengths, exercised lightly in gracious prose, for which his subject is revered.”