Upcoming Event

James Marcus at Harvard Book Store


Glad to the Brink of Fear:
A Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson

in conversation with RICK MOODY


March 22, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes JAMES MARCUS—author of Amazonia—for a discussion of his new book Glad to the Brink of Fear: A Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He will be joined in conversation by RICK MOODY—bestselling author of The Ice Storm and The Long Accomplishment.

About Glad to the Brink of Fear

More than two centuries after his birth, Ralph Waldo Emerson remains one of the presiding spirits in American culture. Yet his reputation as the starry-eyed prophet of self-reliance has obscured a much more complicated figure who spent a lifetime wrestling with injustice, philosophy, art, desire, and suffering. James Marcus introduces readers to this Emerson, a writer of self-interrogating genius whose visionary flights are always grounded in Yankee shrewdness.

This Emerson is a rebel. He is also a lover, a friend, a husband, and a father. Having declared his great topic to be “the infinitude of the private man,” he is nonetheless an intensely social being who develops Transcendentalism in the company of Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and Theodore Parker. And although he resists political activism early on—hoping instead for a revolution in consciousness—the burning issue of slavery ultimately transforms him from cloistered metaphysician to fiery abolitionist.

Drawing on telling episodes from Emerson’s life alongside landmark essays like “Self-Reliance,” “Experience,” and “Circles,” Glad to the Brink of Fear reveals how Emerson shares our preoccupations with fate and freedom, race and inequality, love and grief. It shows, too, how his desire to see the world afresh, rather than accepting the consensus view, is a lesson that never grows old.

Praise for Glad to the Brink of Fear

“Of all of Emerson’s biographers, James Marcus is the first to make the man and his thought come alive in the present. His Emerson is a marvel—a skeptic and an apostle, a creature of flawed feelings and noble ideals, a lover, a mourner, a wit, and a visionary. How lucky we are to encounter him through Marcus’s wonderfully exact and affable prose.” —Merve Emre, Wesleyan University, contributing writer at The New Yorker

“Modern readers of Emerson are sometimes plagued by the question of relevance. Why wrestle with a frock-coated philosopher who stumbled through the world two centuries ago, when today the polar caps are melting and mining magnates are looking at the Moon? With Glad to the Brink of Fear, the issue of timing is finally moot. In these brisk, beautiful chapters, James Marcus explores the Transcendentalist life that was Emerson’s—and offers a rich and textured way to contemplate meaning in the life that is yours.” —Robert Sullivan, author of The Thoreau You Don’t Know

Glad to the Brink of Fear is a stirring, elegant, and probing journey through the life and mind of one of our nation’s most influential thinkers. Emerson comes alive in these pages, with all his moods, idiosyncrasies, and brilliance. The reader will come to know Emerson, but just as profoundly, Marcus teaches us how to read Emerson, a philosopher whose explorations of self, nation, knowledge, and belief remain relevant today.” —Imani Perry, author of South to America: A Journey below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

James Marcus
James Marcus

James Marcus

James Marcus is an editor, translator, and critic who has written and lectured widely on Emerson. His essays and criticism have appeared in leading publications such as The New Yorker, the Times Literary Supplement, and Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.com Juggernaut.

Photo Credit: Nina Mehta

Rick Moody
Rick Moody

Rick Moody

Rick Moody is the author of six novels (including The Ice Storm), three collections of stories, and three works of non-fiction, including, most recently, a memoir, The Long Accomplishment. He writes frequently about music and teaches at Tufts University.

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