John Kaag at Harvard Book Store
Henry at Work:
Thoreau on Making a Living
in conversation with CHRISTOPHER LYDON
June 13, 2023
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 JOHN KAAG—Donohue Professor of Ethics and the Arts at UMass Lowell—for a discussion of his new book Henry at Work: Thoreau on Making a Living. He will be joined in conversation by CHRISTOPHER LYDON—host of the Open Source podcast.
Update on Event Masking Policies
Masks are not required for this event. As of June 1, 2023, masks are encouraged but not required for most Harvard Book Store events, unless otherwise specified. Please review individual listings.
About Henry at Work
Henry at Work invites readers to rethink how we work today by exploring an aspect of Henry David Thoreau that has often been overlooked: Thoreau the worker. John Kaag and Jonathan van Belle overturn the popular misconception of Thoreau as a navel-gazing recluse who was scornful of work and other mundanities. In fact, Thoreau worked hard―surveying land, running his family’s pencil-making business, writing, lecturing, and building his cabin at Walden Pond―and thought intensely about work in its many dimensions. And his ideas about work have much to teach us in an age of remote work and automation, when many people are reconsidering what kind of working lives they want to have.
Through Thoreau, readers will discover a philosophy of work in the office, factory, lumber mill, and grocery store, and reflect on the rhythms of the workday, the joys and risks of resigning oneself to work, the dubious promises of labor-saving technology, and that most vital and eternal of philosophical questions, “How much do I get paid?” In ten chapters, including “Manual Work,” “Machine Work,” and “Meaningless Work,” this personal, urgent, practical, and compassionate book introduces readers to their new favorite coworker: Henry David Thoreau.
Praise for Henry at Work
“Teacher, surveyor, laborer, pencilmaker, lecturer, writer―why is Henry Thoreau called a layabout when he worked so hard at so many jobs? Because, as the coworkers Kaag and van Belle show us, Thoreau always sought to work deliberately―and so can we. Part conversation, part meditation, this urgent book probes the roots of our post-Covid discontent and suggests how we can reorient our lives to the quest for meaningful work. What’s your work? Whatever it is, set it aside for a spell and join the conversation: as Thoreau would say, it’s never too late to make good on the business of living.” ―Laura Dassow Walls, author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life
“This is a necessary book. It recovers the true Thoreau, who, far from the loafer of many accounts, was the most practical of all our philosophers. He worked hard, and he also thought about why he was working, an American Buddha with a hammer and a hoe. This book should correct our history and reintroduce many to one of its greatest figures.” ―Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
“Henry at Work is a tract for our times. At this moment of social questioning, no writer is better suited to provide inspiration and guidance than Henry David Thoreau. He modeled the message he preached, and his labors can inform and inspire our rethinking of work today. John Kaag and Jonathan van Belle present a concise and engaging account of what Thoreau has to teach us about the possibilities and pitfalls of labor in the changing circumstances of the twenty-first century.” ―Robert A. Gross, author of The Transcendentalists and Their World
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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