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 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.
ively and informal, it will prompt fruitful conversations about the role of work in our lives. Scholars of Thoreau, however, may find that it doesn’t go far enough into Thoreau’s own rigorous thinking on the subject ... Kaag and van Belle are not ivory-tower philosophers. They believe that philosophy can be applied in practice to make our lives better. Yet their language suggests that they don’t take Thoreau as seriously as they do their previous subjects Friedrich Nietzsche and William James ... Still needed is something built to last: a wide-ranging scholarly study of Thoreau’s philosophy of work and mastery of the business of living.
An impassioned and often successful defense of Thoreau as a diligent worker ... The book is at its best when it guides readers through Thoreau’s place in a longer philosophical history of work ... In their quest to acquit Thoreau of indolence and assert his continued relevance, however, the authors cede too much to the profit-driven ethic that they say they want to interrogate ... The greatest flaw of Henry at Work: It tends to regard the problem of work as one of attitude rather than one of material conditions.
John Kaag and Jonathan van Belle offer a Thoreau for our own fraught moment, rooted in what they convincingly describe as the central place of work in Thoreau’s philosophy and life ... The easy inference from Thoreau’s example is a moral that’s hardly unique to him: do what you love. Kaag and van Belle’s book is least original and interesting when it harnesses Thoreau in service of this message—not because it’s untrue or un-Thoreauvian, but because it too easily lapses into self-help clichés.