This book explores resilience by tracing the linked stories of how Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and William James dealt with personal tragedy: for Emerson, the death of his young wife and, eleven years later, his five-year-old son; for Thoreau, the death of his brother; and for James, the death of his beloved cousin Minny. All three, Richardson suggests, emerged from their grief with a new way of seeing, one shaped by a belief in, as Emerson would write, "the deep remedial force that underlies all facts."
[An] extraordinarily cogent and exquisitely concise exploration of the life-affecting course of early grief ... It is not a self-help book, but Richardson provides comfort and consolation simply by pointing out that even the most eminent figures in our cultural history were not immune to the stabbing ache of grief ... His portrayal of their journeys from raw vulnerability to the reawakening to life’s possibilities invites us inside their souls, and speaks to our own.
This is a small book with much to consider ... I found myself tearing up like a lunatic in the middle of coffee shops every time I turned a page ... This is a quick read, but it is also a book worth savoring, especially if you’re grappling with grief and loss ... A slight but powerful book.
Concise ... Among biographers, Richardson ruled supreme. His books were like Henry James novels—tightly constructed despite their size, saturated with finely observed detail, intimate in tone yet panoramic in the historical and intellectual contexts they unfolded. His voice was unmistakable—deeply empathetic and humane yet detached enough to guide the reader through the labyrinth of emotions that, under scrutiny, can be shown to make up anyone’s life. These qualities are on display also in Three Roads Back, where Richardson’s unsurpassed grasp of the material allows him to pinpoint, in the space of a paragraph or two, what unites and what separates his characters ... A lovely, uplifting book.