Learning from Thoreau: Author John Kaag in Conversation with Ben Shattuck

Thursday, September 28, 2023 - 7:30pm to 8:30pm



Join us a special virtual author event in partnership with the Barnstable Land Trust, as we welcome authors John Kaag and Ben Shattuck to speak about their books about Henry David Thoreau on Thursday September 28th at 7:30pm. John Kaag will speak about his most recent book Henry at Work: Thoreau on Making a Living (on sale June 13th 2023). Kaag will be in conversation with author Ben Shattuck, author of Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau. In partnership with Barnstable Land Trust, this is a pre-event for the Thoreau Readathon. More info on their website.

This is a free event. Registration is required to receive the link for the Zoom talk.


This first-of-its-kind, two-day live reading of Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod celebrates a remarkable work that depicts the natural beauty of Cape Cod and the environment that surrounds it. Inspired by national Moby Dick and Ulysses event models, over 90 in-person readers will represent voices from the community, nature lovers, local leaders, and Thoreau fans, and is being produced by Barnstable Land Trust in honor of its 40th Anniversary. A robust schedule of pre-events is being developed with local library partners, the Town of Concord, the Walden Woods Project, Thoreau’s Farm, the Thoreau Society, and others in a unique collaboration “Celebrating Thoreau from Concord to Cape Cod.” More info on their website

ABOUT THE BOOK Henry at Work: Thoreau on Making a Living

What Thoreau can teach us about working--why we do it, what it does to us, and how we can make it more meaningful

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.


John Kaag is the Donohue Professor of Ethics and the Arts at UMass Lowell and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His books include Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are and Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life (Princeton). Jonathan van Belle is an independent scholar and former philosophy editor at Outlier.org. He is also coeditor with Kaag of the anthology Be Not Afraid of Life: In the Words of William James (Princeton).

ABOUT THE BOOK Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau

New Yorker Best Book of 2022, A New England Indie Bestselller, A New York Times Best Book of Summer, a Wall Street Journal and Town & Country Best Book of Spring
“A gorgeous reminder that walking is the most radical form of locomotion nowadays.” —Nick Offerman

On an autumn morning in 1849, Henry David Thoreau stepped out his front door to walk the beaches of Cape Cod. Over a century and a half later, Ben Shattuck does the same. With little more than a loaf of bread, brick of cheese, and a notebook, Shattuck sets out to retrace Thoreau’s path through the Cape’s outer beaches, from the elbow to Provincetown’s fingertip.

This is the first of six journeys taken by Shattuck, each one inspired by a walk once taken by Henry David Thoreau. After the Cape, Shattuck goes up Mount Katahdin and Mount Wachusett, down the coastline of his hometown, and then through the Allagash. Along the way, Shattuck encounters unexpected characters, landscapes, and stories, seeing for himself the restorative effects that walking can have on a dampened spirit. Over years of following Thoreau, Shattuck finds himself uncovering new insights about family, love, friendship, and fatherhood, and understanding more deeply the lessons walking can offer through life’s changing seasons.

Intimate, entertaining, and beautifully crafted, Six Walks is a resounding tribute to the ways walking in nature can inspire us all.


Ben Shattuck, a former Teaching-Writing Fellow and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a recipient of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize and a 2019 Pushcart Prize. He is the director of the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency and curator of the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. His writing can be found in the Harvard Review, The Common, the Paris Review Daily, Lit Hub, and Kinfolk Magazine. He lives with his wife and daughter on the coast of Massachusetts, where he owns and runs a general store built in 1793.

Event address: 
on Zoom
Henry at Work: Thoreau on Making a Living By John Kaag, Jonathan Van Belle Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691244693
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Princeton University Press - June 13th, 2023

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Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau By Ben Shattuck Cover Image
ISBN: 9781953534040
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tin House Books - April 19th, 2022