The Concord Quartet

Written by Samuel A. Schreiner
Review by Colleen Quinn

In the 1830s Concord, Massachusetts, was only a small farming town, but it managed to attract the most extraordinary minds of the age, a quartet of men destined to change American philosophy and letters: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Schreiner traces how these men and their families came to Concord, how they lived, worked, thought, thrived, squabbled, admired one another, and died. The book is most effective in illustrating the affinity they felt for each other, how dearly they treasured the passionate intelligence they all shared, and how knowing each other vaulted them beyond what they would have achieved in isolation.

Emerson founded the Transcendentalist movement, a spiritual self-reliance perfectly suited to minds that can’t stop asking questions. He supported himself by his writing and speaking engagements, building up a following whose members spanned the globe. Alcott (father of writer Louisa May) was the best talker any of them ever knew, perpetually short of funds despite his genius as an educator. Thoreau’s little house on Walden Pond was just a few miles down the road, and they knew him while he froze through the winter and when his book about his experiences made him famous. Hawthorne spent his happiest days in Concord, newly married to the love of his life.

The details truly bring these men to life. They are further illustrated by journal entries and letters, describing an atmosphere of much love, hard work, and an ingrained responsibility to think and act to the utmost of their remarkable powers.