Laura Dassow Walls is the author of "Henry David Thoreau: A Life," published by the University of Chicago Press in July 2017, in time to honor Thoreau’s 200th birthday. This book, the first full-length, comprehensive biography of Thoreau in a generation, draws on extensive new research and the full range of Thoreau’s published and unpublished writings to present Thoreau as vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions—fully embedded in his place and time, yet speaking powerfully to the problems and perils of today.
Walls works in the field of literature and science, with a special concentration on Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and on American Transcendentalism more generally. Her quest to understand 19th-century American literature in its broad political, historical and philosophical contexts has led to a continuing interest in British and German writers, philosophers, and scientists as well, particularly the German natural scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Her book The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (Chicago 2009) traces the Humboldt network from Germany to the Americas in science, politics, literature, and the arts; it earned the Merle Curti Award for intellectual history by the Organization of American Historians, the James Russell Lowell Prize for literary studies by the Modern Language Association, and the Kendrick Prize for literature and science by SLSA, the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. Her earlier books include Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science (Wisconsin 1995), Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth (Cornell 2003), and a volume coedited with Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (2010). She looks forward to exploring American Transcendentalism more broadly as an intellectual, social, and environmental reform movement, and she is planning a new work, Earthrise, on how the 19th-century concept of Earth as a living, self-making planet sent out shock waves that still, in this era of global warming, have not subsided. Her work has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the ACLS, the Center for Humans and Nature, and the William P. and Hazel B. White Foundation.