This is a little book, published posthumously, written by one of the best literary biographers of our time. Robert Richardson, who died in 2020 at 86, authored essential biographies of the three great American writers discussed in these pages. This book offers three essays on a theme common to each of them: death of loved ones and responses of recovery and returning to hope in life.

When Richardson left the manuscript at his death, he’d titled it “Resilience.” His friend Megan Marshall, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Margaret Fuller and who edited this volume, refers to it in her foreword as “the most extraordinary book on the 'work' of mourning.” We agree.

“In dark times, from the personal to the global, one way I have found to fight back against what is going wrong is to re-examine the lives and works of figures from the past,” writes Richardson, before offering a short, powerful glimpse into the bravery and hopefulness of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and William James.

For a sample of what Richardson teaches from Thoreau’s loss, pain, resilience, and return to hope, see the excerpt accompanying this review. This may also be your first encounter of the word/idea of becoming “disindividualized.”

(A fun fact about the author: He first met the writer Annie Dillard — one of our favorite authors and teachers over the years — when she wrote him a letter of appreciation after reading his biography of Thoreau. This led to them dating and then marriage in 1988. They were married for 32 years.) .