James Marcus presents Glad to the Brink of Fear: A Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in conversation with Vivian Gornick

March 4th
McNally Jackson Seaport
4 Fulton St. 
RSVP Required — see below

An engaging reassessment of the celebrated essayist and his relevance to contemporary readers.

“Of all of Emerson’s biographers, James Marcus is the first to make the man and his thought come alive in the present. His Emerson is a marvel—a skeptic and an apostle, a creature of flawed feelings and noble ideals, a lover, a mourner, a wit, and a visionary. How lucky we are to encounter him through Marcus’s wonderfully exact and affable prose.” —Merve Emre, Wesleyan University, contributing writer at the New Yorker

More than two centuries after his birth, Ralph Waldo Emerson remains one of the presiding spirits in American culture. Yet his reputation as the starry-eyed prophet of self-reliance has obscured a much more complicated figure who spent a lifetime wrestling with injustice, philosophy, art, desire, and suffering. James Marcus introduces readers to this Emerson, a writer of self-interrogating genius whose visionary flights are always grounded in Yankee shrewdness.

This Emerson is a rebel. He is also a lover, a friend, a husband, and a father. Having declared his great topic to be "the infinitude of the private man," he is nonetheless an intensely social being who develops Transcendentalism in the company of Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and Theodore Parker. And although he resists political activism early on--hoping instead for a revolution in consciousness--the burning issue of slavery ultimately transforms him from cloistered metaphysician to fiery abolitionist.

Drawing on telling episodes from Emerson's life alongside landmark essays like "Self-Reliance," "Experience," and "Circles," Glad to the Brink of Fear reveals how Emerson shares our preoccupations with fate and freedom, race and inequality, love and grief. It shows, too, how his desire to see the world afresh, rather than accepting the consensus view, is a lesson that never grows old.

“Glad to the Brink of Fear is a stirring, elegant, and probing journey through the life and mind of one of our nation’s most influential thinkers. Emerson comes alive in these pages, with all his moods, idiosyncrasies, and brilliance. The reader will come to know Emerson, but just as profoundly, Marcus teaches us how to read Emerson, a philosopher whose explorations of self, nation, knowledge, and belief remain relevant today.” —Imani Perry, author of South to America: A Journey below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation

"[A] psychologically astute portrait. . . . Marcus’ deeply personal interpretation illuminates an iconic prophet who discovered that seeking the meaning of life turns out to be the meaning of life." Booklist

James Marcus is an editor, translator, and critic who has written and lectured widely on Emerson. His essays and criticism have appeared in leading publications such as the New Yorker, the Times Literary Supplement, and Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.com Juggernaut.



Vivian Gornick's books include the memoir, Fierce Attachments, as well as Approaching Eye Level, The End of The Novel of Love, and The Situation and The Story. Her most recent books are The Odd Woman and the City and Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader. She lives in New York City.




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