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Thoreau’s Axe: A Conversation with Author Caleb Smith

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“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden (1854), offering a warning about technology and distraction that resonates in our own time. In conversation with Daegan Miller, Caleb Smith will discuss his new book Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture, exploring how nineteenth-century Americans understood the problem of distraction, as well as the ways they tried to rehabilitate their powers of attention.

Caleb Smith is a professor of English and American studies at Yale University. His books includeThe Prison and the American ImaginationThe Oracle and the Curse, and an edition of Austin Reed’s 1858 prison memoir, The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict. His latest is Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture. More informaton can be found on Caleb’s website.

Daegan Miller is a critic and essayist. He writes about landscape, about how we make a place for ourselves in the world, and about how we make sense of that place-making. He is the author of This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, which Robert Macfarlane chose as a Best Book of the Year for The Guardian. His essays and reviews have appeared in EmergenceSlateLiterary HubGuernicaThe North American Review, and many other places. He lives in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts with his family.

Caleb Smith photo credit: Sasha Rudensky.

We are delighted to also offer virtual access to this author event. To join us live online, please click the button below and register. 

Sponsored by the Write Connection.

The Thoreau Society received a Mass Humanities Staffing Recovery Grant (2023-25) in support of our Membership and Program Coordinator. Funding from Mass Humanities has been provided through the Massachusetts Cultural Council.


Sep 07 2023


7:00 pm - 8:00 pm


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