Emerson once wrote that the times we are born in are the best of times, if only we know what to do with them. His life spanned the crucial years of the nation's youth-the first tests of its shop-new Constitution; the explosive expansion into the untamed West; the great conflagration of the Civil War and the destruction of slavery; and the pains of rebirth and reconciliation that carried the United States to the eve of emerging as a world power. In the midst of this swirl of upheaval and change, Emerson turned his attention inward to the citizen, the individual, who must find his or her own inmost truth and bring that one fact of being to perfect expression in the world-must learn to believe the faintest presentiment of the self against the testimony of all history. As a lecturer and essayist, Emerson was a catalyst who sought through his daily work to wake the long-slumbering soul of the farmer, mechanic, businessman, politician-to show the common person that the divine and extraordinary are present in every hour of the day. His efforts triggered a cultural tidal wave, inspiring a generation of authors, poets, teachers, and social activists who built the very foundations of culture in America. This biography takes a fresh look at Emerson through his Journals to trace the story of his own self-development, and the hidden life's work that makes him as relevant to our time as to his own.