« Back to Events

“Thoreau’s Axe” with Yale Professor Caleb Smith

January 26, 2023 7:00 pm
End Date:
January 26, 2023 8:00 pm
Save event:
iCal Import

Yale Professor Caleb Smith will discuss his new book, Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture.

“With a colloquial tone, Smith makes a solid case that the contemporary take on distraction. . . is an old one that came about in the 19th century. . . . The result is a rousing academic study on the meanings of mindfulness.”Publishers Weekly

Today, we’re driven to distraction, our attention overwhelmed by the many demands upon it—most of which emanate from our beeping and blinking digital devices. This may seem like a decidedly twenty-first-century problem, but, as Caleb Smith shows in this elegantly written, meditative work, distraction was also a serious concern in American culture two centuries ago. In Thoreau’s Axe, Smith explores the strange, beautiful archives of the nineteenth-century attention revival—from a Protestant minister’s warning against frivolous thoughts to Thoreau’s reflections on wakefulness at Walden Pond. Smith examines how Americans came to embrace attention, mindfulness, and other ways of being “spiritual but not religious,” and how older Christian ideas about temptation and spiritual devotion endure in our modern ideas about distraction and attention.

Caleb Smith is professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of The Prison and the American Imagination and The Oracle and the Curse and the editor of The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, n+1, and other publications.

Copies of Thoreau’s Axe will be available for sale and signing.

Please register below.