Robert D. Richardson

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Robert Dale Richardson III (June 14, 1934 – June 16, 2020) was an American historian and biographer.

Early life[edit]

Richardson was born in Milwaukee, and brought up in Medford, Massachusetts, and Concord, Massachusetts.[1][2] He graduated from Exeter, in 1952,[3] and from Harvard University, with a PhD.[1]


He taught at the University of Denver,[1] Harvard University, Yale University, The University of Colorado, Queens College, City University of New York, Sichuan University, Wesleyan University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Richardson was known for his biographies of Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James.[1] Emerson: The Mind on Fire won the Francis Parkman Prize in 1996, and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism won the Bancroft Prize in 2007.[1]

Personal life and death[edit]

Richardson was first married to Elizabeth Hall; they had two daughters.[1]

He married Annie Dillard in 1988, after she wrote him a fan letter about Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind.[1][4] They had three stepdaughters.

He was program chair for New Voices at the Key West Literary Seminar.[5]

Richardson died in Hyannis, Massachusetts on June 16, 2020, two days after his 86th birthday, from a subdural hematoma suffered in a fall.[1][2]



External video
Booknotes interview with Richardson on Emerson: The Mind on Fire, August 13, 1995, C-SPAN
  • "The Enlightenment View of Myth and Joel Barlow's Vision of Columbus", Robert D. Richardson Jr.; Early American Literature, Vol. 13, 1978
  • Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. University of California Press. 1986. ISBN 978-0-520-05495-0.
  • Emerson: The Mind on Fire. University of California Press. 1996. ISBN 978-0-520-20689-2.
  • Burton Feldman, Robert D. Richardson, eds. (2000). The rise of modern mythology, 1680-1860. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20188-1.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-91989-5.
  • First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. University of Iowa Press. 2009. ISBN 978-1-58729-793-9.
  • Splendor of Heart: Walter Jackson Bate and the Teaching of Literature. David R. Godine, Publisher. 2013. ISBN 978-1-56792-475-6.


In the James book he even pauses, endearingly, at a tricky philosophical intersection, and allows, “This is not easy stuff.” These are intellectual biographies, which means that Richardson attempted to read everything his subjects read—which also means that he works just as hard as these death-haunted, pressed-for-time 19th-century giants who fascinate him. It's a formidable combination. He's a writer who rewards your trust, for the same reasons we learned to trust him on those sailboats far from shore—he knows what he's doing, and because he's restless, curious and fearless, he can take you where you might never travel on your own.[6]

To trace the subtle reciprocities between philosophizing and living is the ambitious task that Robert D. Richardson sets himself in his absorbing, if also frustrating, biography William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. [7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Roberts, Sam (June 24, 2020). "Robert Richardson Jr., Biographer of Literary Giants, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Prize-winning historian Robert D. Richardson dies at age 86". Associated Press. June 21, 2020. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  3. ^ "Robert Richardson '52", The Exeter Bulletin, Eric Gershon, Spring 1999
  4. ^ MARY CANTWELL (April 26, 1992). "A Pilgrim's Progress". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Barbara Chai (February 2, 2008). "Robert D. Richardson on Attracting New Writers to Key West Seminar". The Wall Street Journal.
  6. ^ HAL CROWTHER (Spring 2007). "Long Walks on the Wild Side—Robert D. Richardson, Biographer". Blackbird.
  7. ^ REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN (December 17, 2006). "The Pragmatist". The New York Times.

External links[edit]