Yale Library Book Talk: Thoreau’s Axe by Caleb Smith


Wednesday, December 6, 2023 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Sterling Memorial Library, Lecture Hall
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Caleb Smith will speak about his new book Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture.

In Thoreau’s Axe, Smith explores the strange, beautiful archives of the 19th-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 and of American Studies 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.