Or, to say it differently, this is the story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern but cast into a “making of” documentary to be included with the DVD or the iTunes Extras. The main players are trotted out for a review of their best scenes—we get Emerson, we get Thoreau—but the focus rests squarely on how the work of behind-the-scenes players makes them stand out the way they do.
The research is sweeping, the writing clear (if dense!), and the narrative ties together various strands of knowledge into a whole that is genuinely illuminating. The early chapters on German Higher Criticism are an especially fascinating example of this.
The book genuinely changed how I think about this period.