Walden and Other Writings

ISBN: 0679600043
ISBN 13: 9780679600046
By: Henry David Thoreau Brooks Atkinson

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About this book

With their call for "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”, for self-honesty, and for harmony with nature, the writings of Henry David Thoreau are perhaps the most influential philosophical works in all American literature.The selections in this volume represent Thoreau at his best. Included in their entirety are Walden, his indisputable masterpiece, and his two great arguments for nonconformity, Civil Disobedience and Life Without Principle. A lifetime of brilliant observation of nature--and of himself--is recorded in selections from A Week On The Concord And Merrimack Rivers, Cape Cod, The Maine Woods and The Journal.

Reader's Thoughts

Gayle J

I didn't care for Thoreau's condescention towards his uneducated neightbors, and I wonder just how solitudinous his time really was since he seemed to have a steady stream of visitors and walked into town almost every day to pick up gossip. I did like the idea of simplicity in life. I just wish Thoreau's style wasn't so dense and self important.

Jon

This is a classic bit of lit from Mr. Thoreau. I'm only about halfway through Walden, but you get the picture of a stubborn, bitter, sarcastic but brilliant writer who saw through all the technology and modernism of his day. At times, Thoreau waxes quite spiritual, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita and other Eastern texts. If you can muddle through his tangents on Philosophy, excesses of modern man, condemnation of the lack of education, etc. and imagine yourself sharing his airy home on Walden Pond, you will thoroughly enjoy this book!-JR

Ashley

If you'd like to read more about what I thought of Walden, visit my blog, Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing.I'm giving this 3 stars, although I feel it probably deserves a 2.5 or so. I was not impressed with Thoreau. I felt that his writing was presumptous and self righteous. He seems to condemn everyone and really speaks sometimes with this annoying air of superiority. I felt that there were many times he rambled on about nothing of importance, and that the 300+ pages could have probably been better written in 100. That being said, I would like to try and reread this book in a few years. There were several little kernels of wisdom that struck me, and a few times that I was really interested in what I was reading, but for the most part, it bored me and I fell asleep or dozed off reading this book far more than any other book I have ever read. Hopefully the next time will be better. I really wanted to like this one!I haven't read all of the other writings in the book, although I've read parts. I should get to those soon. Who knows, maybe starting smaller (Civil Disobedience wasn't so bad...) will be helpful.

Angie

Sublime at times. "There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives...The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered." But his judgementalism of others is a bit hard to take at times. He thinks himself more pure and conscientious than the farmer down the road whom he accuses of never noticing the sunrise. Tedious at other times.

Chad Warner

We read some excerpts of Walden in my high school American Literature class, and I've heard Thoreau quoted many times over the years, so I decided to finally read the book. It was definitely a different type of book than I usually read, because Thoreau records his daily activities and philosophical musings while living an experimental, mostly self-sufficient life by Walden Pond. He includes a lot of detail of the plants, animals, and people he saw and interacted with at the pond. These details had two effects: they bored me silly, but they also made his descriptions richer and more realistic. I could hear the loon and see the blue ice he talked about. I liked his many references to Greco-Roman mythology, which always lends an air of intellect to literature. However, other than being able to pick out a few famous quotes as I read, this book wasn't worth my time.The copy I read contained not only Walden, but also Civil Disobedience, Slavery in Massachusetts, A Plea for Captain John Brown, and Life Without Principle. I passed on Slavery in Massachusetts and A Plea for Captain John Brown after reading a few pages, but I did read Civil Disobedience and Life Without Principle. Notes follow.WaldenPeople act like machines, working their lives away and not enjoying it."Instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets,I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.""I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.""A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.""Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.""For I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly; nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or the teacher's desk.""As if you could kill time without injuring eternity." "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.""We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us.""Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness.""Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.""Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, how ever measured or far away."Civil DisobedienceThoreau spent a night in jail for refusing to pay his taxes. In this work, he explains his belief that government is too involved in the lives of Americans, and just gets in the way. He believes that the government can't do anything without the consent of the people. He says that slavery and war are wrong, and refuses to pay the government that supports them. In fact, he objects to paying for any society that he didn't sign up for; the local church, the state, and the federal government. His motto: "That government is best which governs least."Life Without PrincipleThoreau rages against the trivial things that people waste their time on, especially news and gossip. He says he'd rather fill his mind with nature than useless facts and gossip."Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.""The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his living, to get 'a good job,' but to perform well a certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it."

Christopher Daniel Miles

Though I read this once when I was in my teens, and again later in college, it continues to be a revelation to me. Thoreau as a philosopher and commentator challenges all of our assumptions, and sees as relevant today as in 1854. Thoreau is the true heir to the ancient Stoic philosophers, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

Shana

I've begun this book nearly three times since my 18th birthday and I'm determined to keep it on my night table until I finish it. Not because I'm terribly compelled by it or it's language, but because my fictional main character has read it. :-/ Also, for my own sanity, I am interested to see what philosophical avenues early Americans walked, and perhaps where they've led to today.

Fred

Thoreau is kind of a douche. Not gonna lie. This is a guy who thought that he would get back to nature by living in a shack on mommy and daddy's property. He makes some good points of philosophy but so does the drunk at the end of most bars. All in all, I think that Thoreau is vastly overrated.

George Shetuni

Walden is a long book, about 325 pages. Many people consider this length a piece of cake. But not me. It took me 10 months to read this book, mostly because I put it on and off. It is about Thoreau who goes to live in the woods for 2 years. He is for the most part a solitary man in a solitary land. He has no neighbors, except for nature itself and the occasional visitor. He is highly interested by nature. He spends lengths of time describing it and he likes observing birds and animals, especially their behavior. He is more interested in animals than people and views them as companions. However, his unceasing description of nature is at times wearisome and painful. And his solitary life reads a bit lonely at times.However, Thoreau is smart, eloquent and unconventional. In this book one will find glimpses of great reflection and great expression. He is among the best American writers. But he is a naturalist as much as a writer. He never thinks of writing as a gift. He prides himself on being able to take care of his needs-cooking, cleaning, raising crops, cutting fire wood. He values his lifestyle more than being able to write about it. But he does write about it in excellent terms. Strangely enough his gift to society is his independence from society; his idea of “self-reliance,” that he literally puts to action here. He does criticize people for settling for “the okay”, but only to inspire them to do better and to reach higher. He was an unorthodox person, who thought and fought for himself. He may have preferred nature to civilization, but he was free.

Russ

Walden is a series of essays that are best appreciated through repeated readings over an extended period of time. While I've finally read them, the density of the individual pieces are such that I'm not sure I can say I fully understand them, let alone appreciate them. This is a book I expect to come back to from time to time.

Barrett Brassfield

Have to agree with E.B. White (author of Charlotte's Web, among other things) who once said that every high school senior should be given a copy of Walden upon graduation. Many of course will choose not to read it but for those who do, and make it through the slog that is the first chapter, Thoreau's timeless classic offers much wisdom on thoughtful living. Why thoughtful living? Because Walden is full of what of what buddhists refer to as the fire of attention. Each chapter, even the dreadful first, Economy, is full of an intense attention to detail both philosophical and practical. Walden may have been written by a 19th century New Englander but it's implications travel far beyond that limited scope of time and space. At the very least, readers of Walden in any age will be encouraged to forgo the way of the lemming and instead give a little thought to each step taken in life, as opposed to just mindlessly stumbling off the proverbial cliff of life.

Adam

If Edgar Allan Poe was the original goth, Henry David Thoreau was the original obnoxious vegan. His tone at the beginning of the book is like a know-it-all kid in his first year of self-employment: smarmy and convinced he's cracked the code on the only right way to live. As the book goes on, he mellows out a little. I guess living in the woods was good for him. While still being condescending of his neighbors (“…his little broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father's side the while, not knowing how poor a bargain the latter had made”), it’s the side-stories, like meeting fishermen, ice-cutters and packs of free-roving hounds, and the native american legends of the lake, that make up the parts worth reading. I wanted to like this book, because I appreciate how it’s inspired some people I respect (Don Henley?), but it was so difficult to read, it put me to sleep every time I tried to read a page until I switched to the audio version.

Jen

Well, I FINALLY finished this, and I'm glad I did. I had a preconceived notion of Henry David Thoreau as some sort of god of philosophy, with whose every word I would, of course, agree with. Uh-uh. While I did enjoy his writing about nature, I found his tone in the philosophical sections condescending -- especially the part where he's telling a farmer whose house he stops at how wonderful his life would be if he just lived like Thoreau. I agree with his ideas about living life simply and doing one's best to enjoy it, but wow, was he a curmudgeon.

Ammie

I did not finish this book. I made it a third of the way through, all the while hoping that perhaps he would begin to talk about actually living in the woods instead of just complaining about how everybody should live in the woods, and then I stopped. Maybe he does later on. But seriously, I got tired of all the whining about other people. Blerg.

Enamul Haque

In Walden, Thoreau wanted to get the most from his life by determining what was really important, and he did that by removing himself somewhat from the normal life of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1840's. Thoreau focuses a lot on details in his writing. Every sentence the reader reads is filled with captivity. The words he puts on paper come to live as one reads his book. It seems as though he sometimes gets carried away when writing about something, because it almost gets boring, however, the point the he is carrying across is intellectual, and inspirational. Thoreau’s view on life’s necessities being frivolous is almost extreme; however, if one thinks about it, Thoreau is right. Reading about Thoreau and his transcendentalist experience really changed my perspective on a lot of things. There are so many things each person has, half of them that they don’t even need. Thoreau’s experience teaches people a lesson and gives them something to be thankful for without taking anything for granted.

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