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

Lauren

This collection of essays divulges some terrific themes and axioms; however, it is just too self-indulgent and verbose for me. I have a problem with Thoreau's hypocrisy (given, for example, Thoreau's mom is said to have done his laundry while he was at Walden) and the fact that he spends a whole chapter talking about ants, for example, is a little too much for me.

Jenifer

From an old journal entry of mine; "Interesting that just now developers are trying to buy Walden Woods for the purpose of building apartments or office buildings or something of the sort. Some popular singing artists, headed by Don Henly are trying to save the woods. I listened to an interview of Mr. Henly recently in which he said that Thoreau was in fact one of our first "environmentalists" and that saving the symbol of this important movement should be first on our list of actions to be taken. It took me awhile to catch on to Thoreau's philosophy and style of writing. I would like to read "Walden" again, especially taking notes of some of his striking comments for quotes."

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."

David Waterman

The idea of writing a philosophical essay sounds at first to be incredibly self-centered in that it is an assumption of people's interest in your own opinions. However, in this collection of essays (both short and long) by Henry David Thoreau, the author doesn't allow room for opinion. He states his case as matter-of-factly as possible without giving the reader an opportunity to question. Instead of giving a verbose opinion of whatever topic he is covering, Thoreau instead presents his case as pure fact which allows the reader to feel that they're being informed of the truth rather than persuaded to an opinion. The result is a series of informative essays that speak on the human condition and that not only criticize but give hope for a brighter future.

Adam Rabiner

Thoreau's contribution to American letters was not fully appreciated in his time nor even today. Hawthorne and others found him a bore and one of my college friends kind of gagged when I said I was reading Walden and his other writings collected in this book. Yes, Thoreau is not easy reading. But when he is not waxing poetic or citing Greek mythology or Indian Vedas, he's imparting a timeless wisdom and psychologically astute vision for productive living. He's funny, and cantankerous, and his close observations of nature can be beautifully written. I think Walden is a deserved American classic. Thoreau was a truly original thinker and his continuing influence is undeniable. It's a challenging read but you could do worse than learn from this brilliant, anti-authoritarian yet gentle soul.

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.

Andrea

Love Walden!! It makes me laugh how everyone perceives Thoreau to be a serious writer....but if you really read what he is saying he is very sarcastic and witty. I laughed so hard. He also has a lot of really great insights about life and people. For example, he only spent six weeks of the year working to make money to suppport him for the rest of the year. Sign me up for that work schedule!

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Matthew K.

Still reading.......very slowly. Walden is a classic; A Week on the Concord and Merrimack is intriguing because it was the author's first book and about taking a canoe trip with his brother (which I've done a time or two); his text is highly quotable and his philosophies foreshadow his later writing....however, he hardly mentions his brother which demonstrates how detached he could be from others around him.

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.

Taylor

Despite being a bit long winded at times, Thoreau has some of the most quote worthy lines throughout the book. Many passages require a line by line evaluation with dictionary close to hand, just beware of the words that a pocket dictionary does not contain. His command of the English language is beyond impressive and absolutely puts the mean grasp of English to shame.A delightful read with plenty of food for thought, though it is not a book to devour whole at once, but rather to pick apart and savor slowly.

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