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Self-Reliance and Other Essays

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  11,137 ratings  ·  193 reviews
Essayist, poet, and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) propounded a transcendental idealism emphasizing self-reliance, self-culture, and individual expression. The six essays and one address included in this volume, selected from Essays, First Series (1841) and Essays, Second Series (1844), offer a representative sampling of his views outlining that moral idealis ...more
Paperback, 117 pages
Published October 13th 1993 by Dover Publications (first published 1844)
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Walden by Henry David ThoreauThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanSelf-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo EmersonLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott
Transcendentalism
4th out of 97 books — 41 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
100 Best American Authors
109th out of 494 books — 388 voters


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Community Reviews

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HeatRush
Ralph Waldo Emerson is the greatest writer who ever lived. I carry his collected essays around like a Mormon carries the Book of Mormon. Though I don't ride a bike. No one has every offered up more wisdom, with such jazzy tempo and energetic flow. He has a more extensive vocabulary than Shakespeare, and I believe he was the first writer who suffered from A.D.D. It is like the great UCLA professor Coulecourcio once said, "It's as if his sentences don't know each other." I appreciate that he doesn ...more
Shelly
when i read this i was 20 and under the impression that what was shitty about the world and people could be changed and that me and my friends could make an impact for the better on people just by talking to them and reasoning with them.
since then i've lost god and watch w "win" back to back elections, so I guess you could say i'm a bit more jaded.
still, i like a lot of what emerson says. self-reliance cannot be underestimated. if only we chided ourselves for our mistakes instead of placing blam
...more
Desiree Finkbeiner
Fantastic! I had a natural disposition from an early age to stand on my own ground apart from the crowd. I've embraced my own personal truth without the need to force my values and opinions upon others. This philosophy has awarded me popularity (and in some cases, intense enemies) throughout my life. There is no happiness quite like self-acceptance and the ability to be comfortable with one's own personality and conviction of beliefs. Ralph Waldo Emerson illuminates these truths with great vigor ...more
Iris
"Self-Reliance" is an essay that captures the independent spirit behind many Americans, but it overlooks the sinfulness of people. Emerson calls on each person to listen to his own intuition rather than society, membership organizations, or religious traditions. He believes that each person can achieve his greatest genius by listening to himself.

In the middle section of the essay, Emerson presents his arguments for his belief. The support seems to largely be based on a faulty understanding of G
...more
Andrea
I love Ralph Waldo! I can only understand 1 out of every 5 things he says, but the parts I am getting are brilliant. I hear the American Scholar essay is fantastic. Can't wait to read it.
Caroline
Nathaniel Hawthorne best captured Emmerson's Transcendentalism in his short story The Celestial Railroad (inspired by Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress). He says, "He [i.e. Giant Transcendentalism] shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted."

Emerson’s essays are filled with feel-good rhetoric on being “one with the Oversoul.” He lectures on “originality” while borrowing ideas from Eastern religions and insists upon “reli
...more
Lindsey
Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, a
...more
Justin Tyler
The essay "Self-Reliance" has been immensely important to me. If ever you are going through tough times, or feel that you are not being treated as well as you deserve, or fear that you are too dependent on another person for your happiness, or are just wondering about what it really means to have personal identity, read this essay. It's incredible.
matt
So dense yet lucid and poetic and rigorous....you can't get your arms around him, no matter how hard you try.

I've been coming back to this stuff for years in short but deeply felt dives into Emerson's humming catacombs.

I do believe what Bloom says when he calls Ralphie-boy "the mind of America"....it's all there
Lex
I reread Self-Reliance shortly after quitting Facebook, and then re-read it again twice more, in disbelief that apparently the issues I have with FB are not so removed from Emerson's times.... this is classic and timeless.
Seth Hanson
Pure and simple... "Self-Reliance" was life-altering. My personal philosophy of life is largely grounded in the ideals that are so well articulated and espoused in this short work. It's like scripture to me.
Kevin Wooden
Wow....When I read someone as gifted as RWE, I feel like Mr. Potato head. Have I ever really had an original thought? Very inspirational and also very challenging. KLW
Renee
"Ne te quaesiveris extra."

i loved these essays in high school despite having to read emerson for a presentation. this is one book i really wish were here on my shelf and not back in indiana.

"So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter
...more
Debi
Many of Emerson's ideas, are existent in most every sector of society, especially individualism...of which America was essentially founded. Yet, it would be a mistake to take too many of his ideas to heart: namely self-righteousness. We are not gods, and to propose that possibility is ludicrous; however, the basis of "Self-Reliance" yields to the soul that would neglect conformity in the hopes of extinguishing legalistic thoughts and behaviors. Those interested in philosophy should read these es ...more
Erin
Being a non-conformist is fine. But that doesn’t mean you are exempt from the moral code of the society in which you live, or that you are superior to those around you. Or that that God is speaking through the genuine actions of your pure, undying soul. After reading “Self-Reliance”, I understand why so many reviews of this essay begin by saying that this was formerly a much-loved read during high school. The main ideas here are straight from the diary of an angst-ridden, over-privileged, self-a ...more
Paige
Although wordy and ambiguous at times, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would -- especially since my American Lit teacher introduced it as "difficult, dry and hard to get through." AGAIN, relevant themes to this day and age, and although it was a bit verbose, I think if the ideas were translated to be more "accessible" it could change how people think, as I'm sure it did back then.

Also, if my teacher hadn't prefaced the book by saying Emerson often would address people's "confused" lo
...more
Mark Dungey
I'm not that big into non-fiction. It's strange as I enjoy learning as a general rule, but non-fiction is too close to being like a textbook to me. Emerson, thanks to the time; when the written word held more value, and more thought was given due to the effort it took to write it; put forth the ideal of America, particularly through literature. Due to him authors like Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Thoreau, Douglas, and, to a lesser extent Beecher-Stowe brought a new wave of modernity to literatu ...more
Jenna
"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has t ...more
Kathryn
I'm a huge Emerson fan and, while many do not consider him the finest in terms of literary merit (though I enjoy his prose) and he himself felt Thoreau would be more the poetic prophet of Transcendentalism, Emerson's style and philosophy are dear to my heart. (PS I read many other misc. essays and books by/about Emerson and Thoreau for one of my MA term papers, so if anyone happens to be interested, let me know and I'll pull up my old Works Cited page!)
Emile
The essay 'Self-reliance' remains one of the most influential pieces of material that I have had to guide me in the development of my own character. So dense and spare in its proclamations, it gave me a call to arms and inspiration to become a good and true man while trusting me to determine who that man will be.
diamondkim
Yes, Emerson's elegant writing can be a bit 19th-century cumbersome, but look past it to the ideas and principles. His philosophy won't appeal to everyone, and I disagree with a few of his thoughts and arguments (for example, his opinion that traveling is a fool's paradise) but they are all thought provoking and profound, especially in Self Reliance and Friendship. 5 stars for how provocative the essays all are.
Claudia
Emerson's essays are best read when:

A) You're of the thought that the world can transcend its troubles, be changed for the better, and that you, personally, can be the agent of much of the change.

B) You've become older and jaded and need to be reminded that at one time you thought the world could be changed for the better and that you could be the agent of much of the change.
Alen
** this has nothing to do with the essays, but it is an important note**
I just started reading "The Gay Science" by Nietzsche, and the author pointed out that Nietzsche is very much a fan of Emerson and Emerson somewhat of Nietzsche, which I had never connected the dots, even with the "cave thing". Thus, losing my self proclaimed title of "highly perceptive ninja".
Liz
"it was amazing" is kind of a bunk way to rate this book. I've loved Emerson's essays since I was introduced to them as a teenager and find that many of them are worth revisiting again and again every couple of years (if you're of a sappy nature, they are especially enjoyable to read while sitting under a tree in on a springtime afternoon). Solid and comforting.
Seamusin
Emerson's sentences seem not to know each other. I read this somewhere recently, along with the question of whether or not the man had A.D.D. I found it mostly a chore reading through these essays, struggling hard to get a sense of connection or flow anywhere. However, in his own words... "There is a good ear, in some men, that draws supplies to virtue out of very indifferent nutriment."

It's chiefly two things that make me rate a book highly: entertainment and enlightenment. I was not entertaine
...more
Travis
While Babbitt is all about social conformity, Self Reliance is all about social self reliance. &quit; Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. I loved the idea of a only knowing a man when he conveys to me a thought or act that is truly his own. Not something derived, or imposed from the outside world.
Sam Klemens
I really only "bought" (it was free in the Kindle store) this book for the essay on Self Reliance. Loved it, should be mandatory reading for everyone. Obviously I tried some other essays and they didn't do much for me. Self Reliance was down to earth and applicable. Some other essays are just so far out there! I've run into this problem with Emerson before. Some of his stuff is the just about the best ever written.

And then sometimes it's so far out there, so metaphorical and esoteric that no ma
...more
Dina
I first read Emerson in an Early American Lit class in college. I don't think I would have gotten into his writing if it wasn't done in a classroom setting though because it's not easy reading.

Anyway, I think he was brilliant and innovative. Self Reliance is my all-time favorite essay.
Rastasemprss
Dec 27, 2007 Rastasemprss rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The world
This book transformed my thinking of myself in existance with others on this earth and esp in this country. I loosened the hold of acculturation and resocialized myself to be selfish in order to achieve self-fulfillment. Excellent read. Every now and then I break it out for a boost.
Ross
Mar 17, 2008 Ross rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Samuel Fisher
This book can change your out look on life if you can understand it. Many of the essays I had to reread to get the message and even then I fell like I missed half of it. But that is the glory of a classic, no matter how many times you read it there is something new.

Enjoy
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  • Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Collected Essays)
  • Seek: Reports from the Edges of America and Beyond
  • Strenuous Life
  • The Frontier in American History
  • The Young Man's Guide
  • The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry
  • American Boys Handy Book
  • Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do It, and Why
  • The Crisis
  • Boy Scout Handbook
  • Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
  • The Portable Walt Whitman
  • Rights of Man
  • The Essays
  • Essays and Aphorisms
  • The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
  • Essays: Moral, Political and Literary
  • Mutual Aid
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in 1803, Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston. Educated at Harvard and the Cambridge Divinity School, he became a Unitarian minister in 1826 at the Second Church Unitarian. The congregation, with Christian overtones, issued communion, something Emerson refused to do. "Really, it is beyond my comprehension," Emerson once said, when asked by a seminary professor whether he believed in God. (Quoted ...more
More about Ralph Waldo Emerson...
Essays and Poems Self-Reliance The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays and Lectures Nature and Selected Essays

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“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.” 393 likes
“I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.—But so may you give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing.
The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.”
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