Shel's Reviews > Walden

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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Mar 21, 10

Read from February 18 to March 13, 2010

This eminently quotable work by Henry David Thoreau published in 1854 has had a resounding influence on American culture. It becomes a study in déjà vu — so many of the passages sound familiar:

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes."

"if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."

Walden tells of Thoreau's two-year sojourn on a piece of property owned by fellow writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau builds a house there, plants beans, observes nature and practices, "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" He seeks to attain the ideal, "As long as possible live free and uncommitted." Thoreau writes about Walden Pond and the people he encounters in a nearby village.

Walden savors the environment. However, while the subject matter is frequently poetical, the style tends to be journalistic. Thoreau waxes philosophical.

On reading: "To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem...Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written."

On education: "... it is thought Utopian to propose spending money for things which intelligent men know to be of far more worth."

On solitude: "I have never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."'

On vegetarianism: "I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind... I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals..."

On poets: "A hunter, a soldier, a reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love."

On democracy: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived and treats him accordingly." (Thoreau opposes slavery. This is from the final chapter of the book, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.")

Pairs well with: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck; "The Girl From Monday," (2005 science fiction movie in which Walden is a subversive book)

Odd note: This would be an excellent book to read to someone who is unable to go outdoors.
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Reading Progress

03/02/2010 ""There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon...""

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