on October 11, 2010
This is an incredible book. It is telling that most of the negative reviews (on Amazon.com) are by bored high school students who, quite understandably, couldn't appreciate the book. I don't think high school is a time at which you can really appreciate this book - I can see how it would just be grueling. One girl even wrote that she had to write her one-star review quickly as she was in a rush to meet her boyfriend at McDonald's... oh, the humanity. Various other 'critics' consider Thoreau's understanding of Eastern philosophy/religion to be inadequate (theirs, presumably, is top notch!).
I will agree that the prose plods along at times and even though I am a huge reader, this was a slow haul in many ways. Nonetheless the book is packed with insights and uplifting, encouraging ideas. I don't agree that because Thoreau had a Harvard education, therefore he is not entitled to attempt to lead a more simple life. Those who whine that his descriptions of nature are meaningless and go on too long have very, very obviously missed the point. Reading this book quietly and slowly it is evident that almost every passage on nature is allegorical, and interpretable as a passage on humanity and its sufferings and potentials; Thoreau only occasionally points this out explicitly, but it underlies most of the book.
I highlighted dozens of passages in this work and will keep the battered old paperback with me for the rest of my life. To those too busy (or too lazy, or frankly too stupid) to understand this book, or who are in a rush to get to McDonald's, it's your loss... for those whose understanding of Eastern religion is too profound, I guess yes, you will have to look elsewhere... I can say though that I have given this book to several people. Those whom I truly respect as human beings have all loved it. As for the rest, well...
on April 27, 2004
Teachers and Thoreau fans beware: this anthology contains heavily redacted versions of Thoreau's works and is not a reliable textual source. The version of _A Week_ is missing huge chunks of vital material, though the editor claims that he has included a complete version. Many titles and smaller details are wrong as well. The source editions for this anthology are pre-WWII. Much has changed for the better in the interim, and you cheat yourself by not ordering a more recent anthology--the Library of America one is excellent, textually impeccable.
on April 15, 2011
By the time I had finished "Walden", the book was strewn front to back with bright yellow highlighting and scrawled with notes in the margins. So dense in content, a single page sometimes seemed to burst with infinite wisdom. Having read "Walden", I feel my view of life and existence has radically altered. I have escaped my chains and shed my shackles, emerging from Plato's Cave! How blinding and awesome this flood of light be.
"Walden" is rich with ideas. Ideas concerning economics, society, and nature; materialism, consumerism; happiness and 'the meaning of life'. Ideas which often leap from the pages and hit with sobering force. He reveals how close-minded we are - even those of us who pride ourselves as being "open-minded"...
"As I stand over the insect crawling over the pine needles on the forest floor, and endeavouring to conceal itself from my sight, and ask myself why it will cherish those humble thoughts, and hide its head from me perhaps as its benefactor, and impart to its race some cheering information, I am reminded of the greater benefactor and intelligence that stands over me the human insect," referring to the universality of nature and the cosmos. At times it is almost like reading Carl Segan rather some some musty old 19th century writer.
Some will complain about its 'slow pace', or lengthy descriptions of nature. Others will say it is far too idealistic, and has little application to the 'real world'. To these folks I respectfully assert that you did not READ "Walden"; quite frankly, it went over your head. Thoreau wishes only to show his humble readers that there is 'another path' to the grind of modern life, in which we are literally slaves to our possessions, our jobs, and our status in society, He implores us to open our minds and, "be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state."
"Walden". Read it. Study it. Live it. And I don't mean go sell your house and move into a cabin. If that's all you get out of this book, you missed the point.
on March 30, 2003
I guess I'm not surprised, scrolling through the many reviews of this book, to see that quite a few find it to be a tedious waste of time. This is, after all, America, where thinking critically is in critically short supply. If you are a literalist, if you've been weaned on airport novels and other pseudo-literary junk, if you are unable to relate to a multi-faceted jewel that sparkles on every imaginable level, then by all means stay away from this book.
The tone of several reviews reminded me of the student in my Latin class who said one day, as we were reading a selection from Ovid's Metamorphoses, "This is stupid!" "No," I responded tranquilly, "You're stupid." Some people apparently expect an encounter with a great author to be a cheap turn on, like a video game or a shot of Jack Daniels. Not surprisingly, when the engagement requires the use of one's brain or at least a modicum of intellectual effort, many have to throw in the towel. The irony, of course, is that these are exactly the sort of people Thoreau was railing against in Walden.
Walden, boring? You might as well say the Iliad, Hamlet, or the Canterbury Tales are boring. Walden is quite easily a work that ranks with these world-class masterpieces. Thoreau's magnum opus grows in stature with each passing year, and he ranks at the top of American prose stylists.
Walden is a heroic epic, a farmer's almanac, a poem, a pastoral, a fire and brimstone sermon, an autobiography, a philosophical treatise, a journal, an annual report by a man who was the sole stockholder in his own extraordinary enterprise. It is a vicious critique of the unexamined life and a brilliant paean to the richer and more rewarding existence which is open to anyone who wishes to discover it.
Like a stone tossed into a pond, Walden's influence will ripple through all of the ages to the very edge of eternity. If there ever was a book that could dramatically alter one's perception of the world, Walden is that book.
on September 13, 2003
Thoreau went into the Concord woods "to live deliberately" and to try to approach in practice his excellent motto--multum in parvo--much in little. Setting off to transact some business as simply as possible, Thoreau began his famous experiment a happy man. Importantly, he concluded it 26 months later in the same convivial state. After proving to himself it could be done, he saw no point in continuing his experiment in such extreme fashion, becoming once again "a sojourner in civilized life."
Thoreau was certainly not alone in the woods. Apart from the many visitors he welcomed, he took frequent trips "into town," or met woodchoppers and ice cutters during his marathon sojourns through the fields and forests surrounding his wooden castle. While most men, as he famously said, "led lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau seemed to soak up the life and energy of every waking hour, giving him an inexhaustible supply of earthly happiness. There was nothing quiet or desperate about Thoreau.
Classically-educated Thoreau was patently devoted to the writings of ancient authors, but to him the words and pages written by Nature were far more interesting and pleasing than histories in Latin or 2500 year-old Greek sagacity. In fact, Thoreau read very little during a good portion of his Walden experiment. He preferred sometimes just to sit on his doorstep from morning to noon, steeped in the sights and sounds of the abundant nature surrounding him. Of course he also wrote. But the Walden we read today is not simply a collection of his raw, day-to-day diary reflections. In fact, it wasn�ft until a few years later that he expanded and painstakingly polished the rough journal entries he made during his stay in the woods. Whatever the case, the writing in Walden is brilliant throughout. Foremost, Thoreau was a writer�ca profoundly masterful one at that.
People read his Walden for a variety of reasons. I read it because it speaks with an immortal voice...and every word, phrase and sentence resounds with transcendent clarity. This simple little book is so full of hope, wisdom and inspiration that one can read it a thousand times and each time discover a new kernel of brilliance or vision.
During his lifetime, traditional success would never be his. But you would have had to argue with him over the definition of success. "The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind," the author so wisely said. It is precisely because of such profundity that his "success" is guaranteed for as long as people still read good books.
"Follow your genius closely enough and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour." --H.D.T.
on May 25, 2001
I congratulate and credit my high school Literature teacher for first englightening me to Thoreau and Walden, and I have enjoyed both regularly ever since. I was disappointed to see the negative reviews, but I was not at all surprised. Thoreau is for the rare individual, as he was a rare individual himself. Few will be able to appreciate his keenness of thought, his breadth of perspective, his striving for some measures of worthy improvement while remaining content. Thoreau has been unserviceably miscategorized by subsequent generations. For example, he is really neither a transcendentalist nor the progenitor of the modern "civil disobedience" tactic (read his essay by the same name, and note that Thoreau himself was jailed and accepted that consequence). Thoreau was first a naturalist and observer and second a philosopher and writer. This should aid you in gauging whether Walden will be an interesting read to you. Thoreau is challenging for idealists, because he strove to experience and practice his ideals and was at liberty to do this (he had no dependents). Finally, Thoreau is an adept writer, and his natural flow of literary devices are satisfying for even the subtlest reader. Walden is one of the crowning works of America's finest literary, intellectual, and philosophical offerings.
on November 15, 2001
Though it doesn't even tell you, "A Week on the Merrimack and Concord" is only partially reprinted in this volume, with the "climax," the climbing of the mountain, left out. I think this is unforgiveable, the editor never even mentions that only a selection of the essay is printed, and does not point out what he has left out and what he has included.
The Essential Emerson, edited by the same people, is twice the size, holds quite a bit of stuff, tells what's missing. That was good. This is a waste of money, and its deceptive. I was very... to say the least, upon learning I had bought what amounts to a book of poorly selected quotes.
(walden is complete but thats no consolation.)
on July 6, 2001
I am always curious to see other opinions about books that have had a profound impact on my life. Seeing some of the one-star ratings for WALDEN surprised me. But as I read them, I could see: First, that apparently two readers decided to skew the results and write several reviews (lacking Thoreau's sylistic flair, or any flair at all, they use pretty much the same words); and, second, that potential-buyers should consider the source of these criticisms. Do we wonder why Thoreau's intellectual grace eludes them? I think not.
WALDEN gives us glimmers of American creativity at a time when this is all-too hard to find. Read de Tocqueville, sure, but read Emerson and Thoreau as ballast.
on January 29, 2002
Many people have the misconception that "Walden" is all about how to survive in the wilderness, this completely misses the soul of the book. Thoreau didn't do his "experiment" to see if he could survive in the wilderness, he would have gone much farther from civilization for that. Rather, Thoreau wanted to live life on his own terms in a setting that allowed him to contemplate life on a higher scale then simply "getting a living". As he states his life philosophy "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" ask yourself what it is that you NEED to make you happy, and live only for that.
on April 7, 2009
You will hear many people describe Thoreau as a transcendentalist philosopher whose two-year-and-two-month experimental habitation in the woods was a defiant yawp of solitude in an age of great societal refinement. You will hear even more people describe Thoreau as a fraud - a man who was too lazy to get a job, and whose "solitude" consisted of raiding his auntie's cookie jar every Sunday afternoon. What too many overlook is the great accomplishment not of his life, but of his literature. Walden is one of the most meticulously crafted works in the American canon, and it reads like a prose-poem ode to the sublime beauty of nature and the resilience of the self-reliant individual. Despite what some may say, his philosophy resounds even more triumphantly and urgently today, when solitude is disappearing (except, of course, within oneself) and society is cheap. Thoreau's ruminations continue to have a great impact on his professed audience - "poor students" - but his economic lessons should be required reading for anyone and everyone entering the professional world. No one has written more eloquently on the experience of man in nature, and the fleeting achievement of wholeness that we sometimes feel in perfect moments of stillness and solitude.
A note on the edition: This copy of Walden has survived with me from the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the jagged peaks of the High Sierras, from Parisian parks to Montreal blizzards, and, most remarkably, through a mess of a thesis. Needless to say, it is compact and durable, set in pleasurable type and very reasonably priced. The inclusion of 'Civil Disobedience' is a necessary one, and the poems are harmless, if nothing more. Books don't come much more perfect than this one.