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 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 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 March 18, 2004
When I first heard about this author in one of my classes, I felt that it was the most boring pices of information that I haveever heard. But, when I started to actually lusten to what he was actually saying it really got me thinking. I was the only onbe in my class that actually understood what he was saying in his stories. His writing has got me thinking different ways on everyday situation. I had never thought that I would start to think like this. His writing has got me to see things different than I ever thought that I would. What he did in his life is cool, going to live at a pond all by himself for about 2 years and find the essintials of life, is brilient. In resistance to civil government, I had never read better writing in my life. When he had to spend a night in jail and realized that it was not even a hard punishnment, for not paying his taxes. There are really no words that I can use that can explain my love for his writing, because it has just moved me to no end. I really wish that I could have been alive when he was so I could have gotten to know him better.
on February 25, 2004
In Henry David Thoreau's Walden, he contradicts his non-conformist, anti-society ideas. He writes about rejecting society however when he lived at Walden he went into town every day to socialize and buy things. He wrote about seclusion but was in contact with other people almost every day. His writings are wonderful works but I think its ironic that he doesn't practices what he preaches.
Thoreau, in Walden, wrote a lot about human and animals. He compares the instincts of animals to the barbaric qualities of humans. In Chapter 11, "Higher Laws," he sees a ground squirrel and feels an urge to kill it and eat it raw. In Chapter 12, "Brute Neighbors," he watches a battle of ants and feels his animalistic instincts compel him to watch it to the end. He studies life in the woods and is always around it therefore his statement of total seclusion is proven false.
Thoreau is one of my favorite writers and his style intrigues me greatly. However, he carefully alters his writings for himself to sound non-conformist and anti-society. Not that this should be held against him. He is a wonderful writer with a distinct style, but he isn't really a non-conformist. He conformed to the non-conformist style but couldn't give up his social life.
on April 16, 2003
As far as classics go, this is merely mediocre. Still, it is one that many people should read. At least read "Economy" and "Conclusion" (which is not really a conclusion, but more of a continuation).
Some have criticized Thoreau of being hypocritical. It is easy to see why. He chastises gossip, but then produces gossip on the printed page so that many will read it well after the fact. To be true to himself, it should have stayed within himself. He could have provided examples for our benefit without being quite so particular.
Another example is condemning the "corporate" life, but then he proceeds to closely detail his manner of how he could make a living off the land -- not merely eating what he sowed, but that he sowed enough to make money doing it. Although he disliked local farmers giving him advice, he still disperses equivalent advice to his readers -- not taking a look in the mirror.
I had expected more and it started out on a good note. This was written when he was 30. Although that would not be considered mid-life now, it probably was then. It certainly was in his case (he died of TB at 45). He starts with many things that one may learn during mid-life, which was encouraging, but then slowly turned it mostly into gripe sessions and simple anti-establishment diatribes. Although I agree with many of his points, too much bitterness was showing through.
However, the baby should not be thrown out with the bath. There is much good and it has a generally positive outlook for one's life. He did this as an experiment and because he did not continue it, one must ask if the experiment was a failure. I think therein lies the greatest thought provoked by this book.