Walden by Henry David Thoreau

oskhen's review against another edition

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"The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, 'To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge'.

I was a bit skeptic when I started reading Walden, having read a bit too much critical interpretations of him and seeing a bit too much of a resemblance with Ted Kaczynski. This quote however, after just 10 pages, convinced me that I had been wrong. If Kaczynski believed in the necessity of rejecting modern life and finding a balance in nature, Thoreau believed in the poetry of it. Focusing not so much on the externalities, he found that it is the soul that yearns.

"There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of live, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men."

This catches the essence of what I try to constantly preach in philosophy and which seems to be, at least externally, too often neglected. Practicality. As Gandhi leaves us with the inspiring words, "My life is my message", so the inspiration is to be found here, by Thoreau. The beauty and the value of philosophy is so incredibly more steadfast and concrete than what is supposed. It's as simple as the love for life. To be one's own person, and to strive for one's ideal.

"I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbour's instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do. It is by a mathematical point only that we are wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the pole-star in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life. We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the true course."

His philosophy is so incessantly bright and clear, every word shines through with an explicit purpose, a contemplated thought to convey. Unfortunately for me, there is not much to add to his words. There is not a lot to add when it is so beautifully expressed already but the mark of recognition and the humble appreciation of a man so perfectly attuned to himself and the world.

"The millions are awake enough for physical labour; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."

The sporadic references to the Bhagavad Gita betrays Thoreau's Eastern inspirations. The thing that strikes me the most is that he seems to be truly speaking from the heart, recollecting private thoughts and experiences, and not so much influenced in content as in expression. The individualistic philosophy takes on an inspirational character in its message, the life work found in the crafting of precisely that, one's life.

I started writing this review from noted pages which stuck out and barely made a third of my way through before the content was more than enough. Definitely a book to return to, not only for its inspirational and philosophical content but for the beautifully poetic prose which it is made up of. Walden will appreciate my utmost and even unexpected praise. Finally, I will leave you with this.

"In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line. You will pardon some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than in most men's, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from its very nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and never paint 'No Admittance' on my gate."

02_sarah's review against another edition

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inspiring reflective relaxing slow-paced


jazmynjj's review against another edition

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adventurous informative inspiring reflective relaxing slow-paced


jillrisberg's review against another edition

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The most basic idea expressed in Walden is that what is needed and what is simply wanted are often confused. The writing encouraged me to reconsider my own priorities, relationship with nature, and level of consumption. I’d highly recommend reading. 

shells_bells's review against another edition

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challenging reflective slow-paced


trent24's review against another edition

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definitely some interesting observations, but I also disagreed with a lot of his conclusions, for example he loves being alone. I also think the idea of everyone giving up material possessions and farming, fishing, etc is a little too utopian. Hit the nail on head with many other thoughts though.

thomasr417's review against another edition

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lighthearted reflective slow-paced


readingrod2023's review against another edition

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adventurous hopeful informative inspiring reflective relaxing medium-paced


This book is special. Thoreau takes you on a journey in time and into a place of complete solace. 

larissaredd's review against another edition

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hopeful inspiring reflective relaxing slow-paced


alaan's review against another edition

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i’m glad this bored me, i liked the part where he talks about why we should read classics tho.