Synopses & Reviews
'If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.' Disdainful of America's growing commercialism and industrialism, Henry David Thoreau left Concord, Massachusetts, in 1845 to live in solitude in the woods by Walden Pond. Walden, the classic account of his stay there, conveys at once a naturalist's wonder at the commonplace and a Transcendentalist's yearning for spiritual truth and self-reliance. But even as Thoreau disentangled himself from worldly matters, his solitary musings were often disturbed by his social conscience. 'Civil Disobedience', expressing his antislavery and antiwar sentiments, has influenced nonviolent resistance movements worldwide. Michael Meyer's introduction points out that Walden is not so much an autobiographical study as a 'shining example' of Transcendental individualism. So, too, 'Civil Disobedience' is less a call to political activism than a statement of Thoreau's insistence on living a life of principle.
"[F]or me the best reason for reading Walden
is Thoreau's eloquence in describing why people like me like to go off alone and quietly watch snakes and birds and water. He clearly didn't care for people too much, and the feeling among the citizens of Concord appears to have largely been mutual. His self-imposed isolation, however, produced a gem of a book that is still largely relevant today." Doug Brown, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
These two pieces are an account of Thoreau's two-year stay at Walden Pond near Concord in Massachusetts. The first piece concerns the developing and testing of his transcendental philosophy of personal freedom, individuality, self reliance and material economy, for the sake of spiritual wealth.
In 1845, philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau built a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. He lived there, seeking "the essential facts of life" and learning to eliminate the unnecessary details — material and spiritual — that intrude upon human happiness. He described his experiences in Walden, first published in 1854, using vivid, forceful prose that transforms his observations of nature into richly evocative metaphors for human life. Today, in a world obsessed by technology and luxury, Walden seems more relevant than ever.
About the Author
Henry David Thoreau was born July 12, 1817 — "just in the nick of time," as he wrote, for the "flowering of New England," when the area boasted such eminent citizens as Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman and Melville. Raised in genteel poverty — his father made and sold pencils from their home — Thoreau enjoyed, nevertheless, a fine education, graduating from Harvard in 1837. In that year, the young thinker met Emerson and formed the close friendship that became the most significant of his life. Guided, sponsored and aided by his famous older colleague, Thoreau began to publish essays in The Dial
, exhibiting the radical originality that would gain the disdain of his contemporaries but the great admiration of all succeeding generations.
In 1845, Thoreau began the living experiment for which he is most famous. During his two years and two months in the shack beside the New England pond, he wrote his first important work, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), was arrested for refusing to pay his poll tax to a government that supported slavery (recorded in Civil Disobedience) and gathered the material for his masterpiece, Walden (1854). He spent the rest of his life writing and lecturing and died, relatively unappreciated, in 1862.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Michael Meyer
Suggestions for Further Reading
A Note on the Texts
Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors
The Pond in Winter
Notes for Walden
Notes for "Civil Disobedience"