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The Journal: 1837-1861 (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Damion Searls , Henry David Thoreau , John R. Stilgoe
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

19 Nov 2009 New York Review Books Classics
Henry David Thoreau's journal was his life's work: the daily practice that accompanied his daily walks; the source from which he drew his books and essays; and perhaps the most searching investigation ever made into the everyday environment, seasonal changes, and the ecology or interrelations among different facets of nature and the moods and mind of the observer. It is a treasure trove of some of the finest prose in English and is deeply beloved by its readers-but at roughly two million surviving words, or 7,000 pages, it is not often read.

This reader's edition, commissioned specially for New York Review Books, is the largest one-volume edition of the Journals ever published. It draws on the entirety of the Journals : rather than collecting highlights out of context, it captures the scope, dailiness, rhythms, and variety of the work as a whole. Thoreau's infinitely curious mind ranges over nearly every phenomenon of nature and life in nineteenth-century New England-the Journals are a rich source of social, environmental, natural, and cultural history-but he looks inward as well as outward, for "It is in vain to write on the seasons unless you have the seasons in you."

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The Journal: 1837-1861 (New York Review Books Classics) + Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin Great Ideas) + Self Reliance (Dover Thrift Editions)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Original edition (19 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017321X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173213
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 12.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 376,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry David Thoreau was born (1817), died, and lived most of his life in Concord Massachusetts, where the American Revolution against British colonial rule began. Educated at Harvard, Thoreau was an avid reader - in five languages- of everything from classical literature and Hindu and Chinese philosophy through narratives of travel and early American settlement, to works on the flora and fauna of his native region. Taking an active part in current political and ethical debates, Thoreau became a courageous, outspoken opponent of federal government policies, such as the expansionist war against Mexico and the refusal of Congress to legislate against southern slavery. Though he loved books about discovery and travel, Thoreau wandered neither frequently nor over a great distance. Thoreau kept a journal of his thoughts and observations exceeding two million words by the end of his life. He died, in Concord, in 1862.

Product Description


There are other nature writers, other philosophers, other natural historians, other diarists, other political polemicists, but there has never been anyone who combined them all so thoroughly in his own person than Thoreau. (Times)

A brilliant new selection from the vivid and voluminous diaries of the environmentalist and poet Henry Thoreau. Thoreau had an amazing eye for both the detail of the natural world and the foibles of his fellow New Englanders. (Guardian)

About the Author

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), the author of Walden and "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," was born and spent his life in Concord, Massachusetts.

Damion Searls is the author of Everything You Say Is True, a travelogue, and What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going: Stories.

John R. Stilgoe is the Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at the Visual and Environmental Studies Department of Harvard University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant observations of man and nature 18 Mar 2010
By J. H. Bretts VINE VOICE
This is the best single volume edition of Thoreau's journals in print - and beautifully produced. In his relatively short life Thoreau's wrote incessently ands his journals run to millions of words. The editors make very good selections here, though I suspect there could be a second volume equally good.

Thoreau did not use his diary as a confessional. Instead he wonderfully reveals the life going on around him in 19th century New England. He was an exact recorder of the changing seasons, and his descriptions of people and places are extremely vivid. There is a description of a snowstorm that makes you feel you are there, trudging through the woods to the snow-buried town. And his search for a missing pig is more like a humorous short story than a diary entry. Not to say that Thoreau does not include his trenchant opinions on all manner of topics as well.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One Man's Version of Thoreau's Journal 28 Nov 2009
By jd103 - Published on
By length alone, despite a questionable editing choice, this new book becomes one of the best choices for the average reader interested in Thoreau's journal. No one, including the editor, pretends this is the equal of the full journal which is roughly ten times longer. Unfortunately, the older two-volume (relatively) complete journal is in a large unwieldy format, and the complete journal currently being published by Princeton is too academic and too expensive for the average reader.

The book's introductory material mentions five previous and much shorter books of journal selections. Several of these are still available--I own four of them and a couple others which aren't mentioned. Because there is so much original material to choose from and some of the books have a specific focus, there isn't that much duplication among them. If you enjoy one, you'll enjoy them all. Given the current options, I've preferred accumulating a collection of these books to an unsatisfactory version of the complete journal.

The introduction also explains how this book's content was chosen. The primary objective was to have it read as a representative version of the full journal rather than as a collection of excerpts. The editor therefore tried to balance material among the seasons and months, including keeping one of each month relatively unabridged. Another goal was to make it readable, so there is very little in the way of notes. Entries were chosen by personal preference, not historical importance. As you read, the date appears on the left page and Thoreau's age on the right so you always know where you are both in time and in his life.

An introductory example shows some of what was cut from one day's entry and made me wish again there was a better edition of the full journal. I'm not really comfortable with such heavy editing of Thoreau's words, especially since the text gives no indication of where the cuts are, even when done within a sentence. Does this material still deserve to be called Thoreau's journal? I greatly appreciate the quantity of material presented, but have reservations about its quality. It's not that it reads poorly--if the editor hadn't explained his method in the introduction, few people would even know cuts had been made. It just feels to me that Thoreau's been misquoted.

There is no index which would have been a very useful addition. There are however several of Thoreau's drawings included in the text, including an infamous morel which had been censored from the old edition of the journal.

Five stars for Thoreau's words, but I have to take away at least one for the editing.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider The Turtle 6 April 2010
By Daniel Myers - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Proust, after reading excerpts of a French translation of Thoreau's Walden, said that, "It is as though one were reading them inside oneself, so much do they arise from the depths of our intimate experience." Indeed, quibble with editor, Damion Searls', selections for this nearly 700 page one volume edition of the Thoreau's Journal -one-tenth the original size - if you see fit, but he seems to me to have caught the heart of Thoreau. Proust might well admire him; at times, one rather thinks one might be reading a translation of Proust:

"Dreams are real, as is the light of stars and moon, and theirs is said to be a dreamy light. Such early morning thoughts as I speak of occupy a debatable ground between dreams and waking thoughts. They are a sort of permanent dream in my mind. At least, until we have for some time changed our position from prostrate to erect, and commenced or faced some of the duties of the day, we cannot tell what we have dreamed from what we have actually experienced."

The best parts of these "intimate experiences" recorded here are the words of a liminal being, seeing through to some other world by seeing into the world around him so meticulously and yet so profoundly:

"Certain localities only a few rods square in the fields and on the hills, sometimes the other side of a wall, attract me as if they had been the scene of pleasure in another existence."

"As I climbed the Cliff, I paused in the sun and sat on a dry rock, dreaming. I thought of those summery hours when time is tinged with eternity - runs into it and becomes one stuff with it."

The overall effect of the volume is something like drifting down a river in Thoreau's boat (described herein) through mysterious and bewitching purlieus, where mindscape fuses with landscape. One comes away reminded of Thoreau's contemplation of the turtle:

"Be not in haste; mind your private affairs. Consider the turtle. Perchance you have worried yourself, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seemed rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with a turtle's pace."

This has been my experience of reading these extracts of a man who said that, "I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream." He - I along with him - was often gripped by the striking eeriness of simply being alive: "I am living this 27th of June, 1840, a dull, cloudy day and no sun shining. The clink of the smith's hammer sounds feebly over the roofs, and the wind is sighing gently, as if dreaming of cheerfuler days."
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoreau's journals, simplified 24 May 2010
By P. Bergh - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I agree you can question the editing until you're blue in the face, this is a fine, affordable way to enjoy Thoreau's journals, plus a LOT easier to use than his hardcover versions, which, by the way are difficult to find. My only wish is that it was also available in Kindle version, as it is a book that lends itself very well to "dipping into" almost at random.. I keep it near my reading chair and, even with only a few minutes, am constantly blown away by Mr. HDT's brilliance, wit, and grasp of both the natural and human state of the world.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life would suck... 11 Jan 2012
By Tom McCubbin - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Life would suck without this journal. Thanks, Henry, for all your wonderful and thoughtful work. A year or more of page-flipping ecstasy awaits the reader. I use the journal as a prompt for keeping my own journal. The work operates on many different levels: a forerunner of modern nature writing, a style guide for budding writers, a philosopher's guide to idealism mixed with common sense. I'm half way into my third reading, and bought both paperback and Kindle.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Henry David Thoreau, studid!!! 4 Mar 2013
By Donald Carmichael - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Henry David Thoreau puts self-made pencil to paper on the night table of his self-made cabin in the woods to hone his God-given writing talent. (That is, until Ralph Waldo's "Mr. Self-Reliance" moves back to his parents' house and his mother's complimentary meal ticket, but that's another story. Oh well! All of us are entitled to a little hypocracy in life, are we not?) Back to the real world: this single volume edition of Thoreau's many years of journal entries are surely inspiring, thoughful and just plain good reading, and eventually become the meat and potatoes (sans the meat--he was vegan, before "vegan" was popular) of his world-class essays. His Journal, along with the Holy Bible, will keep me reading about hypocrits and prodigal sons until the Kingdom and Nirvana come. Five stars indeed for Thoreau's Journal creation and the whole cosmos full for God's Word and His Creation!!!
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