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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Tis a gift to be simple, `tis a gift to be free...
And `Tis a shame that I cannot claim this is a re-read after 40 years or so. I can only cite the very well-worn cliché: Better late than never.

Walden is a pond, just outside Concord, Massachusetts, and for two years in the mid-1840's Henry David Thoreau lived a largely solitary existence there, in a simple wooden cabin which he constructed. This book is...
Published on 27 Mar 2011 by John P. Jones III

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get into it
Walden is a very heavy read. I must confess I couldn't get past the first few chapters. The writing style was just too inaccessible, which is a shame, because once you get past that, there does seem to be some thought provoking content. I highly recommend picking this up before buying it to see if you'll be able to cope with it.
Published on 31 Mar 2010 by Onewithall


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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Tis a gift to be simple, `tis a gift to be free..., 27 Mar 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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And `Tis a shame that I cannot claim this is a re-read after 40 years or so. I can only cite the very well-worn cliché: Better late than never.

Walden is a pond, just outside Concord, Massachusetts, and for two years in the mid-1840's Henry David Thoreau lived a largely solitary existence there, in a simple wooden cabin which he constructed. This book is a collection of his mediations on the natural world, and a person's place in it. Thoreau also ruminates on an individual's place in society and certainly demurs about the hurly-burly existence led by so many, or, in an expression that I had always attributed to T. S. Eliot, but was first coined by him: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

The first third of the book is on "economy," and the house that he built near Walden. He describes his labor, and provides a table indicating the total cost, and compares that with the annual rental cost of housing. Similarly, he covers his food, clothing and fuel expenses (the "essentials"), and the underlying theme remains the subject verse, taken from a Shaker song, "Simple Gifts," written about the same time: if you simplify your life, and rid yourself of the bondage of so much self-imposed clutter, you really are much freer, and that includes having the opportunity to take a ramble in the woods, which was a major aspect of his two years at Walden. As Thoreau phrased it: "Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." Or in another passage: "I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters." Contrast that with the constant exhortations of our consumer society to "buy, buy, buy" and if we can only get the American consumer spending again, our "economy" will be OK. The beauty of Thoreau is an independent mind writing against the grain of conventional thought.

Much of the latter portion of the book features his observation and outlook on the natural world around him. These observations range from the scientific to the poetic, with an emphasis on the latter, but he does not hesitate to make controlled measurements, like determining the true depth of the pond, which had previously been the subject of speculation. He describes how ice is harvested from the pond, and shipped to Boston for summer use, and is continually intrigued by the color of both the ice and the water in the pond. For those who are overwhelmed with "light pollution" and do not know what the phase of the moon is, Thoreau provides a suitable admonition: "It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots."

There is much else as well. He describes the life of poverty of his nearest neighbor, an Irish family who are recent immigrants. He also observes a battle between red and black ants, and plays "hide and go seek" with a loon on the lake. He leans towards vegetarianism, but praises hunting, and considers it a vital rite of passage for any boy (and yes, it was so long ago, the other half were not even considered).

Walden is not an easy read. In part it is due to the turgidity of Thoreau's prose style. There is also the aspect that portions of the book resemble the Desiderata poem that was plastered to so many bedroom walls in the 60's: a string of exhortation on the proper way to conduct one's life. The meaning of some of these aphorisms are quite understandable, for example: "While England endeavors to cure the potato-rot, will not any endeavor to cure the brain-rot, which prevails so much more widely and fatally"? But it would take some true assumptions and extrapolations, and they could be quite divergent, to squeeze the meaning from: "The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures." I'd welcome reader comments as to what that really means.

Walden was hardly a "commercial success" in Thoreau's lifetime, but its impact on numerous historical figures was significant. He was admired by the naturalists John Muir, Joseph Wood Krutch, Loren Eiseley, and David Brower. His companion volume, Civil Disobedience (Thrift Editions) influenced Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, as well as many others.

It is a book to be read slowly, with some tolerance for his style, and the occasional still quirky observations. Walden remains a 5-star read, and is an essential book for everyone to read, at least once in their life, even if it is in the latter phases.

Finally, proving that once again there are those unlikely connections that add the zest to life: each day I look 70 miles to the west, and enjoy the view of the mountain most commonly called Mt. Taylor, named after Zachary Taylor, the President of the United States who started the Mexican-American War, and is the reason this piece of earth that I inhabit is part of the USA. Henry David Thoreau practiced civil disobedience, and was briefly jailed for his failure to pay his taxes as a protest against that war.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on June 28, 2010)
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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jewel, 11 Dec 2003
By 
Jimbob (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
I find it hard to believe that the above reviewers are talking about the same book. This book is one of my personal treasures. Thoreau seems to embody the intelligence and wit of a great thinker with a childlike enthusiasm and excitement about the beauty of the natural world. When you combine that with his desire to live life and his respect for even the most humble of his fellow men you are in for some profound literature. This is not a book to be scan read or rushed through. Savour it, I don't see how you could be disappointed.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to live simply, 11 July 2009
By 
Dr. John D. Fleet (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
Walden is a masterpiece by Thoreau, about his years living in a cabin by a lake. He explains the advantages of a vegetarian way of life, saving money otherwise spent on meat, coffee and tobacco. It is the perfect book to take with you for that quiet retreat. I read it on Bardsey Island, living in a simple cottage in peace and tranquillity, and it has inspired me to simplify my life!Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift)
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy, not a record or instruction manual, 11 Jun 2010
By 
Jeff Tupholme (Salisbury, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
Walden was not what I was expecting in one way, in that it isn't a very complete record of how Thoreau actually lived. Yes there are details of his plantings and his accounts, but I was expecting it to be more hands-on in the details of self-sufficiency. However, that is not to say I was disappointed by any means, rather the book is full of WHY he lived in this way and that is much more valuable and interesting. Nearly every page has some deceptively simple thought that opens the mind and allows one to see the world in a different way. He is at his strongest when considering the human condition, and it is worth persevering through some of the denser passages as taken overall this has to be considered a classic.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a different brand of spirituality, 15 Sep 2000
By A Customer
although reading about potatos and bean fields is less than thrilling,Thoreau's simple and impactful words strike a chord and directly address the side of us that so easily becomes overshadowed in a consumerist society. With lines of such force as "Men do not own their homes, but rather the homes own the men", Thoreau's view of life as it should be is revolutionary, fuel for human change.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get into it, 31 Mar 2010
This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
Walden is a very heavy read. I must confess I couldn't get past the first few chapters. The writing style was just too inaccessible, which is a shame, because once you get past that, there does seem to be some thought provoking content. I highly recommend picking this up before buying it to see if you'll be able to cope with it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful account of a simple life., 22 Feb 2012
This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
If I could only recommend one book to somebody, it would be this. A beautifully written account of 'Life in the Woods', and subsequent musings on a myriad of topics. Thoreau left behind the daily grind, built a log cabin, and the insights gained thereof are the sort of wisdom that this grumpy plastic bureaucracy we live in would do well to learn from.
On one page, a poetic description of the surrounding wildlife, on the next a scathing critique of materialism. I would never have expected that somebody could write beautifully about growing beans in a field, and indeed use it as a metaphor for life as a whole.
I can't help but think, if everybody read this book and took heed of it's message of simple living, we would all be happier for it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Henry David Thoreau and Hindu scriptures, 29 Mar 2011
By 
Rama Rao "Rama" (Annandale, VA, USA) - See all my reviews
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Reading through the pages of this book makes you wonder if the author was a hermit and a heretic or a social reformer, or a mystical philosopher. "On Walden Pond" sounds similar to the classic movie "On Golden Pond," starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. There are some similarities; in both stories the lead characters go and live near a secluded lake (pond) to spend their lives, but Thoreau goes a step forward to find himself and his soul when he can't accept the status quo of life. His journey is to find the truth that is beyond the apparent reality: A search for transcendental truth of Bhagavadgita and Upanishads. His search for the nature of soul is found in the tranquility of Walden Pond when he states that, "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose com¬position years of the gods have elapsed, and in com¬parison with which our modem world and its litera¬ture seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our con¬ceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! There I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favoring winds it is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides, makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Temate and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic gales of the Indian seas, and is landed in ports of which Alexander (the Great) only heard the names." Through these passages he compares himself to the great Vedic sages and rishis who meditated deep in the woods for prolonged period of time in total tranquility to realize spiritual awakening. Thoreau was a prophet who had the same identity crisis as his better known contemporaries like; Emerson, Whitman, Channing, Hawthorne, Melville, and Dickinson. But among these men, Thoreau was forerunner as practitioner. He insisted that knowledge without experience or action is a false knowledge.

Thoreau's passion to seek inner meaning of life is illustrated by his disappointment in the traditional Christian culture; "We have adopted Chris¬tianity merely as an improved method of agriculture. We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb. The best works of art are the expression of man's struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten." In another paragraph he observes; "For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to glorify God and enjoy him forever." In another section of the book, Thoreau writes, "We perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always ex¬hilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slum¬bering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit every where, which still is built on purely il¬lusory foundations." He continues in the later part of the paragraph, "I have read in a Hindoo book, that there was a king's son, who, be¬ing expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to ma¬turity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of his father's ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul," continues the Hindoo philosopher, "from the circumstances, in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme. I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things."

Thoreau was also keenly interested in the work Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. In many ways he resembled Darwin in his patient observations and Benjamin Franklin in his inventive practicality. Unlike most transcendentalists, he could do things, tend to garden and make home repairs for Emerson, or actualize the real carpentry Branson Alcott's fanciful vision of a summer house.

Thoreau expresses strong belief in social reforms when he refuses to pay taxes in protest against practice of slavery in Southern States. He championed abolitionist John Brown whom he met briefly in Concord, Massachusetts. In one paragraph he laments; "I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous,.." "There are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both north and south. It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave driver of your soul."

1. Civil Disobedience
2. The Works of Henry David Thoreau (with active table of contents)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and owning great meaning, a must read, 27 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Walden, just the name brings immediate thoughts and images. A wonderful read which makes you think, and reaffirms the important things in life. If this book doesn't change you, your probably dead already. Should be required reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest book to come out of America, 15 May 2011
By 
Mr. A. Peters - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Walden (Paperback)
Be warned...this book is a slow read. And I do mean slow.
As thoreau said, people must put the same time and effort into reading a book as the author put into writing it.
It took me six months to read two thirds of the book,
pretty much most days I worked at it. Rarely out of my hand.
The book is basically one great poem.
Until I came across this book I was reading mostly rubbish.
and I knew nothing.
It opened my eyes and changed me on so many levels.
It enabled me to see through the life of careers and aquisition
and achieve a profound connection with nature

I say 'greatest book from America' because I cannot imagine any other book
being powerful enough to have such a life changing impact

He said he regetted that he did not have the wisdom of his youth.
I thank god that I discovered this when I was young.

'Life is full of traps...
Every path but your own is the path of fate...
Stick to your own path then.'
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Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions)
Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) by Henry David Thoreau (Paperback - 1 Aug 1995)
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