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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Observing Nature. Philosophical and insightful., 7 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
Walden continues with the same theme and exploration set out by other influential nineteenth century transcendental philosophers, most notably, Thoreau's great mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is broadly, and perhaps loosely, termed as an experimental investigation about living in nature for a period of two years, removed from society, and people, in general. Thoreau accounts for his time living amongst the delectable and sumptuous wonders of the forest. Birds, mammals, fish, the seasonal weather and of course Walden pond itself, all enchant, capture and dazzle Thoreau's imagination, providing the central plinth for his philosophical enquires.

Split into chapters, Thoreau investigates and questions how we live, under various headings, including society and economies. He portrays a clear aversion towards materialism and all its shallow underpinnings, and ardently encourages a simplicity of living and outlook. There are many moments of magic in the book, particularly phrases and insights that are rich, more for their timelessness and breadth of thought. He says, "Things do not change; we change" (on p.292) and "love your life, poor as it is".

Whilst Walden is meant to be about finding one's self and connecting with Nature, it should be mentioned that with the development of new transportation during this period, a train line built near Walden pond, preoccupies Thoreau for large parts of the book, and through this, he meets people en route and has visitors, as well as various forays out of the forest, to see friends and family members; hence, Walden is not a people-less book, and it is not an experimental exploration into total solitude with nature, which is what some are led to believe. This does create some feelings of hypocrisy, and Thoreau's credibility is at times questioned, especially when he remarks, "do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends". This is documented in the introductory part of the book (in the Oxford World's Classics version), which gladly, I only referred to once I had finished reading Walden itself. Other areas that floundered were the final third of the book, where mysteriously, almost incredulously, Thoreau stopped, or seemingly abandoned his philosophical insights, and instead documented mere observations of detailed encounters with the indigenous red squirrels and loops. There was a sense of hollowness when his philosophy disappeared.

Walden is an insight into a theoretical mode of living. I say `theoretical' for some of the reasons outlined above. If you are someone who has an interest in nature, in philosophy, especially the transcendental type, and society, then this a must-read for you. It has influenced some towering, canonical figures in History; and whilst tangental at times, and periodically loses a sense of objectivity, it is a rewarding and important read, especially for the wit, irony and observations. Here are two quotes Thoreau conveys, with both artistry and beauty.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them" and then, and so lucidly, "....if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours".
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