“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
Between 4 July 1845 and 6 September 1947 Henry David Thoreau went into a solitude and live a simple life alone in the woods in Walden Pond for 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days. He did so to escape what he saw as “over-civilization”, and to search for the “raw” and “savage delight” of the wilderness.
And by immersing himself in nature, Thoreau wished to gain more understanding over society as a whole from afar as well as to learn about simple living and self-sufficiency. This book is the brainchild of his thoughts and diary that came out from that deep state of meaning, which became an instant classic.
At least that’s what initially portrayed, which is why I was surprised when I finally get my hands on the book and it turns out to be nothing like the many good reviews and references about it.
Firstly, his idea of solitude was living in his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property (and not, as he claimed, “in a house which I had built myself”) just 2 miles away from Concord where his parents are and where he still go out to every day. Secondly, he spent quite some time playing host to a variety of visitors, which spoils the spirit of solitude. And thirdly, the resulting diary out of the semi-solitude was written in a condescending tone, where he seems to project a sense of superiority by practising frugality and a minimalistic lifestyle and that everyone else who don’t follow this path are idiots.
Moreover, while some parts of the book focused on his contemplation of society and the affairs of men, there are many parts that got weird real quick such as a detailed account on bean cultivation, his many grocery lists (complete with the prices), and an obsession on how to measure the depth of the pond. Indeed, the majority of his solitude diary contains nothing more than gibberish rants over his experiment.
Nevertheless, if we stick with him until the end of the book he will eventually come around to what makes this book ground breaking in his time: the mindfulness feel of living in solitude, no matter how flawed it was. Sure, after a wave of transcendentalism movement his ideas are not new anymore today, but it was something inspiring and fresh during his time.
Read the beginning in chapter 1 and the conclusion in chapter 18, skim read the rest in between, and we arguably can still get the overall mood of the book and might learn one or two things in the process.