Walden by Henry David Thoreau


I have mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, I think Walden’s ethos and philosophy is largely positive and relatable for me. His views on the appreciation of nature, solitude, and civil life are good and important. I think more people should do the things he recommends.

On the other hand, this book was hard to read. Much harder than I thought it would be. I realized that not many people I know offline and online have read Thoreau’s work. Yes, he is often cited for his subversive views, but how many people today actually do read Walden? I’m sure some people gave up, and I almost did a couple of times.

I liked the content, but I was bored by the style and delivery.

I read this for the Classics Spin and it took me ages. I put it away for nearly a month because it did not engage me. Philosophy in general can be hard to read, but he is sometimes less forthright cut about it than Plato or the Enlightenment philosophers. I think this book would have been improved if there was a plot or more concrete examples. It was as if I was reading a long diary entry in Thoreau’s life. He meanders and his style changed.

Most of this book is not actually about civil disobedience or vegetarianism, it’s largely about nature. Long, overwrought passages on nature. I actually don’t think Thoreau is a bad writer, but there was something incredibly dull about most of this book. Too much waxing poetic. I remember many a number of pages on lakes and ponds and rivers.

In the beginning of the book, I did find Thoreau was erudite, intelligent and true, but at the same time, I found him florid, pretentious and bourgeois. This was the first 10% of the book, the rest he just talk about nature, solitude, and his neighbors. I am not sure if it was the time frame, but that should not be a problem since I have read so many nineteenth century books, but not necessarily philosophy. There was sometimes a feeling of insincerity in his words or slight arrogance about his knowledge of the world. He was only about 30 when he wrote this and I can see that his relatively young age can have contributed. He had not travelled very much and it shows in this book. I also suspect he was sarcastic at times.

Should other people read it? I think parts of the book and certain quotations make provocative reading such as the last section of Civil Disobedience. I think it is also a good book about history and the setting in which he wrote it because Thoreau is clearly intelligent. In terms of reading this for fun, I really do not know many people who should actually enjoy this book.

Or maybe I am blind to how good his prose was, but for me, this was not the most memorable reading experience even though I did agree with Thoreau at times.

Read on Kindle from February 27th to April 12th 2013.

5 thoughts on “Walden by Henry David Thoreau

  • Pingback: The Classics Club book selection

    • athena (Post author)

      Hi Susan! I’ve read some of Emerson’s poetry and quite like it. I do appreciate and admire Thoreau, but it was slow going through the book. Hope your weekend is going well!

  • Mabel

    This is one of my favorite books. To each his/her own, right? 🙂 Civil Disobedience is not part of Walden, though it’s often included these days as a separate essay attached to Walden. Walden was a book; Civil Disobedience was a lecture that was titled “Civil Disobedience” posthumously, if I recall.

    • athena (Post author)

      Hi Mabel! I do remember you saying that when I did my spin post. My copy of the book on Kindle just tacked on the Civil Disobedience essay which was confusing. I do like some parts of the book, but it’s not my favourite book. Still, I don’t regret it and he does have some memorable lines in Walden itself. Thanks!


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