October 7, 2011

The Others - Henry David Thoreau

First, let me admit to something - I am not all that crazy about the so-called classics. Just thinking about them leads to a cruel flashback to school times when we were forced to read all kinds of boring old books for class. Sure, sometimes those books really weren't so bad, but more often than not we were simply too young to fully appreciate them.
That said it was probably my luck that I didn't get to know any of Henry David Thoreau's work while still in school. Let's blame it on the fact that there was a focus on German-speaking authors as I live in Austria, so things will obviously have been quite different in English-speaking countries. Who knows whether I would like him so much as an author today if I had been thrown into the cold waters of Walden Pond much too early?

A replica of the small cabin that Henry David Thoreau built and lived in between 1845 and 1847.

Probably best known for this book Walden or Life In The Woods, this American author was more than just a writer. With his work he also showed that he was a social reformer, naturalist, philosopher, transcendentalist, and scientist. Published in 1854, Walden details Thoreau's experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. The reason for living in a cabin deep in the woods (which by the way was not all that far from the next town) were two-fold. He hoped to isolate himself from society to gain a more objective understanding of it. And simple living and self-sufficiency were his other goal.

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

As a writer, Thoreau was one of the most powerful and influential American writers and although only a small part of his work was published in his short lifetime, he was a prolific writer whose works filled twenty volumes when collected in 1906. Those are over two million words ... makes you wonder if so many words qualify for "simple" but who am I to complain? I really do like Thoreau's work.


  1. I read Walden in college. It was in my 4th year, so I didn't have enough time to enjoy everything that was a the "must read or else" list, but I remember I was so intrigued by his story of living away from the maddening crowd :)

  2. What a nice picture, perfect time of year too.
    Hmm, time to reread I think.

  3. I haven't read Thoreau since high school. Thank you for the reminder, it's time to revisit him.