Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau (Two Stars)

Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau (Two Stars)

“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”

Third time’s a charm. I forced myself to finish this. Musings of a self-absorbed twit do not improve with age. Like most thirty-somethings, Thoreau has figured out life: everyone else are phonies or sell outs. He is the only honest man, and he means to tell that to the world.

“I had an old axe which nobody claimed.”

Thoreau camps out on land he didn’t pay for, builds a hut with a little bought, mostly used or “harvested” materials, using “borrowed” tools, grows peas, eats gruel almost daily, and wonders why everyone else doesn’t do the same. He’d fit right in with some modern politicians.

“It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it” “What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is the law of average.” “In our bodies, a bold projecting brow falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of thought.”

One page he decries people who repeat unlikely wisdom without checking for themselves, then a few pages later he extrapolates his measures of one pond to a universal rule for all bodies of water, manner of men, and even borders on phrenology—positing one’s personality by the shape of one’s brow.

“Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.”

As a bonus, the reader gets “On Civil Disobedience” too.

“I hesitate to say these things, but it is not because of the subject—I care not how obscene my words are—but because I cannot speak of them without betraying my impurity. We discourse freely without shame of one form of sensuality, and are silent about another.”

Thoreau is a keen observer, a facile writer, and detailed recorder. Some passages are worth reading. Most readers, however, will reach the end and wonder what the fuss is.

“Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”