Into the Book


“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Fed up with the pointless extravagances and intricacies of civilized society, Henry David Thoreau ventured to return to the simple life that mankind once lead, only concerning himself with the most basic necessities for survival. For two years and two months, Thoreau lived in a cozy shack he built himself by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, recording during this time his reflections on civilization and his observations of the natural world around him in this, his most popular book, Walden: or, Life in the Woods.

 The clarity of Thoreau’s thoughts despite their depth, the careful organization and connection of his ideas, and the very personal tone in which he writes makes Walden entertaining and gratifying to the reader. However, despite its simplicity the book was still powerfully challenging and thought-provoking, as Thoreau presents quite evidently his transcendentalist worldview. Though I am not a transcendentalist myself, I yet saw great wisdom in his thoughts concerning society’s obsessive materialism (an issue that remains relevant even to us today) and the benefit of independence from civilization and communion with nature. Thoreau inspired me both as a writer and a human being.

Although written a style with grammar and tone typical to writers of the nineteenth century, Walden proved to me to be surprisingly readable, as Thoreau wrote not to an exclusive audience of scholars and philosophers, but to normal people of average intelligence and education like you and me. As Thoreau put it himself, he wrote “mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them” and to “that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.” If you identify with either of those categories – and even if you don’t – I would highly recommend that you read and ponder this enlightening book. It is certainly not demanding of your time or energy; you could feel just as sufficiently satisfied reading the book small sections at a time as reading it all in a day or two. Thoreau has much of significance to say, and he says it very well.

Thoreau is challenging you readers to think, and I would strongly encourage you to accept his challenge. I can almost guarantee that you will not regret it. You may even grow to love the book as much as I do!

Stephen Hange

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Published on 28 February, 2014. Last updated on

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Joyce

    You have a great voice. It’s kind of. . .resounding, and you pack a lot of information into your sentences. I think you have good insights into the book and you understand it well, and beyond that, you’re able to pull that out of the book and apply it to today. Very good job on that 🙂

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