One of the most thought provoking works of Thoreau. Although, it is quite short in length as compared to Walden nevertheless it was equally amazing. A brilliant read for anyone willing to question modern day definition of patriotism and nationalism.
Walden, what is it? Is it a book on nature, a book on ecology, a book on human nature, a prescient description of the struggle between modern civilization and the land that nurtured it, a critique of mankind, a string of quotable gems, an account of a mind, or, like Star Wars, a way of slipping a deep and human spirituality into someone else's mind without their recognizing it? It depends on who is doing the reading and when. Read it for any of these purposes, and it will not disappoint. If you've never read it, read it. If you read it for class years ago and hated it, read it again. This may be the most subtle, multi-layered and carefully worked piece of literature you'll ever find. By keeping the down-to-earth tone (no doubt in reaction to the high-flying prose of his friend, R.W. Emerson) Thoreau pulls a Columbo, and fools us into thinking he's writing simply about observing nature, living in a cabin, or sounding a pond. Somehow by the end of Walden, however, you may find it is your self he has sounded. People have accused Thoreau of despising mankind, but read deeper and you will discover he loved people well enough to chide us, show us our faults (admitting he's as bad as the worst of us), and give to all of us this wonderful gift, a book you could base your life on. There is more day to dawn, he reminds us at the end: the sun is but a morning star.
I knew that Henry David Thoreau was a tax evader, however I did not realize how radical he was until I read his book on the duty of civil disobedience.
He starts off with "The government is best which governs not at all." This should have tipped me off to what was going to come next.
What would Timothy McVeigh think if he had read this (and he might have): "Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?"
Henry David Thoreau's discussion of democracy verging on mob or only majority rule also could have incited certain people. If you put your hand over the title and read the sentences they could've been dropped into "Mein Kamph" and fit very well.
The bottom line in his dissertation is stated: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize that individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly."
Anyone who prefers Emerson above Thoreau surely does so with a view to increasing his own popularity. Thoreau is too outspoken to be liked by everyone--indeed, to identify more with him is a kind of social suicide. But then, Thoreau was ever convinced that he was not here to please anybody, but rather to be authentically what he was. To find a modern western man who so thoroughly embodies the wisdom of antiquity is as rare as "the tooth of a dragon, or the hair of a phoenix." Henry David Thoreau is such a man. More than a mere combination of past, present and future, he joins together the most mundane, prosaic and ordinary considerations of daily life with the loftiest and noble thoughts of mankind. Furthermore, he perceives the spiritual aspirations and practices of east and west as one coherent whole. He was well acquainted with the classics of both hemispheres--The Tao de Ching, The Bhagavad-gita, Vedic writings, The Iliad and more--and here, distilled for us common folk, is that wisdom as seen from the his viewpoint. Bertrand Russell has given what would seem the crown laurel to Thoreau calling him "a pure romantic"-in contrast to the weak romanticism of Victor Hugo, or the rather soft variety found in Emerson. During his lifetime, 700 or so of the 1,000 copies he had printed of "Walden" wound up in his parents' attic, ostensibly making him a failure as a writer. Since then he has become a literary god, and without doubt one of the most influential writers of the past 200 years. It was Thoreau's tract entitled Civil Disobedience, written because of his objection to paying tax to the American government--a so-called democracy involved in slave trade, westward expansion, displacement of indigenous population and imperialistic annexation of Mexico--that gave fuel to human rights movements in the 20th Century. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. based their efforts on this small but amazingly powerful essay, which only goes to show that Confucius--one of Thoreau's favorite sage authors--was right; the thought of an intelligent man sitting in his room can kill a king and destroy his country. And so it was that slavery was abolished in the United States, India attained home rule and racial integration in the U.S. progressed. Since the industrial revolution in the 18th Century, the central goal of western technological society has been economic growth. And to achieve an economic growth that is endless, corporations in the latter half of the 20th century have encouraged consumption that is mindless. But by the dawn of the 21st century, this central project has proven to be obsolete, for nature cannot sustain endless economic growth, and neither can the people in general. Nature has rebelled by refusing to absorb the transgressions against her dignity (pollution), and humanity has expressed insurgence through psychological and physical disease. Dr. Willis Harman has discussed the matter in detail in his book, "Global Mind Change" but, though more than a decade has passed since its publication, the important and timely points that it makes have yet to be assimilated by the public. Thoreau, however, was already tuned in to this problem way back in the 1840's. Astrologers attribute an overlap of a little more than 200 years between astrological ages, and this puts Thoreau in with the new Aquarians. His observations--on economy, simplicity, learning, human nature, participation mystique when close to nature and the close proximity of God--are unpresuming, candid and at times downright hilarious. I say Henry David Thoreau is a philosopher sage amongst the American transcendentalists, and a man who was not unconcerned about his less educated or enlightened fellows. He took tremendous pains to share himself with us through his writings, and there are many innovations of his that are already being practiced by posterity. Not the least of these is the growing awareness that ADULT EDUCATION for men and women can be a lifelong pursuit. I agree with Dr. Harman that this is on its way to becoming the new central project of western society, known as it is presently by the name, The Personal Growth Movement. In Walden the seeker will find lucid clues as to what the Aquarian Age is all about, its characteristics and even the means of cultivating the new consciousness. But this is not a book for people who like easy reading. Henry would demand of you that you read it with the same diligence and deliberation as it was written. It took him five years of refinement before he was satisfied with the manuscript. Walden will provide you and your descendants with many more years of pleasure and enlightenment than that.