Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

I very quickly fell in love with “Walden” as I started to read it.  It has an allure to it that can suck you in.  Living on the outskirts of humanity, fending for yourself, answering to no one, it’s attractive.  Thoreau also peppers his accounts of his experiment in the woods with keen insights into humanity.  This makes him eminently quotable.  For instance: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education:  they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”  I think the reason why you don’t see his quotes more often is how verbose and descriptive he tends to be.  I chose that quote not because it is one of my favorites but because it is by far the shortest I had highlighted.  Quotes tend to be pithy.  Thoreau does not know the meaning of the word “pithy”.

I then very gradually fell out of love with “Walden”.  So much of the middle of the book is spent on simply describing Walden Pond and its environs, flora, fauna, visitors, oh, and what seemed like a billion pages on how deep Walden Pond is and talking about the ice that forms upon it.  Ugh.   I’ve never experienced such a reversal of my interest during my reading of a book before.

The final chapter picked back up the spirit of the first few chapters and things got interesting again as he delved into his politics.  Thoreau was a fascinating person.  Judging from his writing, if he were alive today, I think he’d be a Libertarian.  Much of what he has to say about people borders on condescending and much of what he has to say about politics smashes right through that border.

“Walden” is a slog to get through.  Whether it is worth it much depends on the reader.  If you often find yourself thinking about living a life of simplicity and solitude, there is much here for you.  If you enjoy the intricacies of the English language and teasing out meanings from complicated sentences, there is much here for you as well.  If you don’t find either of those appealing, you’d best look elsewhere for your entertainment.  I would recommend “Walden” to anyone and if they start out enjoying the first chapter, they should continue reading until they get bored and then just skip to the last chapter.  I am incapable of taking such advice, but others are not as completist as me either.