Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
MembersReviewsPopularityRatingFavorited   Events   
37,900 (45,346)429397 (3.92)1850
In September 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne noted this social encounter in his journal: "Mr. Thorow dined with us yesterday. He is a singular character---a young man with much of wild original nature still remaining in him; and so far as he is sophisticated, it is in a way and method of his own. He is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and somewhat rustic, although courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty. On the whole, I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know." Most responses to Thoreau are as ambiguously respectful as was Hawthorne's. Thoreau was neither an easy person to like nor an easy writer to read. Thoreau described himself as a mystic, a Transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher. He is a writer of essays about nature---not of facts about it but of his ideals and emotions in its presence. His wish to understand nature led him to Walden Pond, where he lived from 1845 to 1847 in a cabin that he built. Though he was an educated man with a Harvard degree, fluent in ancient and modern German, he preferred to study nature by living "a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust." Knowing this, we should beware of misreading the book that best reflected this great experience in Thoreau's life: Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854). It is not a handbook of the simple life. Though there are elements in the book of a "whole-earth catalogue" mentality, to focus on the radical "economic" aspects of Thoreau's work is to miss much in the book. Nor is it an autobiography. The right way to read Walden is as a "transcendental" narrative prose poem, whose hero is a man named Henry, a modern Odysseus in search of a "true America." Thoreau left Walden Pond on September 6, 1846, exactly two years, two months, and two days after he had settled there. As he explained in the pages of Walden: "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went to live there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." Growth, change, and development were essential to his character. One should not overlook the significance of his selecting July 4 as the day for taking possession of his residence at Walden Pond, a day that celebrates the establishment of a new government whose highest ideal is individual freedom. In terms of Thoreau's redefinition of the nation-idea, "the only true America" is that place where one may grow wild according to one's nature, where one may "enjoy the land, but own it not." Thoreau believed that each person should live according to individual conscience, willing to oppose the majority if necessary. An early proponent of nonviolent resistance, he was jailed briefly for refusing to pay his poll tax to support the Mexican War and the slave system that had promoted that war. His essay "On Civil Disobedience" (1849), which came from this period of passive resistance, was acknowledged by Mahatma Gandhi (who read it in a South African jail) as the basis for his campaign to free India. Martin Luther King, Jr. later attributed to Thoreau and Gandhi the inspiration for his leadership in the civil rights movement in the United States. Thoreau contracted tuberculosis in 1835 and suffered from it sporadically afterwards. His health declined over three years with brief periods of remission, until he eventually became bedridden. Recognizing the terminal nature of his disease, Thoreau spent his last years revising and editing his unpublished works, particularly The Maine Woods and Excursions, and petitioning publishers to print revised editions of A Week and Walden. He died on May 6, 1862 at age 44. (Bowker Author Biography)
— biography from Walden
… (more)
Walden 12,381 copies, 160 reviews
Walden / Civil Disobedience 6,713 copies, 42 reviews
Civil Disobedience and Other Essays 1,570 copies, 11 reviews
Civil Disobedience (Author) 1,372 copies, 24 reviews
Walden and Other Writings 1,337 copies, 9 reviews
Walking 771 copies, 17 reviews
The Portable Thoreau 763 copies, 4 reviews
Cape Cod 706 copies, 9 reviews
Walden and other writings 706 copies, 5 reviews
The Maine Woods 678 copies, 5 reviews
Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition 566 copies, 7 reviews
Thoreau: On Man and Nature 367 copies, 1 review
Collected Essays and Poems 323 copies, 2 reviews
Walden and Other Writings 306 copies, 5 reviews
The Journal, 1837–1861 224 copies, 5 reviews
Letters to a Spiritual Seeker 131 copies, 3 reviews
Excursions 112 copies, 2 reviews
Henry David's House 112 copies, 2 reviews
Civil Disobedience / Reading (Author) 91 copies
Works of Henry David Thoreau 85 copies, 1 review
Wild Apples 54 copies, 1 review
Men of Concord 46 copies
Autumnal Tints 45 copies
Journal 43 copies, 1 review
Friendship and Other Essays 41 copies, 1 review
The Illuminated Walden 36 copies, 1 review
Canoeing in the Wilderness 34 copies, 2 reviews
Thoreau's animals 27 copies, 2 reviews
Thoreau's Wildflowers 26 copies, 1 review
The River 22 copies
Ktaadn 15 copies
Friendship 11 copies
Un paseo invernal 11 copies, 1 review
Summer 10 copies
Autumn 9 copies
Musketaquid 8 copies
Volar : apuntes sobre aves 6 copies, 1 review
A Winter Walk 5 copies
Marcher 3 copies, 1 review
Marcher 3 copies
American Fields and Forests 3 copies, 1 review
Poemas 2 copies
Til naturen 2 copies
The service 2 copies
Translations 2 copies
Essais 2 copies, 1 review
Desobeir 1 copy
Thoreau's Journals (Author) 1 copy
The moon 1 copy
On Water 1 copy
On Land 1 copy
Yürümek 1 copy
Walden 1 copy
Spring 1 copy
An Ideal 1 copy
Passejades 1 copy
Journal 1 copy
No title 1 copy
The Art of the Personal Essay (Contributor) 1,232 copies, 8 reviews
Essays: English and American (Contributor) 543 copies, 1 review
The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists (Contributor, some editions) 507 copies, 8 reviews
The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (Contributor) 352 copies, 3 reviews
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (Contributor) 255 copies, 4 reviews
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1 (Contributor, some editions) 237 copies
The Literary Cat (Contributor) 218 copies
The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (Contributor) 212 copies, 2 reviews
American Religious Poems: An Anthology (Contributor) 138 copies, 1 review
A Comprehensive Anthology of American Poetry (Contributor) 122 copies, 2 reviews
The Anarchist Reader (Author, some editions) 111 copies
The Anarchists (Contributor) 100 copies
The Standard Book of British and American Verse (Contributor) 99 copies, 1 review
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (Contributor) 95 copies, 2 reviews
American Sonnets: An Anthology (Contributor) 59 copies
Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (Contributor) 52 copies, 2 reviews
Range of Philosophy (Contributor) 45 copies
The Book of the Sea (Contributor) 35 copies
The Signet Book of American Essays (Contributor) 32 copies
Classic Essays in English (Contributor) 22 copies
The Penguin book of the ocean (Contributor) 19 copies
Trees: A Celebration (Contributor) 11 copies
Christmas Classics: Stories for the Whole Family (Contributor) 10 copies, 1 review
America's Great Wilderness (Contributor) 5 copies
A Reader for Writers (Contributor) 2 copies

Top members (works)

Member favorites

Members: gangleri, WaldensLibrary, BohdiCave, vlek, falkja, JustineAvery, SandraArdnas, tcg17321, TessLongmire, mysterium, therebelprince, private member, pmowrey, BD_Engel, r4hulk, _eskarina, sweyenberg, seabear, ghostwire, Persey24 (show 165 more), phoebemary, ruinedmap, terasmussen, lokidragon, mgmolloy, polymnia, JVioland, majystr, private member, barringer, bmorphism, chrk, wordswordswords, jphamilton, InDreamsAwake, Bill-once, HenriMoreaux, dwgc, Dani.Koltrast, bks1953, krisfrydrys, Cutty, therealworld, private member, private member, pausanias, JamesCher, Windy.Wyatt.Moon, remiplum, mtlmtlmtl, mamaroux, ZellaKate, private member, DMTrek14, j.a.lesen, landskip, IslandDave, beccac220, Madison2011, private member, jppoetryreader, private member, private member, jharris22586, GCSorenson, wsickler, joanngrasso, private member, librarianlady4, private member, plantlover, benjclark, S3Arts, asm198, robinmandm, melvillean, lildan15, JEldredge, millerrose, JAFalconF, RomanticAeternitas, rosalindaseyes, ms.hjelliot, euphorb, sixwoolsocks, CraigHodges, ford30a, nevstad, private member, donsmith, hartwell, trestan, K.J., Prototype, collectedanimal, FeralPawn, theaelizabet, JEPartrick, Eurekas, Damian2902, private member, mbruchet, aretepraxis, LaurelMildred, sanford9850, tonyshaw14, bkd, leslievan, lawecon, IronMike, owen1218, Ecyla, private member, ltezemer, couloir, funkasy, rsmallaby, DanFilipkowski, soyoban, cel1664, ikkyu2462, rmccoll, private member, karentimko, jghormley, cathyskye, j_miah23, suncloud9, bricycle, estoddert, AllisonBenkwitt, private member, themista, lizkalfas, tietoukka, Ganeshaka, thucydides1, frankcain, adrndack, discutant, Anametheus, jerkboy, Cebiro, theoldman, ErnestHemingway, davidsietsma, powervich, ScottHughes, wesh, hedley, Adobe, hjb, private member, Enodia, JanWillemNoldus, apbthoreau, dhoyt, KhrystiBooks, paulacs, hnouwens, chrisharpe, susanblackerkkila, NaDaoineAiseirithe, rachelle-a-tron, dwmoody, guybrarian, uru, Darrol, June, private member, TinazReading, Proclus, brtom, the_red_shoes, LillyJames, eugenegant, Chamomile, jess.icawright, MayorWhitebelly, tem209, books_ofa_feather, dodger, ledfloyd90, marise, jveezer

Add to favorites
19th century (633) American (449) American literature (1,085) anthology (535) autobiography (247) biography (299) civil disobedience (176) classic (619) classic literature (155) classics (854) ebook (190) ecology (147) environment (257) essay (310) essays (1,826) fiction (539) hardcover (135) Henry David Thoreau (222) history (245) Kindle (175) Library of America (232) literature (1,127) Massachusetts (176) memoir (655) natural history (244) nature (1,533) nature writing (168) New England (202) non-fiction (2,220) own (155) philosophy (2,508) poetry (835) politics (441) read (216) Thoreau (634) to-read (1,357) transcendentalism (697) travel (169) unread (245) USA (220)

Henry David Thoreau has 9 past events. (show)

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical name
Legal name
Other names
Date of birth
Date of death
Burial location
Country (for map)
Place of death
Cause of death
Places of residence
Awards and honors
Short biography
Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience" (originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.

Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close observation of nature, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and attention to practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.

He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending the abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Thoreau is sometimes referred to as an anarchist. Though "Civil Disobedience" seems to call for improving rather than abolishing government—"I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government"—the direction of this improvement contrarily points toward anarchism: "'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."
Disambiguation notice

Member ratings

Average: (3.92)
0.5 5
1 119
1.5 19
2 314
2.5 65
3 886
3.5 189
4 1555
4.5 171
5 1630

Author pictures (5)

(see all 5 author pictures)

Improve this author

Combine/separate works

Author division

Henry David Thoreau is currently considered a "single author." If one or more works are by a distinct, homonymous authors, go ahead and split the author.


Henry David Thoreau is composed of 39 names. You can examine and separate out names.

Combine with…


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 171,535,462 books! | Top bar: Always visible