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Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

Author of Walden

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About the Author

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 show more 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) show less

Works by Henry David Thoreau

Walden (1854) — Author — 14,100 copies
Walden / Civil Disobedience (1849) 7,674 copies
Civil Disobedience (1849) 1,584 copies
Walden and Other Writings (1854) 1,485 copies
Walking (1862) 910 copies
The Portable Thoreau (1947) 853 copies
Cape Cod (1865) 777 copies
The Maine Woods (1950) 763 copies
Walden and other writings (1993) 746 copies
Thoreau: On Man and Nature (1960) 416 copies
Collected Essays and Poems (2001) 352 copies
Walden and Other Writings (1937) 324 copies
The Journal, 1837–1861 (2001) 314 copies
The Natural History Essays (1980) 142 copies
Reflections at Walden (1968) 140 copies
Walden and Other Writings (1981) 135 copies
Henry David's House (2002) 134 copies
Excursions (1863) 131 copies
Works of Henry David Thoreau (1981) 108 copies
Civil Disobedience / Reading (1995) — Author — 94 copies
Life Without Principle (1863) 72 copies
Wild Apples (1923) 64 copies
Autumnal Tints (1900) 61 copies
Thoreau on Birds (1964) 56 copies
Men of Concord (1936) 53 copies
Walden (1990) 49 copies
Canoeing in the Wilderness (1864) 48 copies
Friendship and Other Essays (1920) 44 copies
Thoughts from Walden Pond (1998) 43 copies
The Illuminated Walden (1714) 40 copies
A Yankee in Canada (1866) 35 copies
Thoreau's Wildflowers (2016) 33 copies
Thoreau's animals (2017) 33 copies
The Quotable Thoreau (2011) 32 copies
Thoreau in the Mountains (1982) 31 copies
Material Faith: Thoreau on Science (1999) — Author — 31 copies
Thoreau: Political Writings (1996) 26 copies
The River (1963) 25 copies
Un paseo invernal (2014) 24 copies
Thoreau: The Major Essays (1972) 18 copies
Ktaadn (1848) 16 copies
Summer (2017) 16 copies
Essays, journals, and poems (1975) 15 copies
A Year in the Woods (2017) 13 copies
Letters to various persons (1865) 12 copies
Friendship (1900) 11 copies
Slavery in Massachusetts (2008) 9 copies
Walden and Other Writings (2010) 9 copies
The Works of Thoreau (1946) 8 copies
Musketaquid (2014) 8 copies
Journal, Volume 3 (1992) 7 copies
A Winter Walk (1843) 7 copies
Thoreau's New England (2007) 5 copies
Ascoltare gli alberi (2018) 5 copies
Lob der Wildnis (2013) 5 copies
Henry David Thoreau Selected Writings (1958) — Author — 5 copies
Journal, Volume 5 (1997) 5 copies
El Diario - Volumen Ii (2017) 4 copies
Voisins animaux (2020) 4 copies
Journal, Volume 6 (2000) 4 copies
Til naturen (2017) 3 copies
Sept Jours sur le fleuve (2012) 3 copies
Poemas (2018) 3 copies
Sivil Itaatsizlik (2015) 3 copies
Leben aus den Wurzeln. (1992) 3 copies
Thoreau on writing (1989) 3 copies
Sir Walter Raleigh (2007) 3 copies
Nature and Walking (2011) 3 copies
El gran invierno (2021) 3 copies
Pensées sauvages (2017) 3 copies
Poems of Nature 3 copies
Primavera 2 copies
The New Walden 2 copies
Kolme matkaa erämaahan (2014) 2 copies
Vida salvaje, La (2016) 2 copies
Histoire de moi-même (2017) 2 copies
Les pommes sauvages (2009) 2 copies
Un monde plus large (2021) 2 copies
An Excursion to Canada (2012) 2 copies
Journal 1844-1846 (2014) 2 copies
WALDEN And Other Stories (1937) 2 copies
Toulky přírodou (2010) 2 copies
The service (2021) 2 copies
Essais (2007) 2 copies
Journal, 1837-1852 (2002) 2 copies
Night and Moonlight (2013) 2 copies
Shoe-strings 1 copy
Walden 1 copy
Yaban Elmasi (2021) 1 copy
Deník (2020) 1 copy
Opere scelte 1 copy
Spring 1 copy
Desobeir 1 copy
The Essential Thoreau (2008) 1 copy
Huckleberries (1970) 1 copy
The Writings VI (2016) 1 copy
An Ideal 1 copy
No title 1 copy
In Praise of Walking (2018) 1 copy
Thoreau's Journals — Author — 1 copy
Walden, Volume 2 (2010) 1 copy
The moon (1985) 1 copy
Passejades (2000) 1 copy
The Landlord (2015) 1 copy
Yürümek (2013) 1 copy
Woodshed 1 copy
Ekonomik Itaatsizlik (2016) 1 copy
Tagebuch III (2018) 1 copy
On Water 1 copy
On Land 1 copy

Associated Works

The Art of the Personal Essay (1994) — Contributor — 1,376 copies
American Bloomsbury (2006) — Featured Artist — 653 copies
Essays: English and American (1910) — Contributor — 600 copies
The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists (2000) — Contributor, some editions — 550 copies
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (2008) — Contributor — 416 copies
The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) — Contributor — 389 copies
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (1998) — Contributor — 278 copies
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1 (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 255 copies
The Literary Cat (1977) — Contributor — 241 copies
The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (1983) — Contributor — 236 copies
The American transcendentalists, their prose and poetry (1957) — Contributor — 187 copies
American Religious Poems: An Anthology (2006) — Contributor — 162 copies
The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature (1998) — Contributor — 158 copies
A Comprehensive Anthology of American Poetry (1929) — Contributor — 128 copies
The Anarchist Reader (1977) — Author, some editions — 124 copies
The Standard Book of British and American Verse (1932) — Contributor — 116 copies
The Anarchists (1964) — Contributor — 112 copies
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (1986) — Contributor — 103 copies
American Sonnets: An Anthology (2007) — Contributor — 66 copies
Selected Writings of the American Transcendentalists (1966) — Contributor — 63 copies
Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice (1969) — Contributor — 61 copies
Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (2004) — Contributor — 57 copies
The Range of Philosophy: Introductory Readings (1964) — Contributor — 53 copies
The Book of the Sea (1954) — Contributor — 36 copies
The Signet Book of American Essays (2006) — Contributor — 36 copies
Writing Politics: An Anthology (2020) — Contributor — 35 copies
The Seas of God: Great Stories of the Human Spirit (1944) — Contributor — 25 copies
American Literature: The Makers and the Making (In Two Volumes) (1973) — Contributor, some editions — 25 copies
Classic Essays in English (1961) — Contributor — 22 copies
The Penguin Book of the Ocean (2010) — Contributor — 20 copies
Son of Man: Great Writing About Jesus Christ (2002) — Contributor — 17 copies
Fairy Poems (2023) — Contributor — 15 copies
Trees: A Celebration (1989) — Contributor — 13 copies
Christmas Classics: Stories for the Whole Family (2006) — Contributor — 12 copies
Favorite Animal Stories (1987) — Contributor — 11 copies
Great Short Works of the American Renaissance (1967) — Contributor — 10 copies
Suspense: A Treasury for Young Adults (1966) — Contributor — 6 copies
America's Great Wilderness (1976) — Contributor — 5 copies
Let Us Be Men (1969) — Contributor — 3 copies
A Reader for Writers — Contributor — 2 copies
The Analog Sea Review: Number Four (2022) — Contributor — 2 copies


19th century (655) American (464) American literature (1,123) anthology (648) autobiography (266) biography (342) civil disobedience (188) classic (651) classic literature (157) classics (933) diary (168) ebook (203) ecology (156) environment (265) essay (323) essays (1,919) fiction (584) Henry David Thoreau (235) history (289) Kindle (200) Library of America (263) literature (1,200) Massachusetts (193) memoir (719) natural history (260) nature (1,601) nature writing (176) New England (210) non-fiction (2,389) own (164) philosophy (2,657) poetry (891) politics (468) read (234) Thoreau (666) to-read (1,688) transcendentalism (735) travel (183) unread (255) USA (223)

Common Knowledge

Legal name
Thoreau, David Henry
Date of death
Burial location
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts, USA
Concord, Massachusetts, USA
Place of death
Concord, Massachusetts, USA
Places of residence
Concord, Massachusetts, USA
New York, New York, USA
Harvard College (AB|1837)
inventor (show all 7)
pencil maker
Emerson, Ralph Waldo (friend)
Alcott, Louisa May (student)
Fuller, Margaret (friend)
Jackson, Lidian (friend)
Underground Railroad
Huckleberry Party
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."



Walden by Henry David Thoreau – STEEL 2022 in Fine Press Forum (March 23)
Walden in Book talk (November 2017)
1001 Group Read, June, 2012: Walden in 1001 Books to read before you die (July 2014)


Coincidently enough, a neck-bearded misanthrope is exactly the picture that comes to mind when I imagine how eccentric a man must be to inflict such a wacky self-flagellation upon himself as to slough himself off in a kettle hole within a stone's throw of civilization, for the haphazard purpose of a "spiritual awakening". I don't know, but it sounds to me like he might have been cultivating more than just beans.
TheBooksofWrath | 189 other reviews | Apr 18, 2024 |
One of those classics with clear resonances to the present day. A must-read for everyone.
sfj2 | 189 other reviews | Apr 3, 2024 |
One takes a gamble when attempting to read an old literary classic. Will it hold up to modern sensibilities? Will the prose or concepts be impenetrable or require glosses and annotations to explain them? Fortunately, Walden does hold up and does not require scholarly assistance. I must say, though, that were I not consuming this as an audiobook I would have had a much harder time getting through parts of it. This is an example where having the text read (and at 1.25x speed) definitely helps.
[Note: Goodreads does not list the audiobook version I listened to. It is published on Audible by Dreamscape Media and read by Robert Bethune.]
… (more)
Treebeard_404 | Jan 23, 2024 |
This book is a posthumous creation, finishing as best as may be what Thoreau had started. As such, it is a little uneven but enjoyable nonetheless. This is much more Thoreau wearing his scientist cap than his Transcendenalist hat.
Treebeard_404 | 3 other reviews | Jan 23, 2024 |


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Lewis Hyde Editor
Barry Moser Illustrator
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Ray Angelo Contributor
Erik Bystad Translator
Michael Meyer Introduction, Editor
Perry Miller Afterword
Eduards Groševs Cover designer
William O. Douglas Introduction
Wilhelm Nobbe Übersetzer
Thomas Nason Illustrator
Antti Immonen Translator
Michel Onfray Préface
Sam Gilpin Afterword
Valdis Ābols Translator
Tatjana Fischer Translator
Jacques Mailhos Traduction
Paul E. Kennedy Cover designer
Jim Harrison Préface
Emma Emmerich Translator
Louis Fabulet Traduction
Laura Ross Editor
Max Gissen Editor
Stig Åsberg Illustrator
William Hope Narrator
Jonathan Levin Introduction and Notes
Kristen Case Introduction
Rupert Degas Narrator
W. S. Merwin Introduction
Claire Leighton Illustrator
Carl Bode Editor
Laurence Vernet Translator
Markku Envall Translator
Ben Wiseman Cover artist
Robert Finch Introduction
Henry Bugbee Cane Illustrator
飯田 実 Translator
Paul Theroux Introduction
R. J. Holden Illustrator
David Pearson Cover designer
John Stilgoe Preface
Abigail Rorer Illustrator
N. C. Wyeth Illustrator
Lily Owens Editor
Alexander Pechmann Übersetzer
Einar Sigstad Illustrator
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