Walden Book Notes

Still experimenting with the format and layout of how to share my book notes and where/how on this site they will be organized, but here’s the first one:

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau


Man goes out to live by self for 2 yrs in the woods.


Stoicism/on the shortness of life themes

Basically, be a minimalist, stop trading your time and happiness for money to buy material luxuries that you don’t really need and won’t make you happy.  Go out and live in the woods, be self sufficient.  Don’t be like other people and don’t do things b/c everyone else is doing them–don’t be a lemming.

Some beautiful passages describing the scenery.  It reminds me of my journalling when I go out in the woods to observe nature.  Maybe this was partly meant to act as a naturalist’s journal and partly as a philosophical treatise.


“Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them…Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciate in the market.  He has no time to be anything but a machine.”


“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.  What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”


“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

“A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.  There is no play in them, for this comes after work.  But it is  characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”


“No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.  What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion…what old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can.”


“We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests…”


“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”


“We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!”


“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.  It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”


“When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced.”


“And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”


“But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools…we now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”


“No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time.  This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.”


“It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”


“…for my greatest skill has been to want but little…”


“…the man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready and it may be a long time before they get off.”


Arguments for living a minimalistic life–don’t be a slave to work, don’t be a slave to the news, travel/wealth are not goods in themselves


Don’t listen to other ppl or old ppls’ life advice or experiences, it’s not true by the time it gets to you–better to observe for yourself and make your own opinion


“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”


“We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new values for each other…we live thick and are in each other’s way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose respect for one another.”


“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society”


People’s worries color their perceptions of a thing:

“The old and the infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger…”


“Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”


“…for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days…”


“Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.”


“Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.  Enjoy the land, but own it not.”


On traveling/self awareness:

“One hastens to southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the game he would be after…I trust it would be nobler game to shoot one’s self.–

‘Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find

A thousand regions in your mind

Yet undiscovered.  Travel them, and be

Expert in home-cosmography.’”


“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.  Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”


“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.”


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary;  new, universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of being.”


“In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”


On one-track minds and lemmings/tradition:

“It is a ridiculous demand which England and America make, that you shall speak so that they can understand you.  Neither men nor toadstools grow so.  As if that were important, and there were not enough to understand you without them.  As if Nature could support but one order of understandings…As if there were safety in stupidity alone.”


“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises?  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


“No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth.  This alone wears well.  For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position.”


“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.  It is not so bad as you are.  It looks poorest when you are richest.  The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.”


“Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends….things do not change; we change.  Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.  God will see that you do not want society.  If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”
“Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.  Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

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