Walden – Henry David Thoreau | Book Review

‘the commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring.’

‘say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.’

‘however mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.’

quotes from the Conclusion of Walden.

Thoreau’s Walden is regarded as a timeless classic. I had been meaning to read it ever since I watched ‘Into The Wild’ in which the main character is reading the book. Well, does his book still hold up? The book is receiving a lot of criticism nowadays. Perhaps, Thoreau is even more out of date than he was at his time; he was refusing to use a train as he thought there was no point in buying a train ticket for which you would have to work days when you can use the same days going there by foot (actually, he’s got a fair point there, but not everyone has that much time as he did). If he lived now, he would probably be one of those boomers spamming Twitter with petty rants. Can we still learn something from him? Is Walden still relevant or has it become an obsolete book by modern standards?

Thoreau spent a little bit over two years at Walden, where he built his house and lived from the food he grew. He calculated his expenses and savings thoroughly to prove his thesis that people don’t need much money to live well. A lot of the book is about judging other people, especially the people in Walden. He pities the normal folk that works hard all day only to ‘enjoy’ their bought goods which they could have made/harvested in the first place. He also rants about how much time people waste chattering with each other just to kill time. I have to say, I do agree with him on some points. Living on your own and spending time in silence is a great time to find yourself and dig deeper into the meaning of life and your essence. It is also quite sad how people work from morning to night just to pay the bills and have food on their tables that they could’ve grown themselves.

Thoreau lived from 1817-62, two centuries ago, but he already saw how people separated themselves from nature through modern technology. He could only shake his head if he lived in 2022. Thoreau is definitely a man of his time which we couldn’t just revive. If he were born in our time he would also be a different person, probably taking the train sometimes. It is hard to judge people who lived centuries ago, well, it is quite easy, but it shouldn’t be done so thoughtlessly as it’s often done. We all would think differently if we were born and raised in a different time. But there is always something to learn from people. Do you need to read his book in order to do that? To be honest, I would neither nod nor shrug. I did find parts of the book rather tedious to read. If you are interested in reading a lot about scenery, seasons, and ponds, this book is for you. I would have rather skipped the parts. The most interesting chapter, ironically, was the Conclusion. Thoreau finally shared all his thoughts and beliefs in a concise way.

I do think he has some good points, especially for our modern society, which is consumed by the Internet, always busy and hustling, burn-out, depressed, and lonelier than ever. It is not in likes, full fridges, the latest designer clothes, or the newest smartphones, in which we find happiness and peace of mind. We forget that we’re part of nature. Connecting to it and our inner self, which we can only be accessed through no distraction and silence, is vital for our mental well-being. Another lesson we can learn from Thoreau is that making things ourselves, cooking our own food, etc. is more rewarding than working a hard job only to buy the stuff (which is now also bad quality, most of the aisles in supermarkets don’t offer proper food but trash that we put into our bodies, we wear clothes that rip easily and buy digital gadgets made from child labour). We value money over everything and pay with our time to get it. Of course, not everyone can just build or buy a house somewhere near a pond, but we should re-think the value of money and how disconnected we are from mother nature and our own nature. Money has become the king of the world, and somehow paper or a number on the bank account is more important than anything else in the world. We should be careful and mindful of how we use our body, how we treat it, how we nurture it, and what we prioritise.


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