Reviewing this book is complicated. If I had written the review yesterday it would have been mostly negative. I would have compared it to Atlas Shrugged: a few good facts that are oversimplified and mis-applied to everything, surrounded by hundreds of pages of boring monotony.
Today I have quite a different view. This book is a glimpse, a pause, an alternative perspective that is useful and applicable.
Let me explain.
The problem was in my initial assumptions. I've heard of Walden and Thoreau many times in my life. I thought it was about a poor author who decided to stop fighting economic hardship and instead go live on the side of a little pond in the woods by himself so he could sit and think and contemplate and write down his thoughts in a journal. Then he eventually published what he learned while living in solitude in a little shack by a pond.
Then I found out that Henry David Thoreau studied at Harvard, and he could live by the pond for free because his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson owned the land. Thoreau didn't live in solitude, but walked in to town on most summer days and visited friends, neighbors, local farmers, and also had regular visitors to his little self-built cabin. He used tools that he found, like an axe and a boat, and the rest he bought used.
His book is NOT telling people to go live off the land by themselves. He isn't recommending solitude or that society would work if everyone only lived with what they need.
His book is about an experiment.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.. and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."
"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."
Thoreau never said that living off the land by himself was the best way to live. He said he wished to reduce life to it's most simple form and see what he could learn. After he had learned it - he moved on to a new form of life.
That is where I see the value: The lessons he taught are to be applied to the life we wish to live. We aren't supposed to abandon society and ambition and family and all comforts to live the most simple life possible - but we ARE supposed to see the superfluous parts of our lives. See where we have excess, where we are indebting ourselves, and what we can do without so we can simply enjoy life.
This book is not a page turner. The first 10 pages were great, and the next 20 really were monotonous. It was worth it nonetheless. This book is worth reading, because it made me think and increased my understanding. What more could I want from a book?
The quote which made me think the most was this:
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
That made me realize that med-school didn't cost 4 years, or $200,000. Medical school will have cost me at least 15 years of life when I pay off the last debt. It will cost most doctors 30 years of life.
Not that we don't live while in medical school and internship and residency and fellowship and practice - but we don't live free. We are still bound by medical school and it's debt and it cost me 15 years.
Was it worth it?
My favorite quotes:“As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.”
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
"The number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax."
“Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.”
“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”
“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
“My greatest skill in life has been to want but little”
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
"The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is."
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
"I do not speak to the well-employed... but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them."
"While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings."
“As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.”
"Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."