Henry David Thoreau, Walden or Life in the Woods


Published by Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 1972


Henry D. Thoreau’s “Walden or Life in the Woods” is actually not a novel but rather a collection of diary entries, which document Thoreau’s experiences as a dropout in the Massachusetts forest. Thoreau (1817-1862) is a well-known writer of the American Transcendentalism, a movement that loosely corresponds to the European Romanticism. In 1845 he withdrew to a log cabin on the secluded property of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson for some two years to find himself, away from the hustle and bustle of modern society.

“Walden” documents an ascetic, frugal life, quiet and solitary. Thoreau spends his days with gardening, growing vegetables, chopping wood, or repairing leaks in his cabin. Visitors are rare, which leaves him all the more time to listen to the birds in the forest, read, or ponder on the questions of life.

And many of his insights remain highly relevant even in the 21st century. So people keep asking him how he could live like a vegetarian. He answers, quite dryly, that he might as well eat board nails and grow big and strong all the same. He finds that today’s students don’t learn anything anymore and that it is useless to study economics while living off one’s parents’ money. The young people should rather try to make a living for themselves, they’d learn more about economics than in any number of lectures. He thinks that we work too much and that it makes us unhappy (#burnout), that we consume too much unnecessary information (#information overload) and that we hoard too many material possessions (#consumer society). His answer to the problem? “Simplify, simplify!”

First published in 1854, “Walden” became the bible of hippies, environmentalists, dropouts, and the movement of 1968. Until today the book is hugely popular. Just how popular proves a new German magazine, published quarterly: “Walden: The outdoor magazine for men” explains to its readers how to chop wood, make fire, or build a canoe.


Teresa Teklić

Signet Sunflower Foundation