Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
Henry David Thoreau
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Buy *Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin Great Ideas)* by Henry David Thoreau online

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin Great Ideas)
Henry David Thoreau
112 pages
May 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This is a small book, pocket-sized quite literally, in the Penguin Books "Great Ideas" series, which also includes such classics as The Social Contract by Jean-Jaques Rousseau and Eichmann and the Holocaust by Hannah Arendt. So, despite his hermetic tendencies on earth, Thoreau has found good company in literary and philosophical heaven.

There's little one can say about Henry David Thoreau that hasn't been said better elsewhere. He was a political activist who spent a night in jail rather than pay his back taxes, wrote a treatise about the righteousness of disobedience to unjust civil authority, and stood up for John Brown when most of his fellow citizens refused to defend him. Thoreau chose to live alone for a long spell, though he was not an unfriendly man. Whilst he sojourned in a handmade house in the wilderness by Walden Pond, he kept diaries describing the natural beauty of the place and the simple yet remarkably full days that he passed. With what could have been humor but was more likely the scolding strategy of a modern Jeremiah, he mocked those around him who toiled for wages yet had lost the capacity to enjoy their lives. "I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of...who made them serfs of the soil?"

This wise viewpoint is many times repeated in the course of Thoreau's life, as he decried every iota of modernity from the telegraph ("We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate") to the postal service ("I could easily do without the post office") to the press ("I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper").

These strokes of invective, these observations laced with detached amusement, could easily be attributed (with updated technologies) to a latter-day blogger. That they were made two centuries ago marks Thoreau as a man well ahead of his time, a man who transcends all petty considerations of "the times" - a man who would rather walk than ride by train because he believed that he will get to his destination faster, since others would have to spend many hours working to earn the train fare. This is the zen of Thoreau, a man who listened to foxes "as they ranged over the snowcrust on moonlit nights" and the mysterious song of the hoot owl, and wrote, "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep."

This little book with a little price tag could be a priceless gift to someone you love for the upcoming holiday season. Thoreau would applaud its practical size and economical cost. How much better to give this gem of wisdom and vision than "pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things." In these difficult and unpredictable times, what better advice to share than to "keep your accounts on your thumbnail" and "live...by dead reckoning...simplify, simplify."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

buy *Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin Great Ideas)* online
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