Thoreau wrote Walden about his two years spent in a basic cabin in the woods outside of town, published in 1854.
Read any minimalist work, and, as Ronnica noted above, chances are very good you will run across a reference to Thoreau’s Walden.
I first read this text in college, and I confess, it didn’t strike me as anything special–just a typical, dry, transcendentalist work. Maybe it requires a bit more life experience to fully appreciate, because this go-around, I found myself relating to what he talks about (self-sufficiency, minimalism, living in sync with nature, etc.)–and thus enjoying the book–much more.
As with any work of literature, the take-away message of this text will vary from person to person. For my part, I found myself inspired–Walden served as something of a pep talk for truly “walking the walk.” I find that to be the take-away for much of the minimalist-leaning literature I read, but this is truly the definitive work on the subject. Thoreau actually lived his values–actually going off the grid to do so–which is something I am constantly striving to do.
I’m so glad that I finally read this classic. I was stunned at how much of the book could have been written today. Particularly this passage about his generation’s obsession with news:
“Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.”
Doesn’t that sound like social media and our addiction to it?
What struck me the most about Walden was how familiar Thoreau was with the wildlife around him, though he wasn’t a botanist or zoologist. I think this is one of the saddest part of our nature deficiency: we find the species that co-habit this world with us to be completely foreign. Though I think I’m better than average in this category (thank you high school science competitions), I want to focus on this more and learn the names of some of the plants and animals I encounter on my hikes.
Having read Walden, I don’t think that I need to forsake everything and head into the woods (though it is sort of tempting). But I do hope to join Thoreau in saying, “my great skill has been to want but little.”