Thoreau’s Walden turns 160

I know… yawn.

It’s an old, boring book you were forced to read in high school, written by some bloviating crank in old clothes prattling on about ants, swamps, and the howling winds of winter. I get it.

Walden can be a bit of a slog to get through at times, but Henry David Thoreau’s view of the world just may be the perfect antidote if you’re looking to make sense of today’s hyper-connected, fast-paced, complex world.

This month marks the 160th anniversary of the first publication of Walden.

View of Walden Pond near site of Thoreau's cabin

View of Walden Pond near the site of Thoreau’s cabin

Thoreau finished his first draft in 1847, and over the next six years made six more drafts before the book was published by Tichnor & Field in 1854. Walden received mostly positive reviews, and nearly all of the initial printing of 2,000 books were sold within the first year.

After the first printing of the book sold out, the publishers let it go out of print. Thoreau hoped for another printing, but Tichnor & Fields did not publish Walden again until after Henry’s death in 1862. Since then, it has remained in continuous print and is still used in classrooms throughout the world. Today, a first edition Tichnor & Fields copy of Walden is worth over $30,000.

Walden Pond walking trail

Walden Pond walking trail

A few years back I started collecting different editions of the book and, to date, have accumulated over 130 unique editions. Hello eBay!

Last year I pulled together cover images and publication data of the different editions as well as the full-text of the book and created the online web site as a repository of information about Walden.

What will you get from Walden, you ask? It is both an account of Thoreau’s two-year stay at a small cabin he built himself on the shores of Walden Pond near Concord, MA and a window into his philosophy of living. For me, the main five takeaways are:

  • Truth
  • Introspection
  • Self-reliance
  • Simplicity
  • Divinity of nature
  • Deliberate solitude

So, forget about high school… no pop quizzes or book reports required.  Give Walden another shot!