The Best Quotes From Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden; or Life in the Woods.”

by John Hawkins | February 1, 2012 6:47 am

Thoreau was brilliant and Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions)[1] is a classic book; so I was glad to finally get around to reading it.

After reading the book, my conclusion is that Walden was quite uneven.

In some places, you marvel at the wonder of Thoreau living off the land, alone, in the midst of breathtaking beauty. In other parts, Thoreau sounds a little like a hippie who took his own silly anti-capitalistic rhetoric about living in tune with nature like an African tribesman a little too seriously. At times, Thoreau drops pearls of wisdom the way Joe Biden drops stupid and other times, he’s just plain old dull as dishwater. Still, the book is probably worth reading, because Thoreau actually did something that most people fantasize about now and again, but never get around to actually trying.

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? — P.2

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. — P.4

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. — P.16

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call my life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. — P.19

Even the poor student studies and is taught only political economy, while the economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not sincerely professed in our colleges. The consequence is, that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably. — P.33

One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. — P.37

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. — P.37

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. …If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life… — P.49

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root… — P.49

I confess, that practically speaking, when I have learned a man’s real disposition, I have no hopes of changing it for the better or worse in this state of existence. — P.79

We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about fireside ever night; we live thich and are in each other’s way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications. — P.89

Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails. — P.141-142

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any eqpaulet I could have worn. — P.178

A living dog is better than a dead lion. — P.210

  1. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (Dover Thrift Editions):

Source URL: