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Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition
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285 of 296 people found the following review helpful
Walden, what is it? Is it a book on nature, a book on ecology, a book on human nature, a prescient description of the struggle between modern civilization and the land that nurtured it, a critique of mankind, a string of quotable gems, an account of a mind, or, like Star Wars, a way of slipping a deep and human spirituality into someone else's mind without their recognizing it? It depends on who is doing the reading and when. Read it for any of these purposes, and it will not disappoint. If you've never read it, read it. If you read it for class years ago and hated it, read it again. This may be the most subtle, multi-layered and carefully worked piece of literature you'll ever find. By keeping the down-to-earth tone (no doubt in reaction to the high-flying prose of his friend, R.W. Emerson) Thoreau pulls a Columbo, and fools us into thinking he's writing simply about observing nature, living in a cabin, or sounding a pond. Somehow by the end of Walden, however, you may find it is your self he has sounded. People have accused Thoreau of despising mankind, but read deeper and you will discover he loved people well enough to chide us, show us our faults (admitting he's as bad as the worst of us), and give to all of us this wonderful gift, a book you could base your life on. There is more day to dawn, he reminds us at the end: the sun is but a morning star.
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134 of 137 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 22, 2000
As a professor of philosophy, I at one time regularly took classes of first year college students to Concord for a week-long intensive seminar on Emerson and Thoreau. I eventually abandoned the seminar, because I discovered that each class was progressively more hostile to what these two wonderful persons stood for. The ..... reviews written by young people of this edition of _Walden_ are, then, disconcertingly familiar to me. I obviously disagree with their evaluations of the book and of Thoreau's character. But what's interesting is why they have such a negative reaction to a book written, as Thoreau says, for young people who haven't yet been corrupted by society. What is it about the culture in which we live that encourages such hostility to his eloquent plea for simplicity? It's too facile to suggest that the backlash is motivated only by resentful pique at what's seen as Thoreau's condemnation of contemporary lifestyles, although I suspect this is part of the explanation. I'd be interested in reading the thoughts here of other readers who are likewise puzzled and disturbed by "Generation Y's" negative response to Thoreau.
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235 of 246 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 18, 2004
WALDEN has rarely been out-of-print since its first publication in 1854. Copies come in all sizes, shapes and price ranges. Today's Thoreauvians have three ANNOTATED versions of WALDEN to choose from. Each one provides same-page explanatory notes that help the reader interpret the sometimes esoteric references in Henry David Thoreau's original text. The three books are "The Annotated Walden" (edited by Philip Van Doren Stern, 1970), "Walden: An Annotated Edition" (edited by Walter Harding, 1995), and "Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition" (edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer, 2004). Each one has at least one map of Concord and/or Walden Pond. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Each one has appeal for a devoted audience.

"Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition" by Jeffrey S. Cramer was released in August 2004, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the original publication date. Cramer is the curator of collections for The Thoreau Institute and therefore has access to some of the best primary and secondary source material available -- including Walter Harding's notes. In addition to the text of WALDEN, this volume includes a few "extras": an introduction to Thoreau's life but only as it applies to his cabin stay and WALDEN writing; a bibliography; notes on the text; and a detailed index. The explanatory notes -- the essence of an annotated edition -- are quite extensive. They are set off from the WALDEN text with page-within-a-page graphic detailing and are easy to read. Cramer did not merely merge Van Doren Stern's and Harding's previous notes with those from David Gorman Rohman's dissertation. His analysis at times echoes that of Harding, but when it does, Cramer often goes one step further with a definition or citation. He has thoughtfully used a "Notes on the Text" appendix to outline HDT's wording differences in the various drafts of the work. Thus his annotations are not bogged down by minor editorial alterations that the casual reader may not care about. Unlike Harding, Cramer refrains from expressing personal opinions and lets the research speak for itself. An added bonus is a reproduction of Edward Emerson's map of Walden Pond which shows the location of Thoreau's bean-field as Waldo's son remembered it. The only cumbersome quality in this publication is the placement of WALDEN chapter titles at the bottom of the pages instead of the top. This otherwise stellar volume is beautifully presented with a cover photo of the cabin reproduction as it currently stands in Walden Pond State Recreation Area. A classy edition by all accounts.

Lining up the three versions side by side is an interesting experiment, best conducted on a rainy summer day when no other work has appeal. Let's use two well-known and oft-debated passages for an initial sample interpretive comparison.

"I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail." ("Economy") Do those three animals stand for actual individuals in Thoreau's life? Or does this passage simply refer to Life's losses? Philip Van Doren Stern devotes a page-length note to this paragraph. He mentions a few of the major interpretations and refers readers to the bibliography for more. His conclusion is: "Since there is no clear explanation, each reader will have to supply his own." Walter Harding offers three pages in a special appendix that covers all the major theories. At the end, he too suggests that "each reader is free to interpret them as he wishes." Jeffrey Cramer's paragraph cites two similiar excerpts found in other Thoreau pieces, and his explanation states that "no analysis has been generally accepted as valid." So the three men agree: we have to decide for ourselves what we think of the story.

"There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection." ("Conclusion") Is the parable that follows that opening sentence based on some of the Eastern texts that Thoreau was fond of reading at the time? Or is it a thinly-disguised depiction of his own struggle to perfect the final WALDEN manuscript? Philip Van Doren Stern simply says that "no one has been able to find a source for the legend" and agrees with Arthur Christy that it is an allegory about Thoreau's own life. Walter Harding offers several possible origins of the legend but eventually cites and agrees with Christy's allegory statement. Jeffrey Cramer devotes just a two-sentence annotation, concluding with "It is generally agreed that the following fable is by Thoreau." In this instance, Cramer has the benefit of time over his colleagues. Most Thoreauvians have come to the same realization during the past decade after much gnashing of teeth.

Explanatory differences are more pronounced at other various junctures in the text. Each man obviously was intrigued by certain references more than others. I can say that overall, I found Jeffrey Cramer's annotations to be the most helpful of the three. Maybe someday someone will have the courage to tell all the makers of posters, bumper stickers, and t-shirts that "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in" is NOT about fishing at all.

Every school and public library should own at least one of these annotated editions. Academic libraries will want at least two of the three versions. If you want a book that has a lot more HDT than just WALDEN, find a used copy of the Philip Van Doren Stern book. If you want to hear from expert Walter Harding, choose his. Individuals who want the most comprehensive interpretation should go with the newest volume by Jeffrey Cramer. It's a worthy addition to the Thoreau legacy.
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101 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2003
I had not read this growing up but wish I had. This is such a wonderful book. There are not many pictures in here - just a hand drawn map in one part of the book. Its excerpts from Thoreau's journal over the two year period when he lived on Walden's pond. He did not live like a recluse (he went in to Concord almost every day) so its not a book about living alone per se. Its more about reflecting on life, considering why one "is" and recognizing the beauty and mystery of nature around us every day, everywhere. Thoreau talks of regular daily things too like what it costs him to farm, or having cider, or building a chimney. The writing style is conversational, open, honest. He doesn't try to get tricky with words, he just tells it like he sees it. It's so beautiful. For anyone (like me) who indeed sees nature as their "religion" or sees the Great Spirit in every leaf, tree and bug, this book will be adored. So many wonderful messages, thoughts, woven throughout this book. Its an incredible work.
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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2000
Walter Harding was one of the greatest Thoreau scholars. His annotations include explanations of puns I hadn't understood, sources of quotes and references in the text, and information about Thoreau's time. I also learned that one of my favorite places in Concord was referred to by Thoreau as Fairyland Pond.

The book also includes a map of the area in Thoreau's time, reproductions of HDT's manuscript pages, drawings and excerpts from his journal, and his map of Walden Pond with water depths he determined.

I wouldn't say the book is perfect--there are still a few obscure references without notes, and some notes for points that are obvious--but it's as close as anyone is likely to come.

Be sure to also read Harding's The Days of Henry Thoreau, a great biography.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 1998
This book screams simplicity!
In this book, Henry David Thoreau takes an extended look beyond human nature and human habit. He brings forth a new and exciting view point on life and teaches how to live in happiness without the confusion of mechanical materials. I had to read this book for a 9th grade Language Arts assignment, and I had never heard of Walden or Thoreau before this project was assigned. When I completed this book, I felt very refreshed. It encouraged me to take a second look at my own life, and simply discard of the things which were causing complications or confusion. This book stretched past the limits and capacity of my mind as a 9th grade student. It forced me to think. Judging by the majority of my peers, I am convinced that anything that would force them to THINK harder, deserves 5 shining stars.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 10, 2004
WALDEN has rarely been out-of-print since its first publication in 1854. Copies come in all sizes, shapes and price ranges. Today's Thoreauvians have three ANNOTATED versions of WALDEN to choose from. Each one provides same-page explanatory notes that help the reader interpret the sometimes esoteric references in Henry David Thoreau's original text. The three books are "The Annotated Walden" (edited by Philip Van Doren Stern, 1970), "Walden: An Annotated Edition" (edited by Walter Harding, 1995), and "Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition" (edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer, 2004). Each one has at least one map of Concord and/or Walden Pond. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Each one has appeal for a devoted audience.

"Walden: An Annotated Edition" by Walter Harding was released in 1995, a year before the editor's death. Harding was a founding member of the Thoreau Society and devoted his entire life to the man and his writings. He is still regarded as *the* HDT expert of the 20th century. In addition to the text of WALDEN, this volume includes a few "extras": a four-page forward that contains a biographical summary; a bibliography; journal entries and original HDT sketches scattered throughout the book's margins (a favorite Harding technique); and a special appendix regarding the story about "a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove." The explanatory notes -- the essence of an annotated edition -- define a number of references both in word and phrase. Harding didn't copy anything from Van Doren Stern's previous work, and he also didn't include as many stylistic comments as his predecessor. He offered more frequent explanations and backed them up with a variety of source materials. He also throws in his own opinion every once in a while. The occasional ink doodlings from the journals serve well to break up the text. But lack of an index is a major failing. This is a handsome volume that improves upon Van Doren Stern's previous WALDEN analysis.

Lining up the three versions side by side is an interesting experiment, best conducted on a rainy summer day when no other work has appeal. Let's use two well-known and oft-debated passages for an initial sample interpretive comparison.

"I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail." ("Economy") Do those three animals stand for actual individuals in Thoreau's life? Or does this passage simply refer to Life's losses? Philip Van Doren Stern devotes a page-length note to this paragraph. He mentions a few of the major interpretations and refers readers to the bibliography for more. His conclusion is: "Since there is no clear explanation, each reader will have to supply his own." Walter Harding offers three pages in a special appendix that covers all the major theories. At the end, he too suggests that "each reader is free to interpret them as he wishes." Jeffrey Cramer's paragraph cites two similiar excerpts found in other Thoreau pieces, and his explanation states that "no analysis has been generally accepted as valid." So the three men agree: we have to decide for ourselves what we think of the story.

"There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection." ("Conclusion") Is the parable that follows that opening sentence based on some of the Eastern texts that Thoreau was fond of reading at the time? Or is it a thinly-disguised depiction of his own struggle to perfect the final WALDEN manuscript? Philip Van Doren Stern simply says that "no one has been able to find a source for the legend" and agrees with Arthur Christy that it is an allegory about Thoreau's own life. Walter Harding offers several possible origins of the legend but eventually cites and agrees with Christy's allegory statement. Jeffrey Cramer devotes just a two-sentence annotation, concluding with "It is generally agreed that the following fable is by Thoreau." In this instance, Cramer has the benefit of time over his colleagues. Most Thoreauvians have come to the same realization during the past decade after much gnashing of teeth.

Explanatory differences are more pronounced at other various junctures in the text. Each man obviously was intrigued by certain references more than others. I can say that overall, I found Jeffrey Cramer's annotations to be the most helpful of the three. Maybe someday someone will have the courage to tell all the makers of posters, bumper stickers, and t-shirts that "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in" is NOT about fishing at

all.

Every school and public library should own at least one of these annotated editions. Academic libraries will want at least two of the three versions. If you want a book that has a lot more HDT than just WALDEN, find a used copy of the Philip Van Doren Stern book. If you want to hear from expert Walter Harding, choose his. Individuals who want the most comprehensive interpretation should go with the newest volume by Jeffrey

Cramer. It's a worthy addition to the Thoreau legacy.
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145 of 161 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2010
Besides irritating formatting issues (as Mr. Wiggings mentioned in his review), I got over a quarter way through before realizing that the quotes are missing! I'd see many lines that just seemed to end with half a thought and a comma or double-dash, with nothing to punctuate his statement (price, poem, song, etc.). I just grabbed the MOBI version from Project Gutenberg ([...]) and everything seems to be in order. However be aware that THAT version has no table of contents (DOH!).

So ... it's free, yes, but you're missing out on key elements of the book if you download this.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2001
Unbelievable! I went to Barnes & Noble the other day to purchase a copy of Walden. They had the Cliff's Notes but not the book. Is that a profound comment on our times, or just the last straw that persuaded me to write this review?
I have read Walden from cover to cover many times. I have read excerpts from it many more times. I have never found it boring or tedious, as some reviewers have. In fact, I have found it to be one of the few books worth re-reading on a frequent basis. Why?
Our times do not differ significantly from Thoreau's. He saw a society enthralled with "progress," such as the ability to travel from place to place via railroad at the astonishing speed of 35 miles per hour, without any idea of what to do when they arrived. He travelled by foot, and saw the life that others hurried by.
Has it ever seemed to you that the acquisition of ever-more-expensive habits and tastes, and the need to work longer and harder to satisfy them, is ultimately a waste of the precious gift of time and life that each of us is blessed with? Do you wonder how (or if) people who live without televison, video games, and automobiles can be happy or fulfilled? How would you fare if you were stripped of your possessions but still retained the ability to obtain the necessaries of life? Could you treat that as an opportunity to discover more about what it means to live?
If any of these are questions that have nibbled at your psyche, read Walden. If you love nature and its intricacies, read Walden. If you've ever thought about through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, read Walden. If you think modern-day life can't be improved on, or you want a quick read that will entertain you for a few hours, read something else. And if you read Walden and don't find it meaningful or profound, perhaps you will find another book that will remain as significant an influence in your life as Walden has been in mine.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2009
On my short list of all time favorite books, this one is up there at the top. It doesn't attain the #1 spot, but it's up there, definitely top five.

I think it is very interesting to read the reviews and notice that the vast majority of the bad reviews are coming from the young, mainly teenagers who were made to read this in school. The vast majority of the good reviews are coming from the older and the more wizened.

I think the youth of today are just so totally enamored with technology and what's cool and popular. I know I was when I was 17. But then you grow older and hopefully more wise, you live life a little and you no longer care about what's cool or what's popular, you are no longer so enamored with technology and you begin to see how technology is actually killing us. You have some perspective to temper the youthful idealism.

I just loved everything about this book, but I never read it until my 30's. If I had read it in my teens, I probably would have thought it pretty stupid.

I think Thoreau was a genius, both with words and how he lived his life. He did not live on Walden Pond his entire life, by the way. Walden pond was an experiment, not so much a way of life. His time there was meant to show people how superfluous most of our lives are, that it can be simplified, to our soul's benefit, not to mention the benefit of our fellow human beings and the world at large.

He was not a stupid man, he was educated at Harvard. He knew that his way was not the way everyone could or would live. He was not advocating a new social order. He was merely trying to prove a point, that people's lives are way too complicated.

It has been said that Thoreau was the anti-Benjamin Franklin. Realize that even in his day, Thoreau was ridiculed. It is no surprise that he would be ridiculed today, mainly by those who just simply could not live without their iPods.
I read Walden as an ideal and it made me sad. I would love to live my life in the way he did on Walden Pond, but I'm just not so sure how possible it is to live that way in today's world or even how desirable. There has to be a happy medium. You don't have to run out and live as a hermit in order to be able to appreciate Thoreau. There is beauty in the middle way, one can learn to make small changes in their lives, to try and live more simply, as many today are trying to do, to lighten our footprint on this earth, for the betterment of all.

I do believe that people's lives are too complicated, that they can't see the forest for the trees,that their lives are only about making more money so they can buy more things. They have lost their way in the world, they have forgotten, if they even even knew, what life is about.

But running out to live by yourself is not the solution either. I am reminded of the story of Christopher McCandless, whose story was made into the movie Into the Wild. He learned too late that true happiness is not real unless shared. That without love, life is meaningless. And THAT is the reason that living on Walden Pond by yourself is not the answer. We are here on this earth for each other, to love. Without love, life is meaningless.

To live on Walden Pond by yourself for a period of time, to find yourself, or to prove a point, is all well and good, but as a permanent way of life, it's not utopia.

And Thoreau knew this, after his time in the woods, he went back to civilization, but he never lost his soul and he knew how the soul was refreshed... with love, with learning, and with nature.
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