Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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on July 15, 1998
This is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I know that many people don't like to read essays of any kind, but all I can say is that Ralph Waldo Emerson is simply different! Nobody has the gift to write essays and analyze life like him.
His words and ideas are so powerful and deep that we soon realize that they didn't come only from a brilliant mind, but also from a warm-hearted soul!
That's exactly what this book is about: Its sentences break through your brain and penetrate right into your soul! Emerson's optimistic view on human beings and life can only reinforce our courage in mankind and, especially, in ourselves!
What else can I say? His speech is direct, he defends all the good values, tell us to have confidence in ourselves and show us that passing through life with dignity is a matter of choice and courage, and that it simply doesn't change with time. It was like this a thousand years ago, it will probably follow the same rules a thousand years f! ! rom now.
This is the book I grab to comfort my spirit when I'm having difficult times... :) It is a guide that make us believe that anything is possible when we really want it! " Self-Reliance ", one of the essays inside this book, is a masterpiece in its own and I believe it should be studied in every high school, instead some of the crap we are usually obliged to read!
This book can shape your spirit and your mind. It is also possibly THE BEST self-help book you could ever own and, yet, a great literary work.
I would rate this book as ageless and I'm sure the future generations will be still interested in it, in the same way we are in those ancient Greek and Roman texts.
This is precious culture and food for your soul as a bargain! Do not waste more time. READ IT!!!
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HALL OF FAMEon October 15, 2002
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) is one of America's pre-eminent philosophers. Born into a long line of ministers and preachers, Emerson went to Harvard at the tender age of 14, where he studied to fulfill his destiny and become a minister. Emerson eventually dropped out of this line of work, embarking on a career as a public speaker and serving as the intellectual center of a group called the Transcendentalist Club. This Dover edition contains some of Emerson's best-known essays, specifically "Self-Reliance," as well as his address to the Harvard Divinity School.
Emerson's philosophy, although sometimes painfully explicated upon in his own writings, is best summed up by the word "individualism." To Emerson, it is the individual that should be the fulcrum point in all aspects of life. Emerson then took this philosophy and applied it to a myriad of subjects.
In "History," the first essay in this collection, Emerson attempts to weave his belief in individual expression into the study of historical events. Emerson argues that a reliance on dates, places, and figures is not nearly as important as reaching within oneself to discover the whole of history. This is important because every man contributes to history, and every man can see himself in any history from any part of the world. Emerson also argues that history, as we presently know it and study it, ignores important fundamentals such as metaphysics and nature. What Emerson seems to attempt with this essay is to create a sort of "unified field theory" of history, a history that encompasses every aspect of the human experience, and one in which everyone takes part.
"Self-Reliance," Emerson's masterwork, attempts to explain how man should retain his individualism in the face of society. It is society that stifles the individual, and the trick is to be true to yourself and your conscience. Law should not be, and is not, above the individual. Again, conscience should rule the day. Every man must follow his conscience even if doing so endangers his role in society. This tension between the individual and society Emerson enumerates continues to reverberate to this day.
In his address to the Harvard Divinity School, a real charmer that got Emerson banned from the school for years, he addresses individualism in the context of religion. Emerson, himself a trained minister who eventually resigned his pulpit, urges those about to embark on a career in the clergy to reach inside themselves when preaching. Don't rely on the same old tired formulas everyone else relies on, Emerson says, but see what the holy word means to you and then express what you find to your flock in your own way. It's easy to imagine what people who believe that religion is about rote memorization and rituals eons old thought about this speech. They hated it, and hated Emerson for delivering it to the young people in the audience.
Several other essays round out the collection, all of them utilizing Emerson's keen sense of the power of the individual. That Emerson is still in print today while some of his contemporaries are not is proof enough of the power and influence of his thought. Whether you agree with his arguments or not (and there is much here to disagree with), there is no denying that he has been enormously influential to American thinkers of his time and those who have come after him.
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VINE VOICEon September 15, 2000
For a buck you can certainly toss this in with whatever else you're ordering this trip. RWE is one of the great articulators of the American mind. For better or worse, here's a distilled vision of what we think. RWE's positive and powerful view of human thought can be uplifting, though some may occasionally experience a desire to snort "Oh, puh-lease!" A great source of pithy quotes and sharp insights, RWE also provides considerable depth if you wade all the way into his works. Everyone should have some collection of Emerson on the shelf, and this collection hits all the high points (though it is not, it should be said, a good choice for those suffering from chronic eyestrain).
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on July 18, 2006
While the text contains some real gems of Emersonian thought (i.e. Divinity School Address and Self-Reliance) it is not an adequate representation of his better works, leaving out "Nature," "The American Scholar" and other more important and influential essays. I, personally, order this text for my Freshman English classes because it's cheap and gives two exemplary representations of Emerson for a survey course; however, if you are looking for a total package text that reflects what Emerson is capable of as a writer and thinker, you are better off investing a little more money and picking up a Norton or Library of America Edition of his works.
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on March 30, 2000
Emerson and Thoreau are THE two greatest writers regarding transcendentalism in American Literature. Emerson is a genius according to his own definition and the ideas he presents are truly part of what it means to be an American. He preaches to us about self-reliance, basically saying that if we want to make it, if we want to be geniuses in our own niche, if we want to succeed, it needs to come from inside of us. It cannot be from anyone else. These traits define the American. The American is self-reliant. He succeeds on his own. He builds his own dream, and despite impossible odds, succeeds. It is no coincidence that the most stories of rags to riches, 1 week millionaires, and overnight successes are of Americans. The language he uses is beautiful, and simply stated (yet complex in the number of ideas expressed in each word). For these reasons, some people may find it a hard read. I had to read it two or three times myself. But I assure you, the knowledge gained from this book is worth it, and truly gives one deep insight into the power of the self. Therefore, I give this book 5 stars. Emerson paints such a vivid picture of an American trait, that this book has already become an American classic, and thus I believe it should be made an essential component of every American Library.
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on April 12, 2010
"Self-Reliance" is Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay and is rivaled only by "Concord Hymn" as his most famous work. It is also his masterpiece; one often hears - sometimes disparagingly - that Emerson tried to fit his whole philosophy into each essay, and this comes remarkably close. There is far more depth and subtlety here than the length suggests; one would be very hard-pressed to find another work so densely packed. The words are few, but the implications are enough for a lifetime. "Self" is a seminal masterwork; a founding Transcendentalist text and American Romantic cornerstone, it is central to American thought, culture, and literature. Anyone even remotely interested in any Americana aspect must be intimately familiar with it; aside from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution themselves, perhaps no other document is so vital to the American spirit.

Reading "Self" is perhaps more necessary than ever - not only because it is eternally relevant but also because it is often misrepresented. The term "self-reliance" is now almost entirely political, almost synonymous with libertarianism, and the essay is frequently touted along such lines. However, these things are hardly more than implied here, and though the definition of "liberal" has greatly changed, it is important to remember that Emerson was one of his era's leading liberals. His prime meaning in any case is self-reliance intellectually and in everyday life. He urges us to trust ourselves, to recognize human divinity and avoid imitation. It is a simple message but all-important - and far easier said than done. Emerson explores all its ramifications - philosophical, practical, social, political, economic, etc. - and outlines all its benefits. The case is beyond convincing, but he can do no more than show us; the rest is up to us.

This profoundly individualist message is another reason that reading "Self" is so necessary. Emerson now unfortunately has a reputation for being somewhat impenetrable and/or hopelessly impractical; this is a true shame, because he wrote for the masses. Unlike nearly all philosophers, he does not rely on jargon or polysyllables; he truly wanted to be understood, and all it takes is will. We must open our minds to him, and once we have, they will never be closed again.

Though greatly revered with many and diverse followers, Emerson's intention was not to be loved but to inspire; he wanted all to find individual genius. His work is thus the truest and best kind of self-help manual, and "Self" is its apotheosis. It has inspired millions in the more than century and a half of its existence, including me. I have read thousands and thousands of works, but this is one of the handful that truly changed my life. Emerson's greatness always shines through, but reading him at the right time can make an astonishing difference. He was more popular in life with the young than the old, and I can easily see why. I was lucky to read him at just the right time, and "Self" spoke to me more powerfully than almost anything else ever has. Without hyperbole, I can say that I would not be doing what I am today and would have abandoned my goals and visions without reading "Self" and Thoreau's "Life without Principle" - a somewhat similar essay highly influenced by Emerson - when I did. I was wracked with self-doubt and getting nothing but indifference, bafflement, or hostility from others; these works gave just the kick I needed, and I will never look back. "Self" has the potential to be life-changing as almost nothing else does, and I highly recommend it to all; you can hardly be unaffected and may never be the same. However, I especially recommend it to the young; its importance to them - and Emerson's generally - simply cannot be overemphasized.

Emerson is a signature American stylist, and "Self" is near his height. His writing is always memorable and often highly lyrical - about as close to poetry as prose can be. However, his essays were almost always painstakingly composed from lectures and journals, and the effect was sometimes choppy. An Emerson-loving professor of mine once joked that no one can find the topic sentence in an Emerson paragraph, and his transitions also frequently leave much to be desired. However, "Self" is near-seamless, a true masterpiece of style that flows smoothly and often waxes beautiful. This is all the more remarkable in that it was assembled even more than usual from disparate sources; entries that ended up here came as far as eight years apart, but the whole is admirably harmonious.

"Self" is a preeminent example of how Emerson delights in paradox. Anyone who reads him closely sees that he is as complex as he is simple. Thus, despite - or perhaps even because of - apparent straight-forwardness, few texts are more ripe for deconstruction. "Self" fans after all love a text that tells us not to love texts, are inspired by a man who tells us not to be inspired by men, and are convinced by a text and man both of which tell us not to be convinced by either. But this is only the beginning. "Self" works because it tells us exactly what we want to hear and, in striking contrast to innumerable self-help books, does so in an intellectually and even aesthetically respectable way. This is fine for me and (hopefully) you but could of course be taken to heart by Hitler as easily as Gandhi. The thoroughly optimistic, mild-mannered, and physically frail Emerson may not have foreseen his revolutionary text being put to nefarious use and probably would have been unable to believe in even the possibility. However, the danger, if we choose to call it so, is very real. "Self" could easily have had the same effect that Nietzsche had on Nazis, and that it has not been taken up by anarchists, radical terrorists, and the like is perhaps mere luck. One at least wonders how it avoided preceding The Catcher in the Rye as the work synonymous with unsavory people. That said, it is likely unfair to Emerson to say he did not anticipate this; he after all takes his views to the logical conclusion. He surely saw it, and it may have given pause, but he persevered because he was faithful to his intuition just as he urges us to be to ours. He truly believed in self-reliance and was ready to stand by it no matter what befell - nay, thought it his only choice. His optimism must have told him that the doctrine would not be abused, and he has been right - so far. Only time will tell if this continues to hold, but "Self" remains essential for all.

The work is well worth buying alone, but virtually every Emerson anthology includes it. This is his best work, but he has many great ones, including several nearly as good, and a standalone is hard to justify. All must decide how to get it, but the important - nay, essential - thing is to have it in some form.
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on July 4, 1999
At a mere buck (eighty cents after Amazon's discount!) this book should be owned, and more importantly, read, by every single American -- no, every person who can read English. It is profound and brilliant, and deep and complex enough that you will discover something new each time you read it. People say those sorts of things about books all the time but with this book it's actually true. If only the ideas of Emerson, Thoreau, and their group had been widely accepted, we would live in a very different, and I think much better, country.
P.S. Maybe it's just me, but I tend to be skeptical of reviews by people who use words like 'cognitive' without knowing what they mean.
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on September 4, 2003
If you can get past his thick language, Emerson is a gem. He mind is both quick and deep, and therefore is enduring. You start seeing common things in an uncommon way. He is a poet-philosopher par excellence.
This selection provides sampling of Emerson's over-all thought. Keep in mind that he is part of the Transcendentalist movement, which was part of the broader religious revival in the mid 1800's. This is the era of Emerson, Thoreau, Dwight L. Moody, Robert Owen and Joseph Smith. You can feel the energy crackling off pages of this book. There is something about this time period that rushed upward.
His essays on "Self-Reliance" and "Experience" are must for all adolescents. We need to cut the teeth of our mind on other people. We need to learn form Emerson, and be better for it.
The genius of the format is that provide the print without any frills, unctuous commentary, or boring exposition. This book is all meat, which is really what we want.
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on December 10, 1998
This essay, foremost amongst the Thoreau and Emersonian works I've read, has influenced my political views the most. It raises maxim questions about society at all times - not simply the Industrial Age.
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on February 16, 2013
Once you learn to read the great man's writhing syntax, you get the thought: he invented stream of consciousness, snatching at the idea as it flashed by, shoving it into the text of his lecture. The point: the thought, when it sticks, is still brilliant, though Thoreau will get you there sooner, and Whitman soonest. Read these three & you're set for life.
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