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The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – November 24, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Thoreau began keeping a journal at age 20, ultimately filling 14 notebooks and a collection he titled “Gleanings; or, What Time Has Not Reaped of My Journal.” Writer, editor, and translator Searls selected passages from this vast sea of words to create the largest and most cohesive one-volume reader’s edition ever published. Thoreau’s journal was the wellspring for all his books, and Searls is acutely attuned to its grand continuity and “synthesizing quality,” ensuring that readers will be able to fully appreciate Thoreau’s sustained contemplation of the cycles, patterns, and interconnectivity of nature. What is also apparent is how the rhythms and revelations of Thoreau’s long walks inspired the flow and radiance of his poetic prose. Searls’ sensitive editing casts new light on Thoreau’s abiding fascination with weather, trees, turtles, the moon, birds, berries, and, of course, human nature. Observant, philosophical, and rhapsodic, Thoreau parses his own moods, portrays friends and neighbors, decries slavery and the destruction of the living world, and rejoices in beauty. This is a superb and uniquely accessible edition of an essential American masterpiece. --Donna Seaman

Review

"[Searls's selection] admirably preserves the feel of the 7,000-page original. This lightweight, sturdy edition ... practically begs to be read outside." —Thomas Meaney, Times Literary Supplement

"Writer, editor, and translator Searls selected passages from this vast sea of words to create the largest and most cohesive one-volume reader’s edition ever published...This is a superb and uniquely accessible edition of an essential American masterpiece." —Booklist

“It is the unflagging beauty of the writing, day after day, that confirms its greatness among writers’ journals.” —Alfred Kazin

“Thoreau could lift a fish out of the stream with his hands; he could charm a wild squirrel to nestle in his coat; he could sit so still that the animals went on with their play round him. [In the Journal] we have a chance of getting to know Thoreau as few people are known, even by their friends.” —Virginia Woolf

“Reading Thoreau’s Journal I discover any idea I’ve ever had worth its salt.”—John Cage
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Original edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017321X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173213
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
By length alone, despite a questionable editing choice, this new book becomes one of the best choices for the average reader interested in Thoreau's journal. No one, including the editor, pretends this is the equal of the full journal which is roughly ten times longer. Unfortunately, the older two-volume (relatively) complete journal is in a large unwieldy format, and the complete journal currently being published by Princeton is too academic and too expensive for the average reader.

The book's introductory material mentions five previous and much shorter books of journal selections. Several of these are still available--I own four of them and a couple others which aren't mentioned. Because there is so much original material to choose from and some of the books have a specific focus, there isn't that much duplication among them. If you enjoy one, you'll enjoy them all. Given the current options, I've preferred accumulating a collection of these books to an unsatisfactory version of the complete journal.

The introduction also explains how this book's content was chosen. The primary objective was to have it read as a representative version of the full journal rather than as a collection of excerpts. The editor therefore tried to balance material among the seasons and months, including keeping one of each month relatively unabridged. Another goal was to make it readable, so there is very little in the way of notes. Entries were chosen by personal preference, not historical importance. As you read, the date appears on the left page and Thoreau's age on the right so you always know where you are both in time and in his life.

An introductory example shows some of what was cut from one day's entry and made me wish again there was a better edition of the full journal.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Proust, after reading excerpts of a French translation of Thoreau's Walden, said that, "It is as though one were reading them inside oneself, so much do they arise from the depths of our intimate experience." Indeed, quibble with editor, Damion Searls', selections for this nearly 700 page one volume edition of the Thoreau's Journal -one-tenth the original size - if you see fit, but he seems to me to have caught the heart of Thoreau. Proust might well admire him; at times, one rather thinks one might be reading a translation of Proust:

"Dreams are real, as is the light of stars and moon, and theirs is said to be a dreamy light. Such early morning thoughts as I speak of occupy a debatable ground between dreams and waking thoughts. They are a sort of permanent dream in my mind. At least, until we have for some time changed our position from prostrate to erect, and commenced or faced some of the duties of the day, we cannot tell what we have dreamed from what we have actually experienced."

The best parts of these "intimate experiences" recorded here are the words of a liminal being, seeing through to some other world by seeing into the world around him so meticulously and yet so profoundly:

"Certain localities only a few rods square in the fields and on the hills, sometimes the other side of a wall, attract me as if they had been the scene of pleasure in another existence."

"As I climbed the Cliff, I paused in the sun and sat on a dry rock, dreaming. I thought of those summery hours when time is tinged with eternity - runs into it and becomes one stuff with it.
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While I agree you can question the editing until you're blue in the face, this is a fine, affordable way to enjoy Thoreau's journals, plus a LOT easier to use than his hardcover versions, which, by the way are difficult to find. My only wish is that it was also available in Kindle version, as it is a book that lends itself very well to "dipping into" almost at random.. I keep it near my reading chair and, even with only a few minutes, am constantly blown away by Mr. HDT's brilliance, wit, and grasp of both the natural and human state of the world.
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Life would suck without this journal. Thanks, Henry, for all your wonderful and thoughtful work. A year or more of page-flipping ecstasy awaits the reader. I use the journal as a prompt for keeping my own journal. The work operates on many different levels: a forerunner of modern nature writing, a style guide for budding writers, a philosopher's guide to idealism mixed with common sense. I'm half way into my third reading, and bought both paperback and Kindle.
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Being the largest single volume of Thoreau's available 2 million word journal (which is itself severely edited from what he planned for publication) This edition is a great place for a reader to start before deciding if they want to go further into the larger Princeton or Dover editions of Thoreau's journal that have multi volumes so you're able to see more of his life and ideas. This is a very compressed version but a great starting point if you're interested in getting deeper into the work of one of the worlds most influential writers.
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