Henry David Thoreau built his small hut on the shore of Walden Pond in 1845. For the next two years he lived there as simply as possible, seeking “the essential facts of life” and learning to eliminate the unnecessary details—material and spiritual—that intrude upon human happiness. He described his experiences in Walden, using vivid, forceful prose that transforms his reflections on nature into richly evocative metaphors to live by. George Eliot’s review of Walden singles out qualities that have attracted readers for generations, namely “a deep poetic sensibility,” as well as Thoreau’s own “refined [and] hardy mind.” In a world obsessed with technology and luxury, Walden seems more relevant today than ever.
After being imprisoned for refusing to pay Concord’s poll tax, Thoreau recounted his experience in an 1848 lecture, “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government.” The speech, hardly noticed in Thoreau’s lifetime, was later published as “Civil Disobedience.” Today it is widely considered the single most important essay concerning the incumbent duties of American citizens and has inspired major civil movements around the world.