Henry David Thoreau •
Walden is essentially a guided tour of Thoreau’s strong, original mind. He takes us for a ramble through the woods—watch out for that woodchuck hole—while discoursing on the changing seasons, Hindu philosophy, the joys of simplicity, the tyranny of social convention, and whatever else he’s thinking about. This is not stream-of-consciousness blather, however; legend has it that Thoreau rewrote the entire manuscript some seven times, making Walden one of the most meticulously crafted narratives in all of literature.
Thoreau seemed to live bigger than other men; he had a deep reverence for the natural world, and an equally strong abhorrence of pettiness, hypocrisy, and injustice. (This is the guy who invented civil disobedience, remember? He went to jail rather than pay taxes to a government that condoned slavery.) But don’t take my word for it, listen to him. In 150 years, his voice has lost none of its freshness and vigor.
A few of his gems:
A man sits as many risks as he runs.
Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.
In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.