Notes on


by Henry David Thoreau

Actions Taken / Changes

Not much action to take based on this book for me.

However, here are the actionable takeaways I managed to get out:

  1. Don't postpone living the life you want. Do it now. Find a way to reach some version of it.
  2. Learn manily through experiments and practice, supplemented by study.
  3. Aim to be content with less.
  4. Read the great works.

Summary of Key Points

The first chapter(s): old man yells at people who live in great big houses that spend their lives paying for much luxuries.

Saving for retirement

Thoreau does not find agreeable the idea of spending of most of ones life earning money, just so one can enjoy 'questionable liberty' in the least valuable part of it.

Postponing living your life is a most critical mistake. Do the best you can to live and be joyful now. Don't save it for later.

On learning

You learn more through experiments and practice, with supplemental study, than from pure study.

Do things on your own. Learn from experience.

Lives of quiet desparation

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation

Escaping this is not achieved by craving more, but by being content with less.

Thoreau said it himself: he went to the woods to live deliberately. He learned to live with less.

Learn to have enough.

Reasons to read classic books

  • "What are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man?"
    • Thoreau encourages the reading of these in their natural language.
  • "To read well [...] is a noble exercise"
  • Read hard books & don't be satisfied having read only one full of wisdom.
  • "A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of"

Practical philosophy

Philosophers that merely observe have not truly experienced. Those who hunt, partake on the journey, they have true human experience.

To participate requires skin in the game. Your ass needs to be on the line as well. If not, how could you ever postulate that you have attained some sort of enlightenment?

Philosophy requires active pursuit. Knowledge demands action.

Related This is also the trouble with academics. They study, yet most never apply. Many self-directed learners also fall under the same trap. They learn yet never apply. They observe, but never participate.


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.

Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man’s features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them.

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