Thoreau and the Art of Life (Book review with Quotes)

Thoreau and the Art of Life (Book review with Quotes)

Thoreau and the Art of Life book review

A cousin gave this to me a few years back and during my big book cull last summer it resurfaced. I commenced reading it then, at a slow, thoughtful, sporadic pace. I have just now finished it. I have to say, as a book choice for me they nailed it: nature, art, and musings on existence– a perfect combination for me.

Every page spread has beautiful watercolor art, and indeed the quotes by Thoreau were compiled by the artist. As I wrote in this poem about Walden all the way back in 2009, if I’ve read any Thoreau before, I don’t recall it. So I was delighted to have put together for me the best bits, beautifully illustrated.

I learned that Thoreau espoused these basic principles:

  • Everything worthwhile in life requires love, faith, and imagination.
  • Art emerges out of our inner life
  • These are the elements of a good life: to live simply, to do quality work that is not rushed, to avoid waste, to live below your means, and to set aside a substantial portion of time for leisure.
  • A close relationship with nature contributes to one’s experience of joy and peace.
  • That wisdom and simplicity are closely related.
  • That the path of joy is one of knowing who you are and living that. It requires that you befriend yourself.
  • And to make time for silence, adopting a thoughtful rhythm to your life and work.

Here are the quotes by Thoreau in the book that I flagged to share with you:

  • “Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat.”
  • “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.”
  • “The greatest compliment ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
  • “Where there is a lull in truth an institution springs up.”
  • “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
  • I love to see anything that implies a simpler mode of life and a greater nearness to the earth.”
  • “It is remarkable that those flowers which are most emblematic of purity should grow in the mud.”
  • “The earth is pregnant with law.”
  • “We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature everyday. We must take root, send out some little fiber at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity. I am aware that I recover some sanity which I had lost almost the instant that I come abroad.”
  • “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparably be popular with God.”
  • “I do not prefer one religion or philosophy to another. I have no sympathy with the bigotry and ignorance which made transient and partial and puerile distinctions between one man’s faith and another’s– Christian and heathen. I pray to be delivered from narrowness, partiality, exaggeration, and bigotry. To the philosopher, all sects, all nations, are alike.”
  • Poetry implies the wholeness of truth. Philosophy expresses a particle of it.
  • “It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”
  • What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
  • “Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”
  • “Do not despair of life. You have no doubt force enough to overcome your obstacles. Think of the fox prowling through wood and field in a winter night for something to satisfy his hunger. Notwithstanding cold and the hounds and traps, his race survives.”
  • “You cannot perceive beauty but with a serene mind.”
  • “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
  • “Silence is a balm for every chagrin.”
  • “Silence is the communing of a conscious soul with itself. If the soul attends for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence.”
  • “Such clarity is obtained by simple living and honest purpose.”
  • “To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who [opt out] are old men over their tea.”
  • “I love a broad margin to my life.”

I loved all of this except the excerpts from “Economy,” where I found Thoreau rather oblivious of his privilege. Those bits lagged for me. The rest of it I heartily endorse. You too might enjoy a stroll through Thoreau and the Art of Life. I give it fours stars.

Thoreau and the Art of Life book review






I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.


  1. Gloria 1 year ago

    Thoreau was a bit of a complicated fellow. He went off to Walden Pond to live simply as a hermit, but then went home on the weekends to have a bath and have his laundry done. He gets lumped in with the Transcendentalists through his association with Ralph Waldo Emerson, though he was more or less doing his own thing, and then there were always those rumors about him and Emerson’s wife, which makes it even harder to consider him in that category. If you’ve never read him in his own words, you should definitely read Walden.

    • Author
      Polly Castor 1 year ago

      This book is his own works, just excerpts from all his writings.


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