Books That Inspire 2002

Henry David Thoreau

I am essentially an urbanite at heart - as indifferent to "camping out" as those who love camping are indifferent to common sense. Therefore Thoreau's descriptions of nature, which have meant so much to others, leave me rather unmoved. I also think that his philosophy of extreme individualism is more appropriate to a past age than to ours. So why do I treasure this book? It is because it always reminds me of the folly of mindless materialism. With incomparable eloquence, Thoreau warns us against devoting our lives to the ceaseless acquisition of possessions, as if adding one more thing will bring us happiness at last. He taught this great lesson with his life as well as with his words. At his funeral, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "he chose to be rich by making his wants few. . . ."
David W Levy
David Ross Boyd Professor of History