JUNE 2016: Thoreau’s “Walden”

The book Club will be meeting only once in June, on the 16th at the home of Brian Ling, 440 Carriage lane, at 2pm.

Nature was a form of religion for naturalist, essayist, and early environmentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). In communing with the natural world, he wished to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and … learn what it had to teach.” Toward that end Thoreau built a cabin in the spring of 1845 on the shores of Walden Pond — on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson — outside Concord, Massachusetts. There he observed nature, farmed, built fences, surveyed, and wrote in his journal.

One product of his two-year sojourn was this book — a great classic of American letters. Interwoven with accounts of Thoreau’s daily life (he received visitors and almost daily walked into Concord) are mediations on human existence, society, government, and other topics, expressed with wisdom and beauty of style.

Walden offers abundant evidence of Thoreau’s ability to begin with observations on a mundane incident or the minutiae of nature and then develop these observations into profound ruminations on the most fundamental human concerns. Credited with influencing Tolstoy, Gandhi, and other thinkers, the volume remains a masterpiece of philosophical reflection.
A selection of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Our May book club meetings will be on May 12th and 26th,  at the home of Gillian Trowbridge, 24 Cricket Place at 2pm 

Not offering a self-help book, but instead mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness, Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, draws on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to argue that, just as we err in remembering the past, so we err in imagining the future. “Our desire to control is so powerful, and the feeling of being in control so rewarding, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable,” Gilbert writes, as he reveals how ill-equipped we are to properly preview the future, let alone control it. Unfortunately, he claims, neither personal experience nor cultural wisdom compensates for imagination’s shortcomings. In concluding chapters, he discusses the transmission of inaccurate beliefs from one person’s mind to another, providing salient examples of universal assumptions about human happiness such as the joys of money and of having children. He concludes with the provocative recommendation that, rather than imagination, we should rely on others as surrogates for our future experience. Gilbert’s playful tone and use of commonplace examples render a potentially academic topic accessible and educational, even if his approach is at times overly prescriptive.