Walden was published in 1854, seven years after Henry David Thoreau ended his stay in a small cabin near Walden Pond. During those years, Thoreau painstakingly revised and polished his manuscript, based on journals he kept while living at the pond. He hoped his book would establish him as the foremost spokesman for the American transcendentalist movement.
In Walden, Thoreau condensed events of his twenty-six-month sojourn into one year, for literary purposes. He began and ended his narrative in spring. The eighteen chapters celebrate the unity of nature, humanity, and divinity—a central idea of transcendentalism—and portray Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond as an ideal model for enjoying that unity. In solitude, simplicity, and living close to nature, Thoreau had found what he believed to be a better life. In Walden, he enthusiastically shares his discoveries so that others, too, may abandon conventional ways and live more sanely and happily.
Walden, however, was a gift more eagerly given than received. Despite some good reviews, the book did not sell well and did nothing to elevate Thoreau’s reputation. Walden was the second and final book by Thoreau to be published in his lifetime. (His first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, had been published at his own expense and also did not sell well.) It was not until the 1900s that Thoreau and Walden found a large, appreciative audience. The book was especially popular during the enforced simplicity of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and again during the 1960s when individualism, concern for the natural environment, and transcendentalism were important elements in a tidal wave of change that swept through American culture.