Books for Lovers of Thoreau's Walden

The books listed below appeared long after Henry Thoreau died in 1862, but each echoes his fierce love for exploring personal freedom. They also emulate the place-centered nonfiction he invented in Walden, a New England pond that is "earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."


The Land of Little Rain

by Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Austin

Deep in the Mohave Desert, Austin examines a land that echoes her deepest sense of self as a woman. Recommended for readers of Willa Cather and Tillie Olsen.


The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod

by Henry Beston

Battling shell-shock and depression after World War I, Beston retreats to a fishing shack on the remote and lonely Great Beach of Cape Cod to find peace, even healing. (Later he marries Elizabeth Coatsworth, the famed children's author.)


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Families in the Deep South

by James Agee, Walker Evans

Begun as an assignment for a slick magazine, the book morphed into a sprawling, intensely poetic anthem to life in rural Alabama. With the stunning b/w photographs by Walker Evans that made "documentary" into an art form.


The Snow Leopard

by Peter Matthiessen

Into the Himalayas with a writer and a biologist, both seeking the rarest of big cats, for different reasons. In that high-altitude Nirvana, Matthiessen learns he must also find peace within his home and family, back in America.


Out of Africa

by Isak Dinesen

A memoir of seventeen years spent coffee-farming the cool, wet slopes above Nairobi. Written from her home in Denmark, Dinesen broods without apology on the beautiful, doomed dream of a colonial Africa.


The Bookseller of Kabul

by Asne Seierstad

A Norwegian reporter embeds herself in the home of an Afghan liberal — she thinks. Instead, she finds that he dominates his women with a Taliban-like oppression. Controversial for that, and for her use of fictive devices.


The Motorcycle Diaries : Notes on a Latin American Journey

by Ernesto Che Guevara

As a young medical student, Guevara travels the length of South America, discovering a glorious Indian civilization now mired in European injustice. More art than propaganda, the book traces Guevara's revolutionary roots.


A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson

A humorous, self-deprecating story of two urban mid-lifers hiking the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, they shape up, lose their snark, and begin to appreciate the difficulty of preserving wilderness in postmodern times.


The White Album: Essays

by Joan Didion

This miscellany of pieces from her years as a California reporter has all the chaos and calm of its namesake, the last collaborative work by The Beatles. Brooding, self-absorbed, full of lighting-strike insights; Didion scores in nearly every sentence.


Desert Solitaire

by Edward Abbey

The most Thoreau-like of moderns in his angry rejection of asphalt, Abbey works alone as a seasonal park ranger, in love with "rock and tree and cloud," the natural arches and canyons of southeast Utah.