The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau Dunshee Ambrotype of Thoreau, 1861 (Courtesy Concord Museum)
What's New About the Project About Thoreau's Writings About Thoreau Resources for Research
"Double row of Arbor Vitae, near Battle Ground, May 18, 1902" (Courtesy Concord Free Public Library)
Frequently Asked Questions
Life and Times of Henry David Thoreau
Reflections on Walden
Further Reading

"Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last,
a simple and sincere account of his own life . . ."


The facts of Thoreau's life are appropriately spare for one who wrote, "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand. . . ." He was born July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts; graduated from Harvard College in 1837; made a living primarily by surveying land and helping with the family pencil-making and ground lead business, though he taught school for several years when he was in his 20s and lectured from time to time from 1838 until 1860; traveled rarely (but almost always wrote about it when he did); and died at the age of 44 on May 6, 1862. Neither he nor any of his three siblings married; his only brother died in 1842 and one sister in 1849. As he recommended to others, Thoreau actively sought this simplicity in his circumstances in order to enjoy extraordinary richness in his intellectual and spiritual life, and his writings testify to his success.

The facts summarized above are expanded most fully in Walter Harding's definitive biography, The Days of Henry Thoreau (first published in 1965 by Alfred A. Knopf; republished in 1982 in an enlarged and corrected version, with full notes, in hardback by Princeton University Press and in paperback by Dover). Robert D. Richardson, Jr.'s intellectual biography, Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) examines Thoreau's life and work in satisfying depth. A selective list of books about Thoreau, organized by subject, can be found at Further Reading.

Life & Times of Henry David Thoreau and Reflections on Walden were written by the staff of The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau in 1995 as part of an exhibit to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond. They were revised for inclusion here. Many of the FAQs originated as questions from users of the site; if you have a question not addressed in this Web site, we encourage you to contact Jeffrey S. Cramer, Curator of Collections at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods.