Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist.  He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.

In 1845, he went to Walden pond and built his cabin on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. After two years and two months, having completed his experiment in simple living and his book, Thoreau returned to the town of Concord--a bare two miles away--which he had visited frequently during his stay at the pond.

During his stay at Walden, Thoreau ran into the local tax collector, who asked him to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. Thoreau refused because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, and he spent a night in jail because of this refusal. (The next day Thoreau was freed, against his wishes, when his aunt paid his taxes). In January and February 1848, he delivered lectures on ‘The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government’, explaining his tax resistance. Thoreau revised the lecture into an essay entitled Resistance to Civil Government (also known as Civil Disobedience).

In 1854, he published Walden, or Life in the Woods, recounting the time he had spent at Walden Pond. The book compresses that time into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. Part memoir and part spiritual quest, Walden at first won few admirers, but later critics have regarded it as a classic American work that explores natural simplicity, harmony, and beauty as models for just social and cultural conditions.

His writings went on to influence many public figures including political leaders and reformers like Mahatma Gandhi, President John F. Kennedy, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., who all spoke of being strongly affected by Thoreau's work, particularly Civil Disobedience; artists and authors including Marcel Proust, William Butler Yeats, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Upton Sinclair, E. B. White, Lewis Mumford, and Frank Lloyd Wright; and naturalists like John Muir, E. O. Wilson, and David Brower.

Among Thoreau’s lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and love of practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.

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