Henry David Thoreau, a North American naturalist and author, was best known for his book Walden, the earliest piece of literature to specifically address the issues of simple and sustainable living.
The book was the result of a social experiment where Thoreau moved to a small self-built house on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the shores of Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.
Thoreau did not intend to live as a hermit. He hoped to isolate himself from society to gain a more objective understanding of it. He had visitors and visited other people. His cabin was not in the wilderness but at the edge of town, not far from his family home.
Walden recounted the two years, two months, and two days Thoreau spent at Walden Pond but 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 had few admirers at first but is now regarded as a classic.
Here is a great story about a modern-day Thoreau:
Unsung fortune: A rich man’s secret
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 26, 2007
Hal Taussig wears baggy jeans and fraying work shirts that Goodwill might reject. His shoes have been resoled three times. At age 81, he doesn’t own a car. He performs errands and commutes to the office by bicycle. And he has given away millions. Given the fortune that Taussig has made through Untours, his unique travel business, and has given away through the Untours Foundation, you could call him the Un-millionaire. If he so chose, he could be living in a Main Line mansion and driving a Mercedes.
But he considers money and what he calls “stuff,” beyond what he needs to survive, a burden, an embarrassment. In many respects, he’s a 21st-century Thoreau. “Let your capital be simplicity and contentment,” the sage of Walden Pond wrote. “Those are my sentiments precisely,” says Taussig, who has three children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
He directs the Untours Foundation, into which he pours all his profits – $5 million since 1992. The money is used to make low-interest loans to ventures and projects that help the needy and jobless – from a craft store in Hanoi to a home-health-care cooperative in Philadelphia. “I invest in entrepreneurial efforts to help poor people leverage themselves out of poverty.”
“In America, we worship success,” he says. “It’s a shoddy ethic that leads us to value who we are by what we are.” The motto of the Untours Foundation is “a hand up, not a handout.” It provides low-interest loans, here and abroad, to create jobs, build low-income housing, and support fair-trade products: goods such as coffee that are sold at a price that guarantees producers and workers a fair wage and decent livelihood.