Popular quotes: The meaning an history behind "Read the best books first..."
"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all." - Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau's words are even more relevant today than they were in his time. According to So Many Books, the cumulative bibliography of the world was about 3.3 million titles in 1850 - around the time Thoreau wrote this; today it is more than 60 million!
Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817. He began his lifelong habit of journal keeping while at Harvard. After graduating in 1837 he taught briefly but resigned to protest the use of corporal punishment on the students, specifically whippings.
Shortly afterwards, he and his brother, John Thoreau, opened a private school in Concord based on Transcendentalism (the popular literary and philosophical movement that asserted the primacy of the spiritual and transcendental over the material and empirical, and apparently grew from a desire to create an uniquely American body of literature and philosophy to mirror the independence that America had enjoyed politically since 1776).
The school was closed when John fell ill (and later died) and Thoreau moved in with Ralph Waldo Emerson (one of the founders of Transcendentalism), where he continued writing his journals.
Although some of his work was published during his lifetime, such as Walden, Or Life In the Woods (1854), he was little known outside his immediate circle. Most of his writing was not published until after his death in 1862; and his reputation as a major literary figure was not established until the 20th century.
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