Emerson’s Advice on Reading for Self

Emerson’s advice on how to read for self is a great reminder that sometimes, the best way to get through difficult times is by reading and reflecting.

Emerson’s Advice on Reading for Self is a guide that includes questions and answers about how to be self-reliant. The book was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“The major purpose of education is to familiarize the young man with himself and to instill self-confidence in him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralp

Self-reliance is defined as a determination to make judgments based on one’s own instincts, personal ideals, and firsthand experience rather than on external advice, cultural conformity, or secondhand knowledge.

However, there is a paradox at the core of this type of extreme self-trust.

How can you trust your intuition if you avoid other sources? It’s possible that your intuition is stupid and foolish since you’re untrained.

However, how can you keep your own voice from being drowned out in the resultant cacophony of advice if you attempt to “teach” your instinct and open yourself up to studying other people’s ideas?

Perhaps no one battled with this topic more than Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of the self-reliance movement.

On the one hand, the philosopher who lived by the motto “obey thyself” questioned the ultimate worth of literature and media in general. Nature and action — making firsthand observations of one’s surroundings and learning through personal experimentation — were Emerson’s two favorite sources of instruction.

Books, on the other hand, are a step away from the core of things, being simply “transcripts” of other men’s experiences; even “the greatest” are “just records, and not the things recounted.”

“What exactly are books?” Emerson posed the question to a member of one of his lecture audiences. “They can’t have any lasting worth…” These ancient splendors of writing become quite pale and chilly when we are woken to a life in ourselves.”

Emerson described literature as “a mound of words and verbs encircling an idea or two” on another occasion. He also agreed with Thomas Hobbes’ assessment that “If I had read as much as other men, I would be as ignorant.”

“[Books] work no redemption in us for the most part,” Emerson strongly believed.

Yet, for the most part, that caution could not be more significant. Because, despite his doubts about the utility of books, Emerson was a passionate reader throughout his life. He started maintaining a list of all the books he read in his junior year of college, and once his official schooling finished, he continued to spend a considerable portion of each day building that list, working his way through classic and new tomes. “It sometimes appears as if no book produced from 1820 until his death totally escaped his notice,” writes Emerson’s biographer Robert Richardson.

While Emerson believed that books had a secondary educational value to Nature and action, he nonetheless considered them as important in instilling moral strength, stimulating creative thinking, igniting imagination, and creating society. Books had the capacity to augment rather than oppose the learning that came from more existential sources.

While reading may be a passive activity, it can also boost one’s ability to take action by offering inspiration and establishing a knowledge bank to rely on when identifying opportunities and making choices.


Greater knowledge might improve one’s aptitude for wonder and insight — one’s ability to recognize the remarkable in the commonplace — rather than squashing the type of inquisitive amazement Emerson believed was so important to the right development of character and soul. Reading may enable the reader to notice more in his surroundings, as well as develop more meaningful insights and connections. “Every thing accurately perceived opens a new ability of the Soul,” as Coleridge phrased it in a quote attributed to Emerson.

“Far from glorifying ignorance, Emerson kept repeating in his diary Coleridge’s calm encouragement to study, quantum scimus sumus – we are what we know,” as Richardson points out. The more information one has, the more self-confidence one has.”

Emerson sensed a creative tension where others perceived a conflict in his thoughts on reading. Most media was dross: at best, it was a waste of time that might have been better spent experiencing life personally, and at worst, it was a brain clog that muddled one’s inner instincts and conformed one’s original inclinations to society’s lowest common denominator. However, there were a few books that were worth reading because they helped a man better understand himself and what he wanted to achieve in the world.

Emerson’s secret to reading for increased self-reliance, rather than less, may therefore be summed up in a single word: discernment.

Emerson remarked that the sheer amount of books available to read frequently overwhelms him. He estimated that there were around a million in existence at the time, and noted how easy it was to despondently gaze around a large library, “counting the number of pages which a diligent man can read in a day, and the number of years which human life in favorable circumstances allows to reading; and to demonstrate that though he should read from dawn to dark for sixty years, he must die in the first alcoves.”

Fortunately, as Emerson points out, even if we have access to an infinite number of books, only a small fraction of them are genuinely worth reading. As a result, it is a man’s responsibility to understand how to distinguish wheat from chaff – to “be careful therefore to study no bad literature.”

To that purpose, Emerson provides three criteria for discriminating reading:

  1. Never pick up a book that isn’t at least a year old.
  2. Never read anything except well-known literature.
  3. Never read anything other than what you like.

Let’s look at Emerson’s reasoning for these guidelines, as well as some other self-reliance-building reading habits he practiced and recommended to others. Because, if the ability to distinguish between pieces of information of varying value and maintain one’s individuality in the face of society’s din was important in Emerson’s day, when there were only a “few” million books, it is a hundred times more important in ours, when the steady stream of media has turned into a relentless, flattening flood.

How to Read for Self-Sufficiency

“Stay as near to reality as possible.” Then you grow used to obtaining information firsthand. There would be no need for books if we could receive all of our knowledge in this way; yet, they do provide us with facts if we know how to utilize them.”


Only read what you’re interested in.

“The ideal reading guideline will be a natural technique, not a mechanical one based on hours and pages.” It requires each pupil to pursue his or her own goal rather than a meaningless jumble. Allow him to read what is appropriate for him, rather than wasting his memory on a throng of mediocres.”

“This principle of education, that every individual man has a bias that he must follow, and that it is only when he feels and obeys this that he appropriately grows and attains his lawful authority in the world, is one that I can never overemphasize.” It’s his magnetic needle, which always points in the same direction as his correct route, with some variance from any other man’s. He will never be happy or powerful until he discovers it and preserves it; until he learns to be at ease with himself; until he learns to heed the subtle suggestions and insights that come to him, and until he has complete confidence in his own thinking.”

“Never read anything except what you enjoy,” Emerson’s third book rule, may seem too narrow-minded or even lazy. Isn’t it true that we should all strive to be Renaissance men?

We’ve certainly recommended pursuing that goal in the past. But it’s one of those things that sounds nice in theory, as an abstract ideal to preach, but that few people really practice, and that may work against both the individual and society’s interest.

Emerson’s counsel is more practical and, in the end, creative. He suggests that each person should read what Nature recommends. This implies that each individual has a unique set of interests and abilities, as well as a distinct way of doing things in the world. To realize this latent potential and fulfill his own purpose, he must follow the contours of his intellect and heart, paying close attention to the texts to which they give special focus, and studying to become really outstanding and informed in that field. A man’s reading should be directed toward becoming able to accomplish something that no one else can.

Furthermore, a book that aligns with your interests provides considerably more value than one that you feel you “should” read but don’t like. Emerson backs up rule #3 with a quote from Shakespeare:

“There is no profit where there is no joy,” says the proverb. In a nutshell, sir, look into what you have the greatest influence over.”

He expresses the same notion himself, saying, “We can only read that literature that connects to me something that is already in my head.” Another of the philosopher’s claims that we may first oppose on the basis of a hypothetical principle, but which, with meditation on personal experience, shows to be precisely correct. Only what we are prepared for can we assimilate.

This is how John M. Fletcher, author of a century-old exposition of Emerson’s educational philosophy, puts it:

“When we have the force of gravity on our side, reading along the line of natural bending is like hitting with a hammer.” This explains the difference between what a boy gets out of a book he has to read on his own time and one he is forced to read.”


It’s important to remember that reading what fascinates you doesn’t always equal reading what you agree with. “We read either for antagonism or affirmation,” Emerson observes, and contends that it doesn’t matter which. Even if we strongly disagree with a point of view, we might nevertheless find it thought-provoking.

Furthermore, reading what interests you broadens your horizons rather than narrowing them. It’s also not necessary to like a book for it to be simple to read. While Emerson did read systematically at times to gain insights for a specific project, he mostly read a wide range of texts, including ancient classics, travel accounts, scriptures (and scriptural exegesis) from all world religions, Norse mythology, academic journals, books on art, architecture, and science, and even dry documents like the “1849 Report of the Commissioner on Indian Affairs.” Richardson accurately describes those days when he was “reading in many directions” a “active seedtime,” since it frequently resulted in productive cross-pollination of ideas. Emerson realized that you never know where inspiration would come from.

Emerson’s studies in chemistry, biology, and botany, for example, created a positive feedback loop in terms of his immersion in Nature; his studies allowed him to discern and understand more detail in the environment, which heightened his experience of Nature’s spiritual forces while also grounding his descriptions of them. Emerson’s preoccupation with the “abnormal marriage of accuracy and awe in scientific investigation… [and] openness to science maintained his intellect ballasted with truth and observation, and his writing moored securely in the actual world,” according to Richardson.

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, one of his favorite books, created a similar feedback loop in which the botanical writings inspired him to plant over one hundred fruit trees of his own, and both the text and the experience of tending, pruning, and grafting his orchard inspired reflections on the analogies between cultivating the soil and cultivating the mind, as well as the way that trees and men go through similar seasons of fertility and drought.

Still, there were other genres Emerson disliked, such as fiction (which he found yawn-inducing), and even within the genres he like, there were sub-genres he read more than others. He had no qualms about dismissing anything that didn’t prick his heart’s iron thread.

Finally, he believed that you could read widely and selectively throughout your life, expanding your curiosity but never forcing yourself to start or finish a book that was not related to your “native aim,” nor wasting time feeling guilty about a book that was rightfully gathering dust on your nightstand.

Original Writings to Read

“There are books… that rank with parents and lovers and passionate experiences in our lives, books that are so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative, — books that are the work and proof of faculties so comprehensive, so nearly equal to the world which they paint, that one feels his exclusion from them to accuse his way of living.”


“Read those guys who aren’t lazy; who confront the facts.” As a result, you learn to gaze with your eyes as well.”

Emerson narrowed even the categories that piqued his attention by reading just the works he thought were the most creative. Because books simply copied fundamental experiences, their educational value was secondary to Nature and action, books that came closest to conveying those visceral, experienced realities were preferable to those whose contents were more distant.

Emerson chose travelogues, testaments, notebooks, narratives of discoveries, straightforward debates, memoirs, poetry, and other works that provided personal experiences. Richardson states that he was looking for works that “stated firmly, without derivation or backup, without apology or disclaimer, what the author witnessed and understood.” These novels pumped as much blood as a static text could, provoking the type of heartfelt beliefs that inspire a man to act differently.

Emerson, on the other hand, dismissed writings that were blatantly derivative of more original works, offering merely comments and commentary on more visceral pieces without giving a new perspective. These second-hand novels frequently matched the zeitgeist and disputes of the day, but they were “books by the dead for the dead”; they were “books by the dead for the dead.”

Read the Time-Tested, Classic Standards

“Think about what you have in the tiniest library you can find. In a thousand years, a group of the brightest and wittiest persons from all civilized nations have put the fruits of their study and knowledge in the greatest possible order.”

“As whole nations have derived their culture from a single book, — as the Bible has been the literature as well as the religion of large portions of Europe; as Hafiz was the eminent genius of the Persians, Confucius of the Chinese, Cervantes of the Spaniards; so, perhaps, the human mind would be better off if all the secondary writers were lost.”

“An examination of [a library’s large] catalogue keeps bringing me back to the few standard authors who are on every private shelf; and to them it can only afford the most minor and casual additions.”

Emerson presents a list of highly precise reading suggestions in his essay “Books,” which was initially presented as a lecture to college students. Plato, Herodotus, Plutarch, Aurelius, Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Montaigne, Goethe, Wordsworth, and others are among the writers he recommends. These writings were not only recommended to others, but they were also the main course of Emerson’s daily reading regimen. He read them several times throughout the course of his life.

Given Emerson’s tendency for iconoclasm and advice to read just what one enjoys, it may come as a surprise that he would offer specific recommendations at all, and that his recommendations for others (as well as the backbone of his own collection) would mostly consist of such “traditional” classics. Rather from being in conflict with Emerson’s devotion to originality, his support for traditional writers was an extension of it.


Another method to read in accordance with Nature, he maintained, was to only read works that had endured the test of time (this accounts for the first and second of his three reading rules).

Trying to locate books of actual worth, Emerson remarks, is like to playing a lottery with very long chances. You must break open a slew of utter duds for every diamond you stumble across by chance.

Nature, on the other hand, has offered a mechanism to increase our odds of winning the lottery. Because it operates as an organic sifter, only the most successful and brilliant individuals end up producing books, and only the best of those will be published. (Of course, in this day of self-publishing, this is less true.) Even among those that are published, few will survive a year, much alone a decade, and even fewer – the most brilliant and unique — will be printed and read hundreds, if not thousands, of years after they were originally written. “Nothing that isn’t good can be saved.”

Old books’ “famous” is therefore earned, rather than the outcome of artificial hype and sensational media coverage. In current literature, however, “it is not so simple to discern between recognition and celebrity.”

Old books also benefit from the “first mover advantage,” which means that it was easier to write truly original work millennia ago, before many more generations of authors had a chance to weigh in and explain the laws of life from every possible angle — before the number of published texts had grown from hundreds to thousands to millions. The first go at carving insights into the tabula rasa of the written record was given to antiquity’s thinkers and writers. Emerson comments that “the throngs and centuries of books” that have been produced since then “are just commentary and explication, echoes and weakeners of these few great voices of time.”

“It is consequently an economy of time to read old and well-known literature,” he concludes.

Emerson claims that having a foundation in the classics helps you to engage in Western culture’s “Great Conversation,” in addition to letting you spend less time reading substandard media. “You are not allowed to provide any opinion” if you don’t understand the principles and background of an issue, he sensibly states. And if you ever intend to offer an original thinking (which, although more difficult in the current day, is still feasible), you must first understand what has come before you, and if what you believe to be a fresh and impregnable thesis has been advanced and refuted.

“Whenever any skeptic or bigot claims to be heard on matters of intellect and morality,” Emerson says, “we ask whether he is acquainted with Plato’s works, where all his pert objections have been once and for all disposed of.” If that is the case, he has no claim to our time. Allow him to go and discover answers there.”


Instead of reading passively for consumption, read actively for creativity.

“Every man is both a consumer and a creator.” He will not be able to leave his mark on the world unless he not only pays his debts, but also contributes to the common good.”

“I find some works lively and spermatic in that they do not leave the reader as they were: he closes the book a wealthier man.” Other than that, I would never voluntarily read anything else.”

“At first, the mind is merely receptive. Fill it with ideas that pleasure it, and it will become active. When a man stops being persuaded, he starts to persuade.”

So read what you want, read what’s new, and pay careful attention to the classics. Regardless of what one reads, Emerson maintains that one’s attitude toward the content is just as important as the information itself.

Media is not something that should be pumped into the brain blindly. No matter how deeply it resonates, it is not to be read to confirm pre-determined conclusions or to embrace another’s viewpoint in its entirety. Books are not meant to replace one’s own thoughts; you should not turn off your own mind in order to borrow the author’s.

Readers, according to Emerson, are not to be passive consumers, parasites sucking the juice from the leaves of others’ works without being planted in the soil of uniqueness and breathing back into the environment.

Readers, on the other hand, should be makers; reading should be a creative activity. To stimulate your own original thinking, you read original thought.

Even in the finest novels, the text should not be revered and worshipped excessively. This is true, according to Emerson, even when it comes to what has been actually canonized, such as scripture. To produce your own personal revelation, read written revelation.

Rather of being intimidated by the greats of the past, you should approach a book with the belief that you are capable of producing equally unique insight. Young men “grow up in libraries, thinking it is their duty to embrace the opinions which Cicero, Locke, and Bacon have provided, forgetting that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they produced those works,” Emerson laments.

To keep your reading innovative and lively, you must first avoid becoming too involved in media, allowing the author’s views, theories, and opinions to overpower and drown your own. “Long reading sessions in any book, no matter how fascinating, kills thinking as thoroughly as inflections induced by external factors,” says Emerson. “Do not allow this to happen. If you feel yourself getting engrossed, stop reading after the first paragraph. Keep yourself out of the way and keep an eye out for your own impressions.”

Adopting Emerson’s technique of taking extensive notes as a further assistance to active reading is a good idea. “He plucked words, details, facts, analogies, anecdotes, witticisms, aphorisms, and ideas from practically everything he read,” Richardson writes. Over the course of his life, these scribbles accumulated into 230 notebooks and indexes (as well as indexes of indexes) — a vast repository of insights and idea starters on any topic that had ever piqued his attention, which he could use to build his own observations and compositions.


Emerson’s requirement for originality did not exclude the utilization of inspiration from other writers, whether in the form of broad concepts or, more specifically, in the form of quotes. He didn’t believe that being creative necessarily required coming up with something completely new; sometimes it meant riffing on other people’s ideas in a fresh manner.

More than three thousand times in his own work, he referenced other authors, and he publicly recognized the debt his writing owed to them, quoting Goethe’s adage that “the greatest talent would never be worth much if he claims to depend completely on his own resources.” What is genius if not the ability to seize and account for whatever that comes to mind… every one of my publications has been supplied to me by a thousand different people and a thousand different things.” “Shall I tell you, the secret of the real scholar?” Emerson said. It goes like this: “Every guy I meet is my teacher at some time, and it is from him that I learn.”

Biographies and autobiographies should be read.

“[Biographies] provide moral strength sympathetic action.” If you hang around with cruel individuals, you’ll believe life is unfair. The earth is a proud place, peopled by persons of good character, with heroes and demigods standing around us, who will not let us sleep,” says Plutarch [Lives].

Biographies and autobiographies (notably Benjamin Franklin’s) were one kind of writings Emerson considered as particularly beneficial to self-reliance. To understand why, you must first comprehend his perspective on human nature.

Emerson thought that everyone had a “Universal Soul” or “Over-Soul” – a shared nature, intellect, and spirit. Every person’s intellectual and spiritual vitality came from a single, everlasting, and limitless source.

As a result, in every age, both the exceptional and the mediocre are formed of the same material. The same power that animates every other man inspired heroes, giants, and geniuses. They had similar sentiments and may have even read the same books as he does. As a result, each man may have the same experiences and expressions as Plato: “What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what has befallen any man at any time, he may comprehend.”

The purely linear understanding of history collapses when seen from this viewpoint, since “when a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me, when a truth that ignited the soul of St. John, flames mine, time is no more.”

For Emerson, this implies that there is no need to romanticize the past or worship history’s greatest characters. Because the Universal Soul has been present in the same manner throughout history, any era may be as excellent as any other; any age can be as creative, heroic, and self-reliant as any other. What was feasible for a man in the past is still possible for a man now.


Great individuals were not exceptional, but rather demonstrated the complete realization of human potential, of our shared nature, in a certain domain; “all ability has its apotheosis someplace,” Emerson remarked, and great figures show us what that looks like. “Great men are not superior to us; they are example, symbolic, or representational of us,” Richardson says of Emerson.

Every great man’s name, Emerson remarked, was a “seed” as a symbol. Reading biographies may sow that seed in our own life, resulting in increased spiritual fecundity. Of course, this progress did not occur by replicating every aspect of notable men’s life, since this would contradict the goal of finding a self-sufficient, unique route. Reading biographies, on the other hand, boosts one’s own creativity in a variety of ways.

First and foremost, it reawakens one’s conviction in “the utter boundlessness of human ability,” a notion that is all the more inspirational when one believes he is made of the same material as the heroes of old. Great figures should serve as a mirror of our potential — a “fortification of hope” — rather than making us feel horrible about ourselves and the areas we still fall short.

Second, biographies broaden the variety of options available to you in molding your own life by illuminating a greater number of pathways and options available to mankind. Biographies, according to Emerson, are a medium, a type of language, that may help us articulate our longings and express our own lives more fully.

Finally, biographies may provide guidance on more tangible, particular behaviors to adopt. While Emerson did not believe in copying every detail of another person’s life, he did recognize the benefit in embracing tactics that resonated with one’s own natural goal and manner of thinking and functioning.

Emerson reminded us that the tale of the world’s great figures is the story of each of us individually. “At the end of the day,” Richardson remarks, “all biography is autobiography.”

Learn how to skim and speed read.

“Learn to discern if you need to read a chapter or a sentence altogether based on the openings of the chapters and peeks of the sentences.” So, flip page after page, keeping the writer’s thinking in front of you but without lingering with him, until he has led you to the thing you want; then dwell with him, if he has it. But keep in mind that you only read to build your own squad.”

“Do not try to be a great reader; instead, read for information rather than by the bookful.”

“Learn to divine books, to sense the ones you desire without spending a lot of time on them.” A chapter is often sufficient. When the look is obscured, the glance exposes itself. The author has tucked his message away somewhere. Find it and skip the parts that don’t speak directly to you.”


Apart from the rule that you must read some books even if they do not interest you, another “should” Emerson advises us to abandon is the rule that you must read every book in its entirety.

Emerson was a self-confessed rapid reader and book skimmer. This was part of his dedication to active, economical, and selective reading; he read not to lose himself in the text or another’s ideas, but to gather the finest pieces, the most important insights for him. There was no such thing as a sacred book; it wasn’t a farm that you had to purchase in bulk; rather, it was a mine from which you simply had to extract the jewels.

While certain works reward line-by-line reading and provide useful information in many paragraphs and chapters, the majority do not. This is particularly true of current books, many of which appear more suited to being an article (and frequently began as one), and which have had their basic thesis padded with extraneous anecdotes and pop culture pysch studies in order to achieve the size of a regular volume. It’s a waste of time to read such publications from beginning to end when you can get the most important information from the opening and conclusion.

Of course, reading these types of books is often a waste of time, and a brief scan enables you to quickly “divine” this fact.

Even if a book is of exceptional quality throughout, it may not call to you. It’s not all designed for you. A book will have a varied impact on each individual. This is why glancing at a book’s most popular highlights on Goodreads or Kindle shouldn’t be used to speed up your skimming; just because a section connects with the people doesn’t guarantee it’s the book’s most precious pearl for you.

Emerson urges, “Do your own quarrying.”

Spend as little time as possible watching the news. 

“Stay away from the press’s offspring when it comes to the latest rumor. Do not read what you will discover on the street or on the train without first asking.”

Emerson believed news to be one of the lowest forms of media, if not the lowest. While he recognized that it may sometimes include “the jewel we seek,” the news was virtually always a failure in the lottery of meaningful, insightful words. It has no permanent value since it is fleeting by nature – “Like certain insects, it perished the day it was born.” “Transfer the quantity of your reading from the newspaper to the standard authors day by day,” Emerson suggests.

Emerson also admitted to a group of college students that newspapers “take a big proportion of attention during your time” and that the “engaged man can only miss them at his expense.” Meaning, it’s possible that not keeping up with the news might stifle social connections when the conversation turns to current events. Nonetheless, Emerson urges the young men to spend as little time as possible on the news, since much of it may be absorbed merely via the cultural ether and by scanning the papers:


“Learn how to obtain their best without letting them grab yours.” When the mind is at its most creative, avoid reading them. And don’t read them from top to bottom, column by column. Remember that they are built for everyone, so don’t strive to grab anything that isn’t intended for you… Knowing what to keep out of your head as well as what to put in is a tremendous secret. What you want is authentic news, so practice rapid searches for it. Allow yourself just a certain amount of time to complete the paper. Then you’ll know to avoid the early reports and expectations, as well as the items placed in for those who don’t have anything to think about.”

Act on what you’ve read and see what happens.

“Do it, completely span the abyss from edge to edge, and the dunces will discover it.” There is only one decision that has to be made, and that decision is mine. If I do that, I’ll be aware of it.”

“It’s a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness; it’s a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness.”

“It’s critical to take action…” Without it, [the scholar] is still a child. It is impossible for thinking to mature into truth without it. Inaction is cowardice, yet without the heroic intellect, there can be no scholar… I only know so much because I’ve lived. We can tell who has life in their words and who doesn’t.”

“Every chance for action missed by a genuine scholar is seen as a loss of power.”

Reading is not an aim in and of itself for Emerson. The ultimate purpose is not to amass knowledge for the sake of amassing it. Reading should serve as a springboard for your own creative ideas, as well as a stimulant for experimenting with and acting on them. Books must reintroduce you to the natural world and activity. The media will never be able to replace “keeping close to near reality” or “accustom[ing] oneself to receiving facts first hand.” The most effective resource for thinking is experience, and there is no other means to verify the veracity of idea.

Whether you come across a fantastic insight in your reading that truly connects with you, there’s just one way to know if it’ll help you access greater Truth, hatch the seed of your own greatness, and achieve your natural goal.

You must try it out, put it to the test, and put it into action.

Be willing to break any and all rules imposed by others, even these.

“Let your imagination wander; be contradictory; never be afraid to contradict yourself.”

“Individual minds, too, must not be shackled by the shackles of respect for consistency, but must be bold enough to contradict what they have stated today tomorrow.” Respect is owed to the moment’s motivation.”


Emerson’s reading guidelines, as well as his entire philosophy, sometimes seem to be in opposition. This would not have occurred to him as a negative. Isn’t it true that the very essence of life, of our wants, is often contradictory? We all desire the same thing at times. Occasionally, something else. Sometimes one strategy is the most effective. A new technique is required at another time.

Emerson would have you accept life’s contrasts in every way, including your reading.

A book is sometimes all we need to go forward. Sometimes we just have to take action. In the absence of external guidance, we may sometimes be self-sufficient. Other people’s advice is sometimes just what we need to keep on track toward our own true north.

Allow the perspective you get from one book to shift as you read another. Allow your reading style to shift based on what you need at any given moment.

Respect is owed to the moment’s motivation.

So, don’t be scared to deviate from the rules, especially these. In most circumstances, they’ll be really beneficial in shifting your reading habits from one that saps your self-confidence to one that strengthens it. Emerson, on the other hand, would not have wanted you to be completely dedicated to them.

After hearing Emerson dismiss the importance of books, Charles Woodbury, a young college student and disciple, was bitterly disappointed in the master he had almost idolized. Woodbury replied he couldn’t agree with the philosopher’s position, nervously, with “quivering lips.”

Emerson said with a winking glance, “Very good.” “I have no desire for disciples.”

“This was a long stride toward masculinity,” Woodbury later reflected.

“This was a long stride toward masculinity,” Woodbury later reflected.


Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Books”

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Natural History of Intellect”

John Madison Fletcher’s “Emerson’s Educational Philosophy”

Charles J. Woodbury’s Ralph Waldo Emerson: Conversations

Robert D. Richardson, Jr.’s Emerson: The Mind on Fire



Watch This Video-

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” is a book of advice on how to achieve individualism. In the book, he talks about how we should find what works for us and not follow society’s opinions. Reference: individualism in ralph waldo emerson’s self-reliance answers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Emerson say about reading?

A: Emerson said it is one of the most effective methods to gain intelligence.

What is Emerson telling the readers in Self-Reliance?

A: Emerson is telling the readers that they should not rely on things, such as societys opinions or judgments. Instead of relying on those external factors for validation and achievement, we need to use ourselves to figure out what success means for us in our individual lives.

What advice does Emerson give in Self-Reliance?

A: This is one of the most famous quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a transcendentalist philosopher. In his essay Self-Reliance, he said that individualism and self reliance are what matter in life, not social conformity and institutions.

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