Walden on Wheels

  • by Ken Ilgunas
  • Narrated by Nick Podehl
  • 9 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The story of a student who went to extraordinary lengths - including living in a van on a campus parking lot - to complete his education without sacrificing his financial future. In a frank and self-deprecating voice, memoirist Ken Ilgunas writes about the existential terror of graduating from college with $32,000 in student debt. Inspired by Thoreau, Ilgunas set himself a mission: get out of debt as soon as humanly possible. To that end, he undertook an extraordinary 3-year transcontinental journey, driving to Alaska and taking a series of low-paying jobs. Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled himself in a master's program at Duke University, using the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline, his new "dorm." The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be an adventure, a challenge, a test of his limits. It would be, in short, his "Walden on Wheels."Ilgunas went public in a widely read Salon article that spoke to the urgent student debt situation in America today. He offers a funny and pointed perspective on the dilemma faced by those who seek an education but who also want to, as Thoreau wrote, "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


I think I've listened to this about 3 times now. Very good narrator and inspiring account of modern day Thoreau living / minimalism without being preachy. Highly recommend
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- A. Smith

An adventure that lacks ... something

Here, Ken Ilgunas recounts his adventures as he seeks to pay off his undergraduate debts in the first part of the book, and, in the second, how he lived in order to secure his post-graduate degree at Duke University. This book appealed because I have my own unsecured debts, and a desire to return to university.

Although this book lived up to its synopsis, it was not exactly what I hoped it might be, but it though Mr Ilgunas's experiences did provide food for thought, though I now realise I could not follow in his footsteps.

Ken Ilgunas worked in in a remote outpost in Alaska to pay off his original college debt, then undertook a canoe journey with a group seeking to replicate the experience of the Canadian voyageurs of the 18th and 19th centuries; before doing his post-graduate degree all without going back into debt.

Although there are some interesting anecdotes about the adventures, and details of his budgets are provided, overall, I was not overly enthused by this book. Some sections I felt I was being preached to,in others, the narration became too wordy in describing feelings about places and/or people. As much as it appeared Ken Ilgunas went into detail, I’m not sure I really know just how he did cope on a day-to-day level under the strict, self-imposed budgetary, and living conditions; I always had the feeling something was missing from these recollections.

The author seems to berate the normal path people take through life, consisting of (in his opinion) getting and education, working in a job they may dislike to paying off the debts they accrue getting that education, getting a mortgage, continuing to work in a job they dislike to pay off the mortgage and other consumer debts, then retiring without having really lived. It’s a point-of-view held by many who seek the simpler life, but others may disagree believing it is more about “dropping out” of humanity, something which Ken’s mother hints at in the book.

The narration by Nick Podehl was quite well done, though I did query the pronunciation of some words, but this might have been accounted for by the difference between American and UK English. The audio edition I downloaded from Audible was crisp, clear and without any faults.

I would recommend this to anyone contemplating university via student loans, but I'm not sure it would be all that helpful to those that do want to take the corporate path.
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- Sìle

Book Details

  • Release Date: 14-05-2013
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio