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The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Hermann Hesse
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 July 2000 Vintage Classics
In the remote Kingdom of Castalia, the scholars of the Twenty Third century play the Glass Bead Game. The elaborately coded game is a fusion of all human knowledge - of maths, music, philosophy, science, and art. Intrigued as a school boy, Joseph Knecht becomes consumed with mastering the game as an adult. As Knecht fulfils his life-long quest he must contend with unexpected dilemmas and the longing for a life beyond the ivory tower.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (6 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009928362X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099283621
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"One of the truly important books of the century, in any language" (The Times)

"Sublime" (Thomas Mann)

"A massive novel set out to explore the positive side of human nature, the fullness of man's capacity as a thinker and as a prober into scared mysteries...Touching and impressive" (Observer)

Book Description

Hermann Hesse's magnum opus and a twentieth-century classic

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and thought provoking book 6 Sep 2000
By A Customer
The Glass Bead Game is set in Castalia, an intellectual utopia of the future, where scholars, having cut themselves off from the rest of the world, are free to immerse themselves in the unadulterated pursuit of knowledge.
The Glass Bead Game itself is the embodiment of this community's ideology. It is a game in which contestants attempt to establish patterns of commonality between seemingly disparate intellectual fields. Although the emphasis within the novel is that it is an essentially aesthetic pursuit, it is a fascinating idea that is increasing relevant in modern science with physicist search for the 'theory of everything' and the application of chaos theory to increasing number of apparently unrelated systems.
Although Herman Hesse was something of a sixties icon, and despite its frequent reference to Eastern mysticism, to my mind the sentiments of this book are decidedly anti-hippie. The author is warning us that any community that doggedly pursues it ideology at the expense of the world at large is at risk of becoming stagnant, inward looking, and ultimately decadent and irrelevant. It is a call to pragmatism, as valuable today as it has ever been.
After reading Steppenwolf, which I found a turgid and difficult read, I came to this novel with some trepidation. However, despite it's philosophical overtones and being written in the style of a biography, The Glass Bead Game is far from a struggle to read and you quickly find yourself being drawn into the life of the protagonist. Consummately written, the Glass Bead Game is a fascinating and thought provoking book which will stay with you long after you've put it down for the last time.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two worlds present in Hesse's work 21 Jan 1998
By A Customer
The Glass Bead Game should be required reading for anyone interested in the price of pursuing a "life of the mind." Bringing together all of the aspects of the aesthetic life in the growth of the main character (Knecht), the book asks the central question: shall one give up living in the world as a result? The demands of chasing wisdom while addressing the needs of day to day living pre-occupied Hesse throughout his literary life. This predominant theme of his work reaches its culmination in The Glass Bead Game. It is a novel of exrtaordinary beauty and life...few pieces have ever reached deeper into the wellsprings of what it means to be "alive in two worlds."
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't read me first 5 Jan 2001
More complex than his earlier books. Read 'Narziss & Goldmund' first, where similar themes are developed as separate characters, and this will make much more sense. The other main books: 'Damian', 'Steppenwolf', 'Siddartha', explore/describe singular ways of living rather than the deep personal conflict here - read them before or after, as you like. This is the greatest novel about the pursuit of the aesthetic life, its rewards and cost, ever written - I think.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life of the mind 6 April 2006
The Glass Bead Game (1943) is a confounding but fascinating SF novel/biography/spiritual treatise.
Hesse (1877-1962) was born in Germany, a rebellious - and, for a period, apparently mentally-ill - son to a pair of missionaries who rejected theological education in favour (eventually) of becoming a bookseller's apprentice and writer. He became alienated from his homeland during WWI, attracting opprobrium for writing an essay in protest at German militarism and calling upon his fellow writers to stop supporting the war. In 1919 he left Germany for Switzerland, and never returned. He was fascinated by Jung and by Eastern spiritual thought (specifically Buddhism, I think), and travelled in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
The Glass Bead Game, widely seen as his greatest work, is a fictional biography set at some unspecified point in the future. It deals with the life and death of Joseph Knecht, one of the greatest players of the titular Game that the world has ever known, and who rose to become its Magister Ludi (master of the Game).
The Game, we are told in the (narrator's) preface, arose out of an impatience with the frivolity and shallow nature of pseudo-scholarship and mass media/entertainment during the "Age of the Feuilleton" (broadly, an extrapolation of Hesse's own). It was a drive for a purer, higher use of intellectual energy, influenced by Eastern thought; an attempt to find a universal symbolic language through which all scholarly pursuits could be expressed, explored and, ultimately, harmonised: music, maths, philosophy, religion.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 26 July 2004
I read this novel with fascination when I was a student (in the late 70's) and was captured by it's themes of study, intellectualism and their relation to the 'real world'.
As a forty-something I've just re-read the work; this time I picked up the human struggle around the purpose and meaning of these things.
Do people still read these types of novels - I hope so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Like nothing I've ever read before. The presumably fictional but utterly convincing biography of Joseph Knecht, the man who in the 23rd Century becomes Magister Ludi (Master of the Game) in the Kingdom of Castalia, an elite community who preserved the integrity of humanity when it dissolved into anarchy and dangerous superficiality centuries earlier. Castalian's are the intellectual elite of their society but they no longer create, rather they study earlier cultural achievement and play the Glass Bead Game, a game that is never completely defined but appears to be an intellectual exercise in pure brilliance of the mind. The Glass Bead Game taught me a lot both about the need for me to become more centred and the value of meditation, and also the implicit dangers of intellectualism and seperatism.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 20 days ago by K. D. Alderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'Truly important book'
Glass Bead Game is a must read for any thinking person.

The book completely exceeded my expectations, I wish that I had read it years ago. Read more
Published 3 months ago by joan h
2.0 out of 5 stars Very long book
So many words so little story, hard pressed to finish it. It's probably a classic but not for me, sorry.
Published 15 months ago by Pauline Austin
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book...
Highly recommended. This book, as well as being beautifully constructed and written, really made me question some of the deeper questions of Life. Read more
Published 17 months ago by J. Craven
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and very rewarding
I read this after a recommendation from [...] It is a wonderful book that depicts a future society in a few centuries time long after a Century of Wars (now I assume) but unlike... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2012 by Mr. Adrian I. Skilling
1.0 out of 5 stars World's most boring book
I approached this book with a huge wave of enthusiasm, expecting Thomas Mann meets sci-fi. Sadly there is neither in this novel. Read more
Published on 2 Jan 2012 by Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Transcendental
I am very happy to read some reviews that capture (what I think is) the essence of this book.
There are moments of such transcendental, meditative beauty in this jewel of a... Read more
Published on 9 Dec 2011 by VonMises
4.0 out of 5 stars Tower of glass, beads of doubt
The Glass Bead Game is set in an indeterminate future, a long time after the century of wars, also described as the age of the feuilleton, a time of shallow and fruitless... Read more
Published on 29 Sep 2011 by reader 451
5.0 out of 5 stars Humility best presented in a novel
As a cheeky teenager this masterpiece was the coolest SF/fantasy and a surprising loot from the school library in Japan (it was a Japanese edition immaculately translated from the... Read more
Published on 14 Dec 2010 by Chili Beans
2.0 out of 5 stars The past is another country
Hesse's novel won the Nobel Prize and joins the ranks of strangely overrated works that are now not much read but hit the right spot at the time. Read more
Published on 30 Aug 2009 by Dr. G. Hyde
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