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92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and thought provoking book
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...
Published on 6 Sep 2000

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62 of 80 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of a Nobel Prize?
Before coming to 'The Glass Bead Game' I had read 'Steppenwolf' and 'Siddhartha'. Both - to my sensibilities at the time - were sensitive, intelligently-written and sparkling works of prose that wrestled with some engaging questions. I knew that 'The Glass Bead Game' was considered Hesse's 'magnum opus'...and picked it up with a high degree of excitement. I was very...
Published on 21 Feb 2004


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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
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Hardcover)
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
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Hardcover)
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
By 
N. Clarke (Lancs, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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. It began with glass beads strung on wires, like a complex abacus, but soon evolved into a much broader set of representations, becoming,
"[W]hat it is today: the quintessence of all intellectuality and art, the sublime cult, the unio mystica of all separate members of the Universitas Litterarum. In our lives it has partially taken over the role of art, partially that of speculative philosophy."
The novel takes place largely in Castalia, a province given over to the furtherance of the Game, the intellectual pursuits of its players, and the education of future Castalians. This isn't Plato's Republic, though; the philosophers don't manage society for its own benefit with all their considerable intellectual resources. Rather, they leave the world to its own devices, supported by the revenues of an unnamed state and enjoying sole occupancy of their province. They maintain a monastic existence in their favoured little world, eschewing worldly attachments and devoting themselves to the life of the Mind.
The tale of Joseph Knecht takes us through all levels of this rarefied world, from young Joseph's first introduction to the Music Master who teaches him a new way of listening to music and is his first mentor, through his intellectual growth and development, his conflicted (and always unequal) relationships with friends and teachers, and his discovery of the value of meditation, up to his appointment as Magister Ludi, and beyond. It's a dazzling, inspiring world - albeit one with nary a woman in sight (only men can play the Game, it seems). It's also a terribly isolated one, anchorless in undifferentiated time, devoid - as the Benedictine monk Father Jacobus helps Knecht to see - of context, of contact, of a true awareness of the outside world and what it means. Of history. It occurs to me now that this may be a reason behind the unspecified timeframe.
In the course of the telling, Hesse naturally plays all sorts of games with the biographical format - a genre that, we are told, is distinctly frowned upon in Castalian culture for its tendency towards both hagiography and needless wallowing in the psychological 'roots' of its subjects. The prose thus strives for dry detachment, modelled on what we later learn is the Castalian authorities' 'house style' - impersonality to the extent of burying the narrator within a first-person plural viewpoint. Nevertheless - as probably will surprise no-one - even as he/they evince a fastidious disdain for such philistine practices, the narrator(s) can't help but indulge in all the traits described as lamentable about biography: psycho-analysis, speculation, foreshadowing, direct speech; even the exploration of Joseph's own thought processes. It's something of a comfort in the midst of this alien society.
The narrator draws back, however, when the climax of the novel approaches: Joseph's decision to leave his position, his responsibilities, and Castalia itself, behind. What remains is legend, we are told; only the bare facts, such as are known, can be presented. (There is a little more, but I don't want to spoil the very end). The reader is left to reach their own conclusions. For my part, I see it as an admission that the life of the Mind cannot exist in such rarefied air, forbidden contact with the world that produced and still nurtures it, without becoming stagnant - but your impression may differ...
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 26 July 2004
By 
SL "stef_cd" (Bournemouth, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Teaches how to pay attention to the life of the mind, 16 Oct 2010
By 
Jo Bennie (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tower of glass, beads of doubt, 29 Sep 2011
By 
reader 451 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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 individualism, our time. Scholarship has resumed its rightful place in society, a place at the same time of power and elevation and of humility before knowledge. And at its apex, or rather apart from it, are Castalia and a group of sister organisations which, around the world, practice the glass bead game. The game itself is not described, except that it is a play on a synthesis of science, music, and the arts, an attempt to touch at universal truths by sounding echoes between the disciplines. Its disciples, to match their dignity, vow celibacy and poverty much like the religious scholars of old, Western, Chinese, or Hindu.

The book is shaped as a bibliographical report from Castalia's own archives, complete with documentary attachments. This makes for a very slow pace, and for a whole that leaves much detail obscure. The Glass Bead Game is, voluntarily, tough-going up to well into its first half. It is as if Hesse scorns in advance his reader's expectations for an easy and entertaining piece, expectations that rightly belong to the age of the feuilleton. But the design becomes clearer, and a deep inner tension emerges as the novel progresses. Joseph Knecht, whom one follows through childhood, then a brilliant period of study, and various ambassadorial missions all the way into the glass bead game's high priesthood, is beset with doubts. And set against him is Plinio Designori, friend and admirer but the scion of a family of politicians who, unlike Knecht, has chosen to grapple with a fate in the real world. Knecht comes to worry about the durability of Castalia, and about the very value of cultural pursuits so cut off from their historical mainstream. The book closes with a set of poems by Knecht, and with three lives he purportedly wrote in his student years, balancing the destinies of sages with the temptations of worldly pursuits in various settings: stone-age, early-medieval Christian, and Hindu.

The Glass Bead Games asks questions and sets problems rather than provide ready-made answers. It is a meditation on the roles of culture and study in society and on the value of philosophical knowledge. Hesse also asks whether culture can or should be considered to be historically independent from politics and its social conditions, an interesting question in the light of the recent rehabilitation of culture in political history-writing. And his novel delves into the nature of education and the relationship between master and apprentice. Knecht is increasingly portrayed as a prisoner in a cherished tower of glass. The question is whether he can escape without shattering it. Demanding but subtle and resolutely un-categorical, this novel is to be read by anyone who has a vocation or interest of any kind in academic, artistic, or scholarly pursuits.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating mass of contradictions, 11 May 2009
By 
EmmaH (Dorset, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I first read 'The Glass Bead Game' in my late teens, and it left a lasting if vague impression. I very very rarely reread books - being of the opinion that life is just too short - but twenty-odd years later I felt compelled to revisit it, if only because I remember it being a very 'grand' and mysterious book, and because I could remember so little about it.

What a strange experience it was. I'm a lot older and a little wiser than I was back then, so the impression it made on me was less of awe and more of wonder. Specifically, I kept wondering why on earth Hesse wrote it? What, exactly, was its point? I found it maddeningly discursive, didactic, amibiguous - and yet nonetheless 'a great novel'.

That said, I could only imagine what a modern day agent or editor would make of it. There is little plot to speak of, and it's almost impossible to discern whether Hesse intended it as satire or homage or just plain narrative. The sudden and untimely end of the protagonist seems to leave the story in mid air, and then, almost as an afterthought, Hesse tags on three short stories, in the guise of Joseph's posthumous writings.

I found the novel fascinating, but its meaning rather obscure - although Hesse's fascination with Eastern religion comes through as a strong theme, particularly towards the end. So ultimately I'm left wondering what on earth I do think about this book, other than it is perhaps as flawed, perplexing and bewitching as life itself.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating world- a tale of personal growth, 9 Mar 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Hermann Hesse is a magical story teller. He builds his world so masterfully that you step in and travel along, completely at home. His fascination with the personal growth of individual human beings make this novel the very best example of what a "biography" should be. This book is the his greatest of many wonderful achievements, such as Damian and Siddharta, both dealing with the inner growth and development of a single person.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an easy to read, yet very rewarding introduction to hesse, 8 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
part bauhaus, part shaolin temple, part medieval apprenticeship, the world of castallia is wonderful, mystical and entrancing.
the parallels with many areas of life and the symbolism used are both revelatory and thought-provoking - yet somehow familiar. as though hesse is putting into words, chimera-like thoughts that exist in your mind but are rarely vocalised.
surprisingly easy to read yet very rewarding. one of those books that makes you glad to be alive - but not in a mawkish, sentimental way
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The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics)
The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) by Hermann Hesse (Paperback - 6 July 2000)
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