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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Der Steppenwolf
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on 3 October 2017
Loved the book
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on 11 February 2013
First time I have read Hesse....Will now try more....A very accessible book which is still very relevant today.....the message to me was, "Let your kids have a gap year"
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on 29 July 2012
'Steppenwolf' is a product of Hesse's mid-life crisis. Published in German in 1927, it was translated into English within two years. At the time of writing, Hesse had already become a Swiss citizen. His reputation in Germany was low because of his unpopular anti-militarist views, and his personal life was in a state of disarray. He had been plagued by depressive episodes since childhood. It is perhaps unsurprising that he responded by writing a highly autobiographical novel about a social outcast, an internal exile from the bourgeoisie, who is undergoing a spiritual crisis and, as he approaches fifty with no end in sight, is contemplating suicide.

The novel enjoyed mixed fortunes before being picked up - along with Hesse's other work, almost all of which was completed before 1945 - by American countercultural figures during the 1960s. By the 1970s, the revival of Hesse in the United States had fed back into Germany, and the author's revived reputation was matched by heavy sales and wide translation. 'Steppenwolf' had become a key title in the countercultural library.

Hesse noted just before his death in 1962 that the novel was the most misunderstood of all his works, and drew particular attention to the fact that although it dealt with the problems of middle age it had been seized upon by the young. In particular, the openness with which the novel discusses the use of mood-altering drugs and states of altered consciousness, and its frank references to bisexuality and sexual freedom, allied to Hesse's anti-war message, made 'Steppenwolf' read as a precursor text for the 'Sixties underground. As an insight into a particular kind of modern psychological crisis, the novel still packs something of a punch, and the reader will find that it is worth persisting.

Hesse was unusually open-minded and eclectic in his approach to sources of ideas, mixing Buddhism with Schopenhauer, Indian philosophy with Nietzsche and Jung; and he was a pioneer in diagnosing the sickness of his society in a way that spoke loudly to young Americans during the Vietnam years. The result in 'Steppenwolf' is an extended fable with serious intellectual and spiritual ambitions that still escapes the circumstances of its composition and has something to offer to later readers.

Important: this modern, smooth, accurate 2012 Penguin edition finally supplants the much criticised, anachronistic, stiff, rather faulty 1929 translation, inadequately revised in 1963, which was showing its age almost on publication and has done Hesse few favours with English-speaking readers. In 2010 a new translation of Steppenwolf from Algora by Thomas Wayne appeared that claimed to be more modern, literal and complete than the Creighton translation. However, it is also more expensive: so this new David Horrocks translation, which one imagines is Penguin's response to the Wayne version, is now the preferred version. As a result, the English-speaking reader can now read 'Steppenwolf' as a novel written in the 1920s rather than the 1880s.

[It appears that the older Penguin Creighton version may also still be available from some sources, and the interested reader should be careful that they have the 2012 Horrocks version.]
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on 19 April 2016
It's all here! Life,death,love,sex,desire,longing,regret,spiritualism,politics,art,music,philosophy,insanity,fantasy,the nature of reality...the list goes on. Essentially the story of one man's struggle to know how to live, it is in fact a story that most of us will recognise and relate to - and that is what makes the book so appealing;the fact that the reader sees himself/herself in these characters and thinks "well at least I'm not the only one,and maybe I can learn something about how to live my life."
This is the first Hesse I've read,but I'm already looking to choose my next,as he was clearly a highly intelligent man with great humanity and talent.
This edition is a new translation. I've not read the earlier one,but this one certainly gives the impression of being extremely well done.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 May 2015
This is a profound study of a lonely, unhappy man suffering from a detached intellect and incurable cynicism. The book is intelligent both in the depth of its character study and the manner of the writing. You get the feeling as soon as you read the introduction by Hesse discussing the meaning of the book - a dangerous topic for a critic, let-alone the author, and yet Hesse handles it safely and adroitly.

Several of Hesse's novels rank among my very favourites and at first I thought this would be another. As I went on, the weight of it gradually wore me down. It is more of an essay than a narrative and though I admired it and liked it in principle, after a while it became too dull and I stopped reading.

3 stars is the maximum rating I will give a book that I didn't enjoy enough to finish, but it has much to recommend it and if you think you have the stomach for such a read please don't be put off.
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on 10 July 2015
The first thing you notice about these reviews of 'Steppenwolf' is that most of them are actually about another book, Hesse's 'Beneath The Wheel'. Amazon don't normally make such errors, but Hesse, with his disdain for technology, would probably have approved of this.

This edition is the 1963 revision of the original translation by Basil Creighton from 1929. It has come in for some criticism recently as newer translations have appeared, but, personally, I still think it has a lot to offer. I have read this version many times. I have also just read the latest translation, by David Horrocks, which is very good, and I would not wish to knock it; I am sure that it probably is a more accurate translation. Nevertheless, when I compared the two versions at various points, I did not notice any major improvements in the newer version, and I did think that some good things had been lost. Overall, I think I prefer the feel of this earlier version, which is the one I will choose next time I re-read 'Steppenwolf'.
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on 8 January 2017
...In which our author discovers that opium, dancing and sex makes him much happier than reading clever books and drinking wine in isolation. What will he do when the woman in question becomes pregnant? Oh, he hasn't thought about it.

That said, a very interesting portrait of the despair of inter-war Germany. Worth reading for the surreal final third.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 December 2013
I first read Herman Hesse's novel "Steppenwolf" in the late 1960s, as did many baby boomers. Although I loved the novel at the time, I gradually became embarrassed by the book as an error of my youth My growing disenchantment, probably was due to my increased discomfort with the counterculture, which never appealed to me, and to "Steppenwolf's" adoption by the movement. I have always been generally conservative about most things. My unwillingness to revisit the book persisted even when I became seriously interest in Buddhism, more than fifteen years ago. I decided to revisit "Steppenwolf" upon reading a recent book about philosophy. The author mentioned Hesse's novel several times and obviously thought a great deal of it. The references in a book I liked prompted me to reread "Steppenwolf" at last.

After rereading the book, I thought that I was right to love it upon the first reading, right to leave it alone for more that 40 years, and right to revisit it. As with so many books, "Steppenwolf" loses something when read by the young. In a 1961 author's note, Hesse claimed that "Steppenwolf" often was "violently misunderstood". He attributed the misunderstanding in part to the book's popularity with young readers. Hesse also pointed out that the book tended to attract loners and intellectuals who identified with the loneliness and apparent alienation of Harry Haller, the novel's main character. This certainly would have been true in my case. Hesse wrote:

"[T]his book knows of and speaks about other things besides Harry Haller and his difficulties, about a second,higher, indestructible world beyond the Steppenwolf and his problematic life. The 'Treatise' and all those spots in the book dealing with matters of the spirit, of the arts, and the 'immortal' men oppose the Steppenwolf's world of suffering with a positive, serene, superpersonal and timeless world of faith. This book, no doubt, tells of griefs and needs; still, it is not a book of a man despairing but of a man believing."

The book tells of Harry Haller's, the "Steppenwolf's" redemption from a life of loneliness and despair through his efforts at writing and self-understanding and through largely hallucinatory meetings with a range of characters, including his alter-ego Hermione, a lover, Marie, a strange saxophonist and band leader, Pablo, and the historical figures Goethe and Mozart. Much of the story is set in bars and in Harry's lonely rooms, as he revisits his impoverished love life, divorce, loneliness, and wanderings. A long final scene is set a strange "Magic Theater" where Harry undergoes a series of transformative, if sometimes shocking experiences.

The "Magic Theater" and a small number of ambiguously meant references to drug use in the course of the novel understandably contributed to its appeal to the counterculture. The book has also been read as a strong critique of "bourgeois" society and its
conformity, an interpretation I find misdirected. Harry comes to terms with his life and with the different aspects of himself during the novel. He learns to accept the "bourgeois" world of respectability and business just as he learns to accept and be happy with his own sexuality, learning, independence, and his past. Harry learns to love his life as it is.

The strongest parts of the book are the long descriptions of spiritual Buddhist-derived teachings which discuss the nature of selfhood and the need for letting go and acceptance. The book relies heavily on Buddhist teachings on the lack of a fixed, substantial self. The book integrates Buddhist teachings with Harry's tortured experiences to offer a convincing, if extreme, novelistic portrayal of non-self. I learned much more from rereading this book after I had acquired both "life experiences" and a rudimentary knowledge of Buddhism than I learned when I was young and more foolish and when I knew comparatively little about Buddhism.

Hesse (1877 -- 1962) was born in Germany but became a Swiss citizen in 1923. He wrote the strongly autobiographical "Steppenwolf" in 1927, and it was first translated into English in 1929. The popularity of the book soared in the 1960s and has remained high. Those readers who read "Steppenwolf" when they were young, as I did, might well enjoy revisiting and rethinking the book as they have gone forward in life.

Robin Friedman.
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on 3 April 2013
It's easy to understand why Hesse became a favorite of 1960s counterculture America, with his anti-war, anti-materialistic stance (and why the band famous for `Born To Be Wild' was inspired to name themselves after this book). There are some brilliant passages in this apparently semi-autobiographical novel, but they are separated by a few less-brilliant stretches that drag on a bit.
Having said that, I had no trouble reading to the end, partly because I was interested to see where exactly Hesse was taking this story of a man struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, veering between the wild wolf of the title and a mild and apparently respectable citizen of 1920s Germany.
This is the very Nietzschean theme; the fact that we are all part animal and part rational being, and the balance between the two is a fine one indeed. It isn't surprising to learn that Nietzsche was a big influence on Hesse.
For some reason this novel doesn't seem to be classed as existentialist in genre, yet to me that's how it comes across - a forerunner to Sartre and Camus, for example. Harry Haller, the narrator who resembles Hesse in many respects, is the outsider; alienated yet also intrigued by the absurdity, pointlessness and randomness of life, as well as its occasional pleasures.
Much as I like such dark philosophical ramblings however, I found this hard going in places due to a writing style that occasionally becomes repetitive and slightly tedious. Well worth reading though.
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on 29 November 2016
It's Me!!! xxx
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