Thomas Mann was one of the great writers to arise during the twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1929. Mann is best known for Buddenbrooks, his first and perhaps most characteristic novel; although in this country The Magic Mountain may be more widely read, and his short story Death in Venice most often assigned. Yet among his best work is also some of his least known.
Later in life, Mann turned to biblical sources, and produced what some consider his greatest work, Joseph and His Brothers, which came out as a tetralogy. Here, after Mann had finished Joseph, we find a novelette, The Tables of the Law.
It begins, "His birth was irregular, hence it was he passionately loved order, the absolute, the shalt and shalt not." Near the end, "Then he descended the hill with the Law under his arms." What happened in between left its mark on Western civilization.
In passing, it should be said that if you were to read Mann's work in German, then as translated into English by Helen Lowe-Porter, you might find that you are not missing much.
As produced by Knopf, The Tables of the Law is a slim, elegant hardcover book with unusual typography and layout. It is readily available on the used-book market.
Note: Out of print for many years, The Tables of the Law is now available in a new translation commissioned by Paul Dry Books.