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Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse is the story of a society where the various kinds of academic study - in particular mathematics, music and history - have been absorbed into the playing of a particularly complicated game.

The book tells the story of Joseph Knecht, one of the legendary players of the game. We hear of his life in elite schools, his years of study of obscure parts of history and his gradual rise in the heirarchy of the game until he reaches its pinnacle - the position of Magister Ludi or Master of the Game. But Knecht begins to have his doubts about how much the game players have become cut off from society and warns that their way of living cannot last forever.

One tends to see the book as a comment on the separation of academia from 'real life', but I felt that this doesn't really work - the split between them just seems false. For instance astronomy and physics are supposedly part of the game, but Hesse just seems to see them as playing with formulae, rather than eagerly awaiting data from newly built telescopes. The book seems much more to do with the choices of an individual - do you become a hermit, is it better to be an 'organisation man', or is there another alternative. In the end I felt that the message wasn't really worth the effort of reading 400 pages - it would be more suited to a shorter story. The 3 'lives' at the end of the book, which are, effectively, short stories with a similar message, are definitely worth reading though.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 558 pages  
ISBN: 0312278497
Salesrank: 31779
Published: 2002 Picador
Amazon price $15.88
Marketplace:New from $12.68:Used from $2.51
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 544 pages  
ISBN: 009928362X
Salesrank: 44040
Weight:0.84 lbs
Published: 2000 Vintage Classics
Amazon price £8.31
Marketplace:New from £3.80:Used from £3.37
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 576 pages  
ISBN: 0312278497
Salesrank: 47638
Weight:1.8 lbs
Published: 2002 Picador
Amazon price CDN$ 18.54
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 18.54:Used from CDN$ 7.14
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Product Description
The Glass Bead Game is an ultra-aesthetic game which is played by the scholars, creamed off in childhood and nurtured in elite schools, in the province of Castalia. The Master of the Glass Bead Game, Joseph Knecht, holds the most exalted office in Castalia. He personifies the detachment, serenity and aesthetic vision which reward a life dedicated to perfection of the intellect. But can, indeed should, man live isolated from hunger, family, children, women, in a perfect world where passions are tamed by meditation, where academic discipline and order are paramount? This is Herman Hesse’s great novel. It is a major contribution to contemporary philosophic literature and has a powerful vision of universality, the inner unity of man’s cultural ideals and his search for personal perfection and social responsibility.

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