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The Glass Bead Game

Written by: Hermann Hesse
Narrated by: David Colacci
Length: 21 hrs and 17 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Set in the 23rd century, The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, which has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish.

Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).

©1990 Hermann Hesse (P)2008 BBC Audiobooks America

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  • D. Raynal
  • 30-10-12

One of Mankind's Best Books

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

It is not enough to say that this is a GREAT story for it's depth, wisdom and beauty are so evident that each word of Hesse's award winning novel moved me into places that only a true master could so magically conjure. I loved the reader as well and felt that the entire production was perfect. Thanks audible for providing such a service.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Glass Bead Game?

The masterful way in which Hermann Hesse concluded his story. It was pure genius.

Have you listened to any of David Colacci’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Too many to mention. But the story of how Knecht sacrificed himself was brilliantly conceived.

Any additional comments?

To me this book has been a favorite of mine for years and each time I read (and in this case listen) I am moved to new levels of just how vulnerable we are as humans and just how beautiful each of us plays out our unique role.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 02-01-13

Great – but be warned

This is an excellently written book but is much more an exploration of the ideas around the life of the mind than it is a novel. The first part of the book is written as a future history of an individual player of the glass bead game and (like most histories) has rather weak characterization and story. Instead this history is used to explore philosophical ideas around thought and knowledge, belief and religiosity, and education and learning. If you are looking for a light science fiction story, this is not the book for you! If you have read Jung, Nietzsche & Mann you will likely appreciate the allusions to their ideas. If you love German histories and philosophers, you will likely love this book. The last chapter of the book leaves the historical narrative format and is touching. This is followed by the inclusion of three fictional stories written by the fictional protagonist. These are very nice and have the spirit of parables or religious teaching stories. The stories are only linked by their common exploration of the life of the mind. This is a great book, but many a reader may likely wonder what the heck is going on.

41 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Marie-Louise
  • 26-05-11

Modern Spirituality devoid of Magic Tricks

Someone I met, was saying about Hermann Hesse that he did not wish to read his book as he perceived them to be new age litterature. This is such a misunderstanding of the beautiful universe of wisdom and thoughtfulness to which Hesse invites his readers. As a strong atheist - Hitchen like, I am very suspicious of any author who inflicts upon us superstitious fallacies. This is far from being the case of Hesse. The spiritual essence of his books is truly modern and devoid of supernatural claims. He is not concern with magics or miracles but with the true nature of being human experience.

It had been a while since I've read a book by Hesse, and reading the Glass Bead Game felt like rediscovering an old friend. This book being its masterpiece, I shall say it was quite a reunion. In the Glasse Bead Game explore the tension between Joseph Knecht's love for his art and realization that he is hiding in an ivory tower avoiding the real world, its dangers but also its wonder.

I highly recommend Hesse to anybody looking for a spiritual experience devoided of the cheap magic tricks of «New age» culture. Hopefully, Hesse shows us the way of a modern spirituality.

28 people found this helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • 13-02-14

Surrender to the Magister Ludi's Game

I remember reading Hesse's 'Siddhartha' and 'Narcissus and Goldmund' right out of high school. There was something both disquieting and uniquely calming about these strange little books that Hesse wrote detailing his love and fascinating with Eastern thought and philosophy. I figured this year I would read the 'Glass Bead Game' (and later 'Steppenwolf'). It is in many ways GBG is Hesse's subtle answer to the growing Fascism in his country. But, at its heart, it isn't an anti-Fascist book. He is aiming for more. He is thinking bigger.

It is a book about harmony and the arts. The exploration of how music, mathematics, intellecutalism and life can become transcendent and beautiful. GBG is a mysterious fill-in that allows it to be at once none and all of man's endeavors. It is a holy raga, a tactile masbaha, a literary syncretism, that captures the whole of man's achievements and is practiced by an elite few. Using the framework of the Game Hesse is able to look at the dynamic of all of man's achievements as being both beautiful, worthwhile, but also frivolous and fleeting. He looks at the tension between those who remove themselves from mankind's experiences with those who live IN the world. There is a pull and a reciprocity between these two groups. He is looking for those things that balance those groups and ultimately those things that cause these groups to separate.

The book also explores the (mostly) Eastern ideas of meditation, surrender, loss and renewal. I found these ideas (obviously) beautiful and rewarding, but I'm still not sure if I really liked the structure of the book: Part 1 (pages 7-44): Introduction to GBG; Part 2 (Pages 45-427): Magister Ludi's story; Part 3 (428-445): Magister Ludi's poems; Part 4 (446-558): The Three Lives (other incarnations of Magister Ludi). I'm just not sure if the structure worked for me. It did well enough, but I loved and hated it too. Maybe that was Hesse's intention. The first part was a parody of those 'history of the saints' that appear so often and so frequently in all religious traditions. It was interesting, but just didn't mix well with the final parts of the novel. I did like having Knecht's (re)incarnations be outside of time. While Magister Ludi was set in the future, the other incarnations of Magister Ludi were more likely from the past. An interesting construct, but the weight of the last was too little for the heavy front.

But all measured out these are frivolous issues. For the most part, I really liked the book. It is incredible that in the face of WWII and Nazi Germany Hesse could write this. History and inevitable burning push of evil must have seemed dark and heavy, but ultimately this book (written from 1931 to 1943) contains the germs of peace and tranquility. I think that peace comes from the idea of a spiritual retreat (a common theme) and surrender. Hesse wasn't saying to run from Evil, although he did himself leave Nazi Germany. But I think his book was communicating the ability to find peace through surrendering to one's own situation and place in the universe. GBG one day will disappear, but so too ONE DAY will fascism and evil, because all of man's creation is a game. So, surrender to the game and surrender to the universe.

27 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Guilherme
  • 21-05-11

Great book. Not so great narrator.

The book is great... no doubt it was the apice of Hesse's work... I confess the narration was not so inspiring, and rather dull at times.. But worth my time, and credit.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mirek
  • 10-01-10

A false dream ...

It is the last work of Herman Hesse, and his "Magnum Opus". In some sense the book is philosophical science-fiction, though there are no typical elements of sci-fi genre. The author predicts that the period in human history will come when the knowledge became wide-spread and popular, with multitude of authors writing multitude of stories. This period, called "The Age of Feuilleton" was highly individualistic. The main feature of the age was the passionate search of freedom.
At this moment comes the main prophecy of the book. Hesse predicts that on the ashes of the feuilletonistic age, new movement is born. The purpose of the order is the cultivation of science and music. The order cultivates highly elitist structure and its rule is as strong as the rules of religious orders. It also includes meditation and contemplation. The culmination of the order achievement is the synthesis of all sciences and music in an instrument called "glass bead game". A game, was a like a symphony but with deep scientific background. The main character of the book, Joseph Knecht, after swift carrier, becomes the chief Glass Bead Game custodian and player. The most of the book is about his life and his path - first to the order of Castalia, than through the rungs of the order hierarchy - to the startling decision to leave the order, and become "awaken" to the everyday life ...
Despite the end of the Jospeh Knecht story - Hesse, through the entire book, demonstrates the admiration to the concept of intellectual elitism, to the notion of "intellectual order" to the medieval concept of hierarchical knowledge, well organized, and integrated with the quintessence of art - with the classical music.

In some sense the Hesse prophecy is dangerous...

We no longer need "mental elite" - the current culture proved to be vibrant and precious. The human knowledge can, and is built, by millions of people, and we do not need any orders.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Patrick Barney
  • 21-12-18

Very challenging but also very interesting.

I felt like this was a hard read--or rather, listen. Narration was fine, not distracting, but not brilliant either. Thematically very engaging but also very puzzling. Hesse seems to fully accept two contradictory positions on hierarchy: that it is both problematic and necessary. Then everything is complicated by the fact that the novel is told in the form of a biography, with sources that may or may not be of dubious authenticity. This novel is like a puzzlebox that reveals layers and layers and the layers are infinite and you never find out if they have a bottom.

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  • Optima
  • 01-04-13

Brilliant

What did you love best about The Glass Bead Game?

The elusiveness of comprehension. The moment one thought one understood the Glass Bead Game another perspective was thrown in. Is it a game or an allegory regarding our pedestrian life?

What did you like best about this story?

The use of language is like a beautiful song. The setting - Castalia a utopia for the intellectually gifted. The allusion to homosexuality. For instance, the desirability that some of the boys/men had to knecht and Knecht's strong attractions to some of his acquaintances all presented as asexual encounters.

Have you listened to any of David Colacci’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I have not, but would like to. I love his voice.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I listened several chapters at a time.

Any additional comments?

Very well done.

1 person found this helpful

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  • David
  • 25-11-16

Long, tedious, unfulfilling

I love the German language (what little I remember of it). But my experiences with German literature, at least in translation, have not been salutary. I bounced off Thomas Mann, and this is my second attempt with Hermann Hesse. I found Steppenwolf to be interesting and bizarre, but mostly full of pretentious wankery, and The Glass Bead Game, which is ostensibly a future biography of the master of an intriguing game and intellectual order, was more like 19 hours of boredom which I finished only out of a completionist desire to mark it on my checklist of books finished.

Supposedly set in the 23rd century, this book is in no way science fiction, except under the loosest definition, as the world described shows no evidence of advanced technology or social advancement - it is essentially our world in an alternate history in which an academic order known as the Castalia coexists with the Catholic Church and produces philosophers and intellectuals who engage in abstruse dialectics and subtle social positioning for reasons that only matter to the internal mental states of the participants. The "glass bead game" after which the book is named is really just a plot device to seed the premise of the book - inasmuch as the book has a plot, which it doesn't, really.

The main character is a man named Joseph Knecht, and most of the book is a fictional future biography of Knecht, who (in the 23rd century) became revered as as the Magister Ludi of the glass bead game and Castalia. Following his progression from gifted young student to Magister Ludi, who then steps down from his exalted position, over the opposition of the Castalia, The Glass Bead game might be read as a bildungsroman, though I have read elsewhere that it's actually more of a parody of a bildungsroman. I can see how this book could be satirizing the form of the bildungsroman, but as far as wit or humor, there was none evident to me. The lengthy, detailed accounts of Knecht's upbringing, his interactions with fellow students, teachers, and mentees, who engage in long-winded philosophical exchanges with him, and his decision to eventually retire as Magister Ludi, when there is no mechanism or precedent for a Magister Ludi to retire.

Castalia, as described in the book, is the very epitome of an ivory tower - academics go to Castalia, are supported by taxes from the outside world, and spend all their time pondering heavy thoughts or playing the glass bead game. Knecht is eventually swayed by arguments with a schoolmate from his younger days, and a Catholic clergyman later in life, that Castalians should not withdraw from the world, but use their intellectual gifts for the benefit of others.

Very deep and intellectual. Also very, very boring.

As a casual, lapsed go player, who loved the novel Master of Go, I was more interested in the glass bead game itself. Hesse must have been inspired in part by go when he created this fictional game, but the glass bead game is only described abstractly - like go, it is a "lifestyle" game for those who truly dedicated themselves to its mastery, and it embodies everything from philosophy to mathematics, and music. The actual rules and mechanics of the game are never described, though, and despite being referenced throughout the book, in its relationship to Castalia and the outside world, the game really doesn't have much to do with the story.

The biography of Joseph Knecht ends abruptly, and the latter part of the book contains several poems and stories supposedly written by the fictional protagonist. The stories are alternative incarnations of Knecht, written as if he had been born as a prehistoric shaman, an early Christian hermit, and an Indian prince.

All of this was very detailed, thoughtful, literary, and intellectual. And very, very boring.

I'm sure I missed oceans of meaning, but The Glass Bead Game just disappointed me on every level. I'm giving it 2 stars because 1 star would be an insult - I can recognize the literary merit of the work. But as far as enjoying it or ever wanting to revisit it, I find that about as unlikely as my ever wanting to read another book by Hermann Hesse.

3 people found this helpful

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  • galileogirl
  • 25-07-18

it won a Nobel Prize, so it already had that going for it...

I don’t know if this is a review, per se, but if you love David Lynch...you should listen to The Glass Bead Game.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-11-13

An Important Book

Would you consider the audio edition of The Glass Bead Game to be better than the print version?

No, but that's mainly due to the narrator.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Glass Bead Game?

Of course the ending, but I won't spoil it for other listeners. In fact, it's the whole setting of a future where entire provinces are set up with the express purpose of exploring the maximum capabilities of the mind. Makes you wonder what that would bring.

Did David Colacci do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

Unfortunately not, his characters all sounded very similar and each was as bombastic and condescending as the other. It's my main complaint about this reading of the book, actually. I believe that it was not the intention at all of Hermann Hesse that his message be delivered in such a tone.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Province of the Mind

13 people found this helpful

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  • L. Taylor
  • 22-04-19

Challenging and mysterious

** My favourite part of this book is the final short story involving Dasa. The time location for that is
19:42:16.

I enjoyed the main story, although I found myself wondering whether this text was targeted at a wiser person than I. If the book had finished there, I would have been somewhat satisfied, and quite confused. As it happens, there are three more short stories afterwards, and they moved me deeply, each one. My favourite quotes from each story beneath.

"They laughed at me or patted me on the back, but a good many reacted to the alien Castalian qualities in me with the outright enmity that the vulgar always have for everything finer. And I was determined to take their dislike as a distinction."

"...the moon. The great, near, moist orb; the fat magic fish in the sea of heaven."

"After a time, listening to some confessions, he found himself subject to spasms of coldness and lovelessness, even to contempt for the penitents. With a sigh he accepted these struggles too, and there were periods during which he inflicted solitary humilitations penances upon himself after each confession. Moreover, he made it a rule to treat all penitents not only as brothers, but also with a kind of special deference. The less he liked the person, the more respectfully he behaved toward him, for he regarded each one as a messenger from God, sent to test him."

"You know what it is like when an ascetic and father confessor grows old and has listened to so many confessions from sinners who think him sinless and a saint, and don't know he is a greater sinner than they are. At such times all his work seems useless and vain to him, and everything than once seemed important and sacred, the fact that God had assigned him to this particular place and honoured him with a task of cleansing human souls of their filth, all that seems to him too much of an imposition, he actually feels it as a curse, and by and by he actually shudders at every poor soul who comes to him with his childish sins. He wants to get rid of the sinner and he wants to get rid of himself. Even if he has to do it by tying a rope to the branch of a tree."

"Dasa watched him mount his horse and ride off. When he returned hours later, dismounted and flew back the tent flap. Dasa could see in to the shadowy interior, where a young woman came forward to welcome the prince. He nearly fell from the tree as he recognised his wife Pravati, now he was certain, and the pressure upon his heart grew unbearable. Great as the happiness of his love for Pravati had been, the anguish, the rage, the sense of loss, and insult were greater now. That is how it is when a man fastens all his capacity for love upon a single object. With its loss, everything collapses and he stands impoverished amid ruins."

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mike Clarke
  • 25-05-17

stay in the forest

The start was hard going (acedemic and cerebral) but I stuck with it and it was worth it contains deep and clear insights into the human condition in extremely well thought through language. Last story - a coup de grace. A German F Scott Fitzgerald

3 people found this helpful

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  • Dan Tilley
  • 04-09-19

Dry, unnecessarily complex, cryptic nonsense

I managed to get through an hour before I had to turn it off.
It repeats many ideas in different formats, but layered with obscure language.
The hour I listened to was decidedly un-sci-fi with no intrigue or hook to keep me going, boring.

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  • Leon
  • 30-07-19

they last three chapters were very rewarding!

the futuristic novel is phylosophically abstract, like Huxly or Orwell, which makes relating to the characters rather awkward. even so gems of life wisdom is to be found most everywhere throughout the novel. I found the last chapters to be profound.

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  • Oliver
  • 26-08-18

A quick note

This is not a book about a 'glass bead game', nor is this a book about Joseph Knecht, the protagonist. No. This is a gently paced story about the trappings of humanity, in there multiplicity, as envisaged through the eyes of a subtle and fair philosopher that strives for all readers to see the world in a transient nature.

The general story accounts for two thirds of the book, Joseph Knecht's personal notes the rest.

I am at pains to give the 'story' a 3 but it is not Herman's best story, nor really a good story at all. But then, I don't think that it is supposed to be. It is just the telling of a life from someone who others will listen to, and in truth, many lives do not make for compelling reading. Even those, as we see, that are exceptional.

Within the book though, and the character exchanges, especially the Music Master and Knecht, are the best and clearest passages of Hesse's philosophy and are exceptionally poignant moments. Hesse somehow even manages to capture the tranquility of a settled soul through his incredible writing and language.

The narration, for me, was perfect, as with so many titles on this platform.

I recommend this novel for a mind that is willing to toil and trudge through the nature of a man's life to come to the evocative clearing of a universal moment of clarity.

1 person found this helpful

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  • andrew johnstone
  • 20-01-20

Perspective Broadening Fiction

I read in sequence - something for pure entertainment followed by something that might expand my horizons. This time about it was the latter and I chose The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, a German writer who I had encountered many years before with Siddhartha, an account of a man seeking spiritual enlightenment during the time of the Buddha. The book possessed me, thrilled me and I always meant to read more Hesse but didn't until I came across The Glass Bead Game at a stall at the Cambridge Trash and Treasure market this winter gone. I looked it up on my phone and it said 'speculative fiction'. I like this genre so purchased it and recently settled in to read it.

It's an epic and episodic account of one man's journey through time (reincarnation) as he seeks to fulfil his inclinations. The novel explores eastern and western esoteric philosophy, rational intellectualism, all shades of human nature while addressing the rise of fascism in Europe (it was written between 1931 and 1942). On this last note Hesse offers some especially potent insights into the phenomenon that drives mass hysteria. Perhaps the best of which describes Trump. Basically: when people are confused they will mostly always choose the easy charms of the snake oil peddler over solutions with a more rational bent. Of course he explains why but there is no need for me to get any deeper into that here.

Not the easiest book but I endured and am glad I did, I felt especially fulfilled by the experience, which probed at my psyche and asked me again and again to examine myself: my inclinations, faults and strengths.The Glass Bead Game provokes the reader to examine our individual 'truth' and to be honest about that examination.

Perhaps the best way I can describe The Glass Bead Game is to say it is a compendium of esoteric wisdom aka The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching and their western equivalents, restructured for a 'modern'; audience. A novel that explores the art and value of emotional, intellectual and spiritual transformation and how to apply it in meaningful way, The Glass Bead Game is magnificent, bold, prescient, sagacious.......a genuine masterwork.

Upon completion I could not help but think of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, another episodic and epic account of an individuals journey through time in search of meaning and fulfilment. This is one of my all-time favourite novels and the two books share enough to make me wonder if The Glass Bead Game inspired Mitchell?