Goethe by Rüdiger Safranski
Life as a Work of Art

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He has confined himself to primary sources—mainly Goethe’s own works, letters, diaries and conversations, along with accounts by contemporaries—which makes for a fresh and authentic-feeling read. The book was published in German four years ago and has now been well translated...
-The Economist

Synopsis

This sterling biography of Germany’s greatest writer presents Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as if we are seeing him for the first time.


The work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has reverberated through two and a half centuries, altering the course of literature in ways both grand and intimate. No other writer so completely captivated the intellectual life of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Europe, putting into language the anxieties and ambitions of a civilization on the cusp of modernity. A literary celebrity by the age of twenty-five, Goethe, who was born in Frankfurt in 1749, attracted the adulation and respect of the greatest scientists, politicians, composers, and philosophers of his day. Schoolboys dressed like his fictional characters. Napoleon read his first novel obsessively. He was an astoundingly prolific writer, a master of many genres, from poetry to scientific treatises, from novels like the tragic Sorrows of Young Werther to dramatic works like Faust. Indeed, Goethe’s unparalleled literary output would come to define the Romantic age.


Rüdiger Safranski’s Goethe: Life as a Work of Art is the first definitive biography in a generation to tell the larger-than-life story of the writer considered to be the Shakespeare of German literature. Drawing upon the trove of letters, diaries, and notebooks Goethe left behind, as well as correspondence and criticism from Goethe’s contemporaries, Safranski weaves a rich tale of Europe in the throes of revolution and of the man whose ideas heralded a new era.


Safranski’s monumental biography is a careful survey of Goethe’s wide-ranging genius. Beyond his incredible literary gifts, Goethe was intensely interested in natural science and took seriously his official post as a statesman, working tirelessly to ensure that the working poor received wages and daily bread. With grace and nuance, Safranski crafts a portrait of Goethe’s inner life that illuminates both his written work and the turmoil and triumphs of his era. Safranski shows that reading Goethe affords not simply an encounter with a literary virtuoso but an opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation of the human condition.


Goethe was writing in the midst of a dramatic and bloody time for Europe: the revolutions in France and America overturned the old regimes and introduced new ways of thinking about the world. Set against this backdrop, Goethe’s life and work serve as an essential touchstone for the birth of the modern age. But as Safranski ultimately shows, Goethe’s greatest creation was not only his literary masterpieces but his very life.

 

About Rüdiger Safranski

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Published May 16, 2017 by Liveright. 684 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Goethe
All: 2 | Positive: 1 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Hofmann on Jun 16 2017

Unfortunately, Safranski, perhaps unaware of this Anglo-American take on his man, does too little to oppose it. The drier a topic, the better Safranski seems to like it...

Read Full Review of Goethe: Life as a Work of Art | See more reviews from NY Times

The Economist

Good
on Jun 15 2017

He has confined himself to primary sources—mainly Goethe’s own works, letters, diaries and conversations, along with accounts by contemporaries—which makes for a fresh and authentic-feeling read. The book was published in German four years ago and has now been well translated...

Read Full Review of Goethe: Life as a Work of Art | See more reviews from The Economist

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