10 Best Books by Hermann Hesse | TheReviewGeek Recommends

Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter who had a tremendous influence on 20th-century literature. He explored themes of spirituality, individualism, nature, and utopian ideals through his unique writing style that blended theology, philosophy, and Eastern religious principles.

Here are 10 of the best books by Hermann Hesse that should be on every reader’s list. As usual, you are welcome to drop your thoughts in the comments below:

Best Books by Hermann Hesse


Steppenwolf was published in 1927 and is one of Hesse’s most famous works. It tells the story of Harry Haller, a lonely intellectual who feels isolated and suicidal, trapped between his humanity and his wolf-like wild side. He meets a mysterious woman named Hermine who introduces him to the indulgences of the flesh and to the magical theatre of the mind.

This Faustian tale explores the duality of spirit versus instinct, creativity versus destruction, and the struggle between our “high” and “low” natures. Hesse paints a portrait of a man struggling to reconcile the Apollonian and Dionysian facets of his personality against the backdrop of a surreal, slightly futuristic world. The novel was named after the German name for the steppe wolf.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse

Published in 1922, Siddhartha is arguably Hesse’s most influential novel. Loosely based on the early life of Buddha, it follows a young Indian man on a journey of self-discovery as he renounces a life of privilege and seeks enlightenment through asceticism, meditation, and experience.

Siddhartha embarks on his spiritual odyssey alongside his best friend Govinda. Along the way, he encounters various mentors and teachers, including Buddha himself, but ultimately finds wisdom from his own mistakes and worldly experiences rather than from formal teachings.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse

Published in 1919, Demian explores the duality between light and dark, innocence and corruption, with its central character Emil Sinclair. Sinclair struggles to live up to society’s expectations while grappling with the presence of evil and sexuality.

He becomes entangled with the charismatic yet dangerous Max Demian, who opens Sinclair’s eyes to the hidden aspects of himself and the world. Demian introduces Sinclair to a substitute mother figure, Frau Eva, who further leads him down a path of sin and seduction, causing Sinclair to question morality and socially-constructed value systems.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse
The Glass Bead Game

Hesse’s final novel, The Glass Bead Game, was published in 1943 and went on to earn him the Nobel Prize in Literature. Set in a futuristic society, it tells the story of Joseph Knecht and his life as a Magister Ludi (Master of the Glass Bead Game) in the isolated province of Castalia.

The Glass Bead Game is an incredibly complex game that integrates all fields of arts and sciences. Knecht must grapple with his conflicting desires to remain loyal to the order of Castalia while also engaging with “real life” beyond its borders. He constantly wavers between following strict rituals and seeking truth from experience and relationships.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse
Narcissus and Goldmund

Published in 1930, Narcissus and Goldmund is a philosophical novel that contrasts two opposite characters – Narcissus, an ascetic monk, and Goldmund, a romantic vagabond. Though they become close friends as students at a cloister school, their paths diverge drastically as adults.

While Narcissus devotes himself completely to monastic life, Goldmund embarks on a journey of wanderlust and love affairs. However, Goldmund finds no lasting happiness in earthly pleasures and eventually returns to the cloister, where the two friends are reunited. They realize they balance each other – with Narcissus representing spirit and intellect and Goldmund representing body and emotions.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse
Beneath the Wheel

Published in 1906, Beneath the Wheel was Hermann Hesse’s second novel. It focuses on Hans Giebernath, a gifted student who excels in school but struggles under the intense pressure of his education. His strict teachers and ambitious parents push him to achieve and perform at the highest level.

Hans works so hard that he becomes seriously ill and must take time to recover in the country, where he rediscovers his love of nature and meets a free-spirited organ grinder who shows him a different way of life. However, when Hans returns to school, he is unable to maintain his previous academic intensity.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse
Peter Camenzind

Hermann Hesse’s 1904 debut novel Peter Camenzind follows its idealistic protagonist as he leaves his rural Swiss village to embark on a quest for knowledge and experience in the wider world. Peter joins the ranks of wandering medieval minstrels for several years.

But he becomes disillusioned by the emptiness of his travels and returns home, where he falls in love with a disabled woman named Elizabeth. The novel explores themes of enlightenment using nature versus empty worldly pursuits.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse
If the War Goes On

Published in 1971, If the War Goes On is one of Hermann Hesse’s later works, consisting of a series of essays written in a span of over 30 years from before the start of World War I to after the conclusion of World War II. The stories explore how regular citizens try to find meaning and maintain hope as the war rages around them.

In the title story, a sick man named Joseph pontificates about the nature of war and peace. The essays highlight countless hazards brought by the wars from cultural stagnation to scarcity of essential resources.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse

Published in 1914, Rosshalde was Hermann Hesse’s third novel. It tells the story of an unhappily married painter named Johann Veraguth who struggles to reconcile his longing for solitude and artistic inspiration with the demands of family life.

Alienated from his shallow wife and ungrateful children, Veraguth abandons his family to travel to Italy, where he finds spiritual and creative renewal. However, he is eventually overcome by homesickness and returns to his family, vowing to appreciate them more while still protecting his need for artistic isolation.

Best Books by Hermann Hesse

Published in 1910, Gertrude is Hermann Hesse’s fictionalized account of his own early life. The protagonist is based on Hesse himself, following his education at a Protestant seminary and his estrangement from family and society.

The novel traces the development of a sensitive, artistic youth into a great poet and writer. He finds mentorship from two contrasting father figures – a passionate violinist representing creativity and freedom, and a pious organist representing discipline and order. He also falls in unrequited love with an emotionally unstable young woman named Gertrude.

There we have it, our list 0f 10 best books by Hermann Hesse. What do you think about our picks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:

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