Goethe: Life as a Work of Art

Rüdiger Safranski (Author), David Dollenmayer (Translator)

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This “splendid biography” (Wall Street Journal) of Goethe presents his life and work as an essential touchstone for the modern age.

A masterful intellectual portrait, Goethe: Life as a Work of Art is celebrated as the seminal twenty-first-century biography of the writer considered to be the Shakespeare of German literature. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), a remarkably prolific poet, playwright, novelist, and—as Rüdiger Safranksi emphasizes—a statesman and naturalist, first awakened not only a burgeoning German nation but the European continent with his electrifying novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Safranski has scoured Goethe’s entire oeuvre, relying exclusively on primary sources, including his correspondence with contemporaries, to produce a “fresh and authentic” (Economist) portrait of the avatar of the Romantic era. Skillfully blending “artistic analysis with swift, sharp renderings” of the great political and intellectual figures Goethe encountered, “[Safranski’s] portrait of the prolific genius leaves the reader with lasting awe, even envy” of a monumental legacy (The New Yorker). As Safranski ultimately shows, Goethe’s greatest creation, even in comparison to his masterpiece Faust, was his own life.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • December 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-489-5
  • 6.1 × 9.2 in / 688 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“In this expansive biography, Safranski, a philosopher and historian, mixes narrative and commentary with the great poet’s own words, from celebrated verse to obscure correspondence. Safranski’s strength lies in his ability to blend artistic analysis with swift, sharp renderings of various artists, thinkers, pietists, lovers, and plundering solders who shaped Goethe. His portrait of the prolific genius leaves the reader with lasting awe, even envy.” — The New Yorker

“Safranski sets out to show that Goethe was more than the sum of his works, outstanding though they were; in fact, he conceived his entire life as a work of art, with a beginning, a middle and an end. . . . A fresh and authentic-feeling read.” — Economist

“A learned and arguably definitive account…Scholars will welcome this intellectual biography, richly embellished by primary sources and aided by the strong Dollenmayer translation.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Masterful . . . . A penetrating, engrossing biography of a literary giant.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Safranski allows Goethe to speak for himself, gloriously and without inhibition, in this compulsively readable new biography of a man almost too multifaceted to be knowable. Goethe’s audacity, his intellect, his sense of his own genius—not to mention his embrace of all the experiences the world could offer him—cohere into this marvelous portrait of a life lived to the fullest.” — Celia Applegate, author of Bach in Berlin

“Rüdiger Safranski’s a German philosopher who’s written biographies of Schiller, of E. T. A. Hoffmann, of Schopenhauer, and of Nietzsche. It’s our good luck that this brilliant and patient genius has lately written Goethe: Life as a Work of Art…Mr. Safranski says Goethe used his freedom creatively. He’s a great example of how far you can go when you accept the lifelong task of becoming who you are.” — Richard Howard

“Enthralling…Rüdiger Safranski makes the reader fall madly in love with Goethe again.” — Ijoma Mangold, Die Zeit

“The sheer pleasure and natural admiration with which Safranski tells the whole story is not just instructive. It’s inspiring.” — Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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