10 Best Hermann Hesse Books To Add To Your Reading List

If you are looking for the best Hermann Hesse books, look at our guide to discover the books you need to add to your reading list.

Hermann Hesse was born in Germany in 1877, but he is mainly known as a Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. He is one of the most famous authors of all time, beautifully blending theological studies with philosophy and spirituality. His writing is known for its tremendous depth, and it remains relevant to life today. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946, and his work is still studied at colleges and universities across the globe.

Even though many of his books rank among the best dystopian novels, what are a few you should add to your list?

1. Siddhartha, 1922

Any list of the best books by Hermann Hesse has to start with Siddhartha, published in 1922. It is widely considered his most outstanding work and shows the influence of both Buddhist and Indian philosophies on Hesse himself. His parents were missionaries in India, and this book focuses on the quest for enlightenment and the meaning of the human experience. The book’s central theme is that everyone has to embrace individual differences, but this book is so beautiful that it may read a bit more like a song than a story.

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Sale
Siddhartha: A Novel
  • Hermann Hesse (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 01/01/1982 (Publication Date) - Bantam (Publisher)

2. Demian, 1919

Demian shows us that Hermann Hesse was tremendously interested in psychology and psychoanalytic themes. The story focuses on a character named Emil Sinclair, who is torn between two worlds. The first is reality, and the second is an illusion. It draws on the psychoanalysis that Hesse went through with Carl Jung. In addition, this book draws heavily on the works of Sigmund Freud and focuses on the clashes between a young man’s desires and modern society’s morals. 

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”

Hermann Hesse, Demian: Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend
Demian
  • Hesse, Herman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 116 Pages - 10/08/2013 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

3. The Glass Bead Game, 1943

The Glass Bead Game was the last major work that he wrote. It was published in 1943 and focuses on the tremendous power within the human spirit. The goal is to inspire the German population to embrace change, which was happening quickly in 1943. The novel cannot be discussed without placing it in the context of the Second World War, as it brought tremendous shame to people of German descent. This is clear in the work of Hesse, who was also significantly impacted by the war.

“Each of us is merely one human being, merely an experiment, a way station. But each of us should be on the way toward perfection, should be striving to reach the center, not the periphery.”

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi)
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 250 Pages - 09/21/2013 (Publication Date) - Important Books (Publisher)

4. Peter Camenzind, 1904

ASIN:

Peter Camenzind was his first major novel. It was published at a time when Germany was going through significant transitions, both economically and technologically. Even though many people were focused on embracing modern technology at the time, this book encouraged everyone in Germany to take a closer look at nature. It beautifully juxtaposes modern social ideas against a return to nature and takes a brutally honest approach to society, painting a powerful picture of humanity. 

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.”

Hermann Hesse, Peter Camenzind
Peter Camenzind: A Novel
  • Hermann Hesse (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 201 Pages - 12/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

5. Steppenwolf, 1927

Steppenwolf focuses on themes of isolation and self-reflection in the face of an ever-evolving utopian society. The book reads like a direct attack on the values of the bourgeoisie, creating a very intense novel that will grip the reader’s attention from start to finish. There is tremendous emotional pain in the novel, as it draws from Hesse’s personal experiences in a mental institution. The book’s theme is to focus on exploring our ident want to become the best versions of ourselves. 

“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.”

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
Steppenwolf: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 11/03/2015 (Publication Date) - Picador Modern Classics (Publisher)

6. The Journey To The East, 1932

The Journey To The East is a book based on Hesse’s journey east as he searched for individual spirituality. He was always attracted to Buddhism and India during his life, and he reflects on that journey in this novel. In the book, a man joins a religious sect that heads east, searching for the ultimate truth. He learns a lot more about himself along the way. 

“For our goal was not only the East, or rather the East was not only a country and something geographical, but it was the home and youth of the soul, it was everywhere and nowhere, it was the union of all times.”

Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East
Sale
The Journey to the East
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 122 Pages - 02/16/2011 (Publication Date) - Martino Fine Books (Publisher)

7. Gertrude, 1910

Gertrude is a fictional memoir. It focuses on the main character’s relationships with two great artists. One was a self-destructive artist, and the other was a renowned composer. It is a story of love and loss, challenges in the artistic world, and how we can take great inspiration from some of the most challenging moments in our lives. 

“That is where my dearest and brightest dreams have ranged — to hear for the duration of a heartbeat the universe and the totality of life in its mysterious, innate harmony.”

Hermann Hesse, Gertrude
Gertrude: A Novel
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 08/01/2005 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

8. Narcissus and Goldmund, 1930

In Narcissus and Goldmund, the two protagonists have led markedly different lives. The first one leads a life that focuses on religion, and the second leads to light that focuses on art. The message behind this book is that each has its vices and virtues, and it is essential to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each path. The reader is encouraged to reflect on each character, taking lessons from each person’s life that they can apply to their own. 

“It is you I have been able to love, you alone in all the world. You can have no idea of what that means. It means a spring in the desert, a blossoming tree in the wilderness.”

Herman Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund
Narcissus and Goldmund
  • Hermann Hesse (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 03/01/1984 (Publication Date) - Bantam (Publisher)

9. Beneath the Wheel, 1906

Beneath The Wheel focuses on Hans Giebenrath, who lives in a nondescript, dull town in the Black Forest. Eventually, he discovers he is a gifted student, and the entire community pressures him to fulfill his potential by pursuing more serious scholarships. He starts to work hard but rea that his efforts are only rewarded with more work. The story focuses on the clash between his goals and what he feels is his duty. 

“Like a wallflower he stayed in the background waiting for someone to fetch him, someone more courageous and stronger than himself to tear him away and force him into happiness.”

Hermann Hesse, Beneath the Wheel
Beneath the Wheel
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 07/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

10. Knulp, 1915

Knulp is a story that focuses on the main character, whose name is the story’s title. Three separate tales are shared. The main character is a vagrant who encounters several challenges trying to survive. He gets some help along the way but is also looked down upon by other people. The story gives people an inside look at how those most overlooked by society live. 

“A father can pass on his nose and eyes and even his intelligence to his child, but not his soul. In every human being the soul is new.”

Hermann Hesse, Knulp
Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hesse, Hermann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 100 Pages - 07/08/2012 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

FAQs About the Best Hermann Hesse Books

Did Hermann Hesse win the Nobel Peace Prize?

No, he did not win a Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946 and is known for publishing some of the best poetry books.

Were Hermann Hesse and Carl Jung friends?

They were familiar with one another, but it is unclear if they were friends. They met in 1917, and Carl Jung psychoanalyzed Hermann Hesse. It is also widely believed that Carl Jung may have influenced Hesse’s most notable works, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, both of which were published after they first met. 

What is the name of Hesse’s most famous book?

Arguably, Hermann Hesse’s most famous book is Siddhartha, published in 1922. The book focuses on the journey toward human enlightenment. 

Looking for more reading material? Check out our round-up of the best Sylvia Day books!

Join over 15,000 writers today

Get a FREE book of writing prompts and learn how to make more money from your writing.

Powered by ConvertKit