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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend Paperback – July 27, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"John E. Woods is revising our impression of Thomas Mann, masterpiece by masterpiece." --The New Yorker
"Doctor Faustus is Mann's deepest artistic gesture. . . . Finely translated by John E. Woods." --The New Republic
Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now newly rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkuhn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul--and the ability to love his fellow man.
Leverkuhn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius--both national and individual--and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist.

About the Author

Thomas Mann was born in 1875 in Germany. He was only twenty-five when his first novel, Buddenbrooks, was published. In 1924 The Magic Mountain was published, and, five years later, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Following the rise of the Nazis to power, he left Germany for good in 1933 to live in Switzerland and then in California, where he wrote Doctor Faustus (first published in the United States in 1948). Thomas Mann died in 1955.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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For those of you who have not done so already, I would highly recommend reading Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" before taking this one on. It will make more sense that way and will also provide a remarkable opportunity to see the evolution of a wonderful myth. Now, to attempt to summarize a masterpiece like this in a few words is absurd, but I will do my best. Marlowe's Faust is the most straightforward of the three (not that it is not a great work of literature itself, mind you). Faust is an absolutely brilliant character who is so brilliant, in fact, that he is bored with life. So he makes a deal with Mephistopheles (one of Satan's demons) that he will have 25 years of almost omnipotence, being able to do anything and possessing almost god-like powers. However, when the 25 years are up, his soul will belong to the devil. Goethe's Faust is one of the top 5 or so greatest exemplars of literature ever written. It is, quite simply, astounding. In short, the plot is kinda/sorta the same, only in Goethe there is no time limit in the agreement with Mephistopheles. Rather, at the point when Faust ceases to press on and becomes sedentary, the devil has him. It is the moment in which Faust utters "Stay, moment, stay....thou art so fair" that he will be doomed. I do not want to say anything more about Goethe's Faust so that I can refrain from giving anything away. At any rate, enter Thomas Mann with a 20th century twist on the myth. Adrian Leverkuhn sells his soul to the devil for a new form of music. Satan grants his wish and gives him Schoenberg's 12 tone. (Of course, it is Leverkuhn's 12 tone in the novel).Read more ›
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I found "Dr. Faustus" the most challenging of all Mann's novels to read. It is dense with symbolism, history, philosophy and digressions into frank editorializing by the author, who interjects his voice into the story in a disconcerting way.

The philosophical ramblings of "The Magic Mountain" are similar--the Dionysian Weltanschaung of the Jesuit (Naphta) and The Voluptuary (Peeperkorn) versus the Apollonian (Settembrini) are used as metaphors for a debauched and dying Old Europe versus the New Europe to be reborn after the convulsions of World War I. And they are also symbolic of the failure of "pure reason" and politically correct Art to save a society with no soul, where human lives are scored on a worth-scale and have no intrinsic value as endowed by their Creator. In "Dr. Faustus", Mann revisits the German split personality (order versus bloody chaos) and makes it more intimate; he desperately wants to unearth what is it about the German Soul that gave us both World War I and then its offspring World War II and Hitler. Mann spends the rest of the book examining the German soul in the character of Adrian Leverkuehn and the forces influencing his life.

This is a brilliant book in that it takes the favorite Faust theme so loved by the Germans and re-tells it in a compelling fashion. Where the reader will have difficulty is that they will miss many of the character names that are sly jokes (if you are not a German speaker), and in following Mann's dense prose, followed by digressions into his own musings. And then you need to be somewhat familiar with European history and cultural icons.

Leverkuehn sells his soul to the Devil for the ability to compose the world's most perfect musical work.
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In Doctor Faustus, arguably his greatest book if not the greatest book ever, all of Mann's formidable gifts come together. Lying at the heart of Mann's concern is the central figure of Adrian Leverkuhn, theologian turned composer. In him all the warring impulses, all the contradictions of our age are focused. "Cold" by nature, inclined to mathematics and to "speculate the elements" as scientists do, he yet craves the freedom and unrestraint of art, specifically music, the most demonic of the arts. But the fearful complexities of modern composition and his own innate coldness form an insuperable barrier, he needs something to kindle him to his destiny as a great composer. This turns out to be the Devil, who in a memorable interview heavy with fate offers him a quick way out of his difficulties.

The book teems with unforgettable images. To pick a few at random: the extended description of Adrian's sojourn in the Italian countryside, where he meets the Devil and his fate is sealed; the wintry excursion to the Bavarian Alps; the vision of the children in the choir singing a motet to Adrian, bedecked with rubies on their fat hands while little yellow worms crawl from their nostrils down into their chests in the finest diabolic style. The density and vividness of Mann's imagery, its capacity to fill the mind and linger there, is Shakespearean.

Mann's treatment of his characters is sensitive, fine-grained, subtly ironic, and humanly engaging, with much wry humor.
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