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The Magic Mountain Paperback – October 1, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
New translation of Mann's classic novel.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“All the characters in Thomas Mann’s masterpiece come considerably closer to speaking English in John E. Woods’s version . . . Woods captures perfectly the irony and humor.” –New York Times Book Review
“[Woods’s translation] succeeds in capturing the beautiful cadence of [Mann’s] ironically elegant prose.” –Washington Post Book World
“[The Magic Mountain] is one of those works that changed the shape and possibilities of European literature. It is a masterwork, unlike any other. It is also, if we learn to read it on its own terms, a delight, comic and profound, a new form of language, a new way of seeing.” –from the new Introduction by A. S. Byatt
From the Hardcover edition.
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The Magic Mountain is also very much of its era. It was exactly luxurious institutions like the Berghof, along with those big hotel-spas in which the rich lived as they moved indolently over the face of Europe, that became impossible after WW I. But as the Settembrini-Naphta debates make very clear, the pleasures of unearned wealth and of relative peace are more passionate than Enlightenment values can address. Given the luxury, the lassitude and the license granted by tuberculosis and its promise of an early death, sexual, aesthetic and even mystical concerns become prominent. Mann gives us a great wallow in the Dionysian and doesn't, I think, endorse the life lit by reason unequivocally, although he's more skeptical about attaching value to a moribund leisure class. Which is only to say that I'm finding The Magic Mountain unexpectedly relevant for thinking about the One Per Cent and the rest of us on the flatlands.
Thomas Mann's classic is among the top five to ten of my list of favorite novels, one, like Gravity's Rainbow or Mickelsson's Ghosts, that I will reread every few years or so. As with any "classic" novel, it works on numerous levels, is grand in scope, philosophical in depth, populated with memorable characters. It is a novel that makes you think. It teaches.
The novel takes place in the years before World War I. Hans Castorp, the protagonist, travels from his home in Hamburg, to vist his cousin, Joachim, who is recuperating from tuberculosis at the sanitorium Berghof in the Swiss mountains. He plans to spend a few weeks with his cousin before assuming his new engineering apprenticeship in Germany.
What transpires over the following 700+ pages is a look at life, and death, in this isolated community of international patients representing all philosophical and political viewpoints. Mann uses the sanatorium as a microcosm of a terminally ill Europe as it approaches the Great War. Hans Castorp is the naive, non-political engineer who is pulled and cajoled by anarchists to socialists, to monarchists. And there is intrigue. There are detailed medical descriptions concerning the life and care at a turn of the century sanatorium, much of it gleaned from Mann's own stay at such a facility when his wife was recuperating from tuberculosis.
For me, Mann created an alien world, yet so interesting that I didn't want to leave it. There are great discussions on the concept of time, and how time for the patients, confined to the mountain and to their daily regime, seems compressed: six months are like a few weeks to them.
There is too much within the pages of this book to do it any justice. There have been entire books written about The Magic Mountain, and many essays
I read this book more than 20 years ago, as a teenager. Then, I read about a personal story, perhaps symbolic regarding the customs and ideas of Europeans of that time. I identified with the main character and his uneventful life, broken from its rhythm not of his own choice. I cried in the last page. Now I read this through an entire new lens, which might be superseded by another in 20 years' time. But what I perceive is the human conflict in the slow, predictable and boring life of the sanatorium, occupied by ill people from all over the world. The tension rises between a few, while the majority is slow to grasp the intensity and the fervor behind the ideas.
It is one of the most exasperating books on earth, some chapters you just want to end, and you think of giving up altogether - but then something happens, you keep going. Nothing fundamental has changed (isn't it true of most lives?), but there is just enough to keep the interest. The passage of time is the leitmotif, and it matters for the reader and narrator, but not to our hero, whose nails and hair grows, and that's how he notices time. You, as a reader, know that you are reading the masterpiece of a literary genius, and some paragraphs are indeed "literary". But most are just there because the narration, like the passing of time, does not recoil from the ordinariness that consists most of human life.
The unremarkable can be staggering in its constancy and ability to involve your whole being. You pay close attention to Hans Castorp's life and think: is he wasting it? What is the purpose after all, why did he love, why was he a friend, why anything if it all comes to...?