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200 × 130 × 15 mm
256 pages
48 illustrations
10 Feb 2020
Critical Lives

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Jeremy Adler

This new critical biography provides a complete picture of German novelist, playwright and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The book offers fresh, thought-provoking interpretations of all the major works, including novels such as The Sorrows of Young Werther and The Elective Affinities, plays such as Egmont and Iphigenia in Tauris, and Goethe’s greatest work, Faust. Alongside these works the incidents of his life are analysed, including his love affairs and his meetings with the great people of the age, such as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Jeremy Adler shows how Goethe’s encyclopedic interest in many fields influenced later thinkers such as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, Émile Durkheim and Susan Sontag. Goethe has often been called the last Renaissance man. This biography shows that Goethe was in fact the first of the moderns – a maker of modernity.

‘Jeremy Adler's aim in this new "Critical Life" goes beyond giving an overview of the world that made Goethe (the Enlightenment, Leibniz, Spinoza). Its larger subject is Goethe's impact on shaping modernity itself . . . Each chapter suggests an astonishing variety of individuals and concepts that Goethe's writings are said to anticipate. Entire books have been devoted to the influence on figures from Karl Marx to Oswald Spengler, but Adler includes references to the structure of the double helix, chaos theory, modern sociology, labour under capitalism and Impressionism, to name just a few . . . Adler's extensive endnotes show how far and wide he has ranged to make the case for Goethe being our forebear in these areas. As he writes, it is no accident that we speak of the Age of Goethe.’ — TLS

‘Goethe was a polymath, not least in the areas of art history and criticism, who combined practical abilities as a draughtsman, painter and scientist. Adler focuses on Goethe's influence on modernity.’ — The Art Newspaper

‘an erudite and at the same time passionate book on Goethe. It offers the general reader a highly stimulating opportunity to be introduced to his life and work, especially the latter . . . an exciting and brilliant book. Such scholarship and passion are not often found together. They are a great gift to any reader.’ — Camden New Journal

‘Beyond its lively biographical account and incisive readings of Goethe’s major works, the true originality of Jeremy Adler’s brilliant contribution lies in its impressive contextual background and often startling insights, which only a scholar steeped not only in literary and philosophical history but also the natural and social sciences could provide—from Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare down to Einstein, Freud, and Weber.’ — Theodore Ziolkowski, Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature, Princeton University

‘Jeremy Adler ranges with equal mastery across several fields besides literature, placing Goethe the poet convincingly at the centre of the intellectual and scientific culture, of his own day and ours.’ — Jim Reed, Taylor Professor Emeritus of the German Language and Literature, The Queen's College, Oxford

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Jeremy Adler is Professor Emeritus of German and Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London. He has published and edited books on many topics, including Goethe, visual poetry, Kafka, exile literature, Elias Canetti and Hölderlin. He reviews and writes for the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.


1 The Birth of a Poet
2 Sturm und Drang
3 First Years in Weimar
4 The Italian Turn
5 The Classical Centre
6 The Intellectual Capital of the World
7 The Faustian Age

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