Siddhartha (Enriched Classics Series)
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Siddhartha (Enriched Classics Series)

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by Hermann Hesse

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This allegorical novel, set in sixth-century India around the time of the Buddha, follows a young man on his search for enlightenment.


  • A concise introduction that gives the reader important
  • background information
  • A chronology of the author's life and work
  • A timeline of


This allegorical novel, set in sixth-century India around the time of the Buddha, follows a young man on his search for enlightenment.


  • A concise introduction that gives the reader important
  • background information
  • A chronology of the author's life and work
  • A timeline of significant events that provides the book's
  • historical context
  • An outline of key themes and plot points to guide the reader's
  • own interpretations
  • Detailed explanatory notes
  • Critical analysis, including contemporary and modern
  • perspectives on the work
  • Discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book
  • group interaction
  • A list of recommended related books and films to broaden
  • the reader's experience

Editorial Reviews

Once the preferred marching song of '60s hippies, Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha has returned to its rightful high niche in world literature. This translation by Susan Bernofsky highlights the unblemished clarity of Hesse's tale of spiritual sacrifice and awakening.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Enriched Classics Series
Edition description:
Enriched Classic
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.26(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Search for Peace

How do we find lasting peace? Siddhartha describes its main character's individual search for the answer to this question, and its author's call for peace in the world. Since its publication in 1922, the novella has endured cycles of popularity and obscurity, depending on the public's enthusiasm for its unconventional definition of peace as an individual quest that can transform society as a whole.

When Hermann Hesse first published this novella in Germany, it quickly became popular throughout Europe. Its introspective and passive protagonist appealed to readers who were traumatized by the violence and aggression of World War I, which had ended a few years before its publication. The novella became popular again after World War II, when Hesse won many prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

A few decades later, American readers supportive of pacifism and individualistic spirituality found resonance in Siddhartha, which was first published in English in 1951. From the late 1960s into the 1970s, a period during which many Americans protested the Vietnam War, it sold over fifteen million copies. Ironically, in spite of the novella's antimaterialism, restaurants and retailers attempted to profit from association with it. American restaurants such as Siddhartha in New York, retailers such as a waterbed store in San Francisco called Siddhartha's, and an Oriental rug shop in Berkeley called Siddhartha reflected a fascination with Hesse's novel that became an American phenomenon.

To Americans in the late 1970s, Siddhartha's search for individual enlightenment reflected a common disillusionment with authority. The Eastern philosophy explained and explored in Siddhartha appealed to readers who had lost faith in traditional Western models of spirituality. And its main character's search for peace resonated with many who protested violence as a means to preserve civilization.

For contemporary readers, the novel is a classic because of its accessible description of Buddhist philosophy for a Western audience. It still speaks to a culture that has become jaded by the empty promises of material wealth and skeptical of organized religion, and to readers intent on finding peaceful solutions to all types of conflicts.

The Life and Work of Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse was born in Germany to Johannes Hesse and Marie Gundert on July 2, 1877. The second of six children, Hesse demonstrated early that he was a poor student. After he tried several different schools without success, his parents finally permitted his return home in 1893. He cultivated a passion for reading in his grandfather's library and for helping at his father's publishing house. During his childhood, he frequently heard stories about the beauty of spirituality in Eastern culture from his father, who had been a missionary in India, and his mother, who was born in India to missionary parents. He apprenticed in a bookshop in 1895, where he could easily pursue his love of reading, and was drawn to the emphasis on the individual imagination in German Romantic philosophy. He published his first book of poems along with his first book of prose in 1899.

Hesse began writing Siddhartha in December of 1919 in Montagnola, a small Italian-speaking village in southern Switzerland. By the time it was finished, it would become a novella that reflected Hesse's disillusionment with the extremes of peace and war, or more specifically, with Buddhism and World War I. In his exploration of Eastern culture and philosophy, he draws most of his portrait of the character Siddhartha from his own journey to the East in 1911. With the Swiss painter Hans Sturzenegger, he traveled to Sumatra, Malaya, and Ceylon to find his own personal enlightenment. But after only a few months, he returned home, never having reached the continent of India. He was disheartened by the extreme poverty in which the people lived, and frustrated with the commercialization of Buddhism he witnessed on his journey. Through personal experience, he learned that both Eastern and Western spiritual philosophies were flawed, a revelation reflected in Siddhartha. In 1914, when World War I began, he founded Vivos Voco, an antiwar magazine. Throughout World War I, he volunteered to work with German prisoners of war in the German embassy in Bern. He expressed sympathy with Germany and a desire for German victory but protested war as well, an ambiguous stance that alienated both German nationalists and pacifists. Worn out by criticism from both groups, Hesse retreated in 1918 to an apartment in Montagnola and began writing Siddhartha.

By 1923, a year after publishing Siddhartha, he was so deeply disappointed in German politics that he moved to Switzerland permanently and became a Swiss citizen. Hesse continued to write novels and essays, and eventually won the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt am Main and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. After such prestigious visibility, his work became immensely popular, and he became admired, as his Nobel Prize citation reads, "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style." In spite of his declining health, he continued to write, as his work was being published in English translations in the 1950s. He died of leukemia on August 9, 1962.

Historical and Literary Context of Siddhartha

The Buddha

The fact that the hero of Siddhartha so closely resembles the Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, in name and lived experience has no doubt caused many readers to wonder if Hesse began writing this as a fictional biography of the famous founder of Buddhism. It would have been extremely difficult to recount the life of a person about whom we know so little; even the dates of his birth (c. 463 B.C.) and death (c. 383 B.C.) are in dispute. Hesse decided to make Siddhartha Gotama a character in the novel, who is introduced formally in chapters three and four. He draws from historical sources in his initial description of the social reverence for the Buddha during his lifetime: "Every child in the town of Savathi knew the name of the exalted Buddha, and every house was prepared to fill the alms-dishes of the silent beggars who were Gotama's disciples." Siddhartha first recognizes him in a crowd "as if a god had pointed him out to him," as "a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently." He becomes fascinated with the Buddha's serenity: "his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly." In the equivocal expression Hesse draws on the Buddha's face, he signifies his teaching of the middle way, or the ideal of living moderately, between extremes of wealth and poverty, happiness and sadness, attachment and detachment. His "noble eightfold path," which Hesse mentions in the same chapter, is meant to teach followers how to attain enlightenment and eventually nirvana, or the cessation of suffering.

Though the Buddha left behind no writings of his own, his teachings were written later by practicing Buddhists. Though he is known as the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gotama is not the only person referred to as "Buddha." Any person who has achieved "enlightenment" according to Buddhist teaching may be said to have achieved "Buddhahood" and may be called "Buddha." Buddhists call Siddhartha Gotama "Shakyamuni Buddha," derived from Shakya, the name of his clan, and muni, or "the silent one," to differentiate him from the other figures who have been "buddhas."

Because the Buddha wrote no autobiographical material, and historical fact was not valued then as it is today, the story of his life is considered a legend. According to one narrative, when Siddhartha Gotama was born, a religious visionary named Asita announced to his father, Suddhodana, that the boy would become a great leader. Hesse's fictional character shares this prediction; Siddhartha's father "saw growing within [his son] a great sage and priest, a prince among the Brahmins." Fearful for his son's safety, Suddhodana tries to protect the young Buddha from suffering so that he would not want to embark on a spiritual journey. As a consequence, the young Siddhartha Gotama grows up in an opulent world without any knowledge of poverty, suffering, or old age. As a teenager, he marries Yasodhara, who eventually gives birth to his son, Rahula. When he finally travels outside of the palace, he encounters an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and learns of the deterioration that comes with age and illness, and finally death. He begins to contemplate the fleeting nature of life and the necessity of suffering in the human experience. After seeing these three figures, he meets a holy man, who teaches him that religious life can solve the problems exhibited by the first three men.

After this revelation, Siddhartha Gotama announces to his family that he must go in search of freedom from suffering, and he leaves the palace on his own spiritual journey. After studying with Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra, he leaves them dissatisfied with the fact that he has not yet learned how to release himself from suffering. He joins a group of ascetics and undergoes extreme fasting, only to become disappointed again. Finally, he decides a moderate path — between luxury and asceticism — is the key to a happy life. Once he becomes enlightened, others begin to follow him. He organizes a monastic community, where followers live very simply, avoiding both extreme wealth and extreme poverty, seeking a peaceful existence. Eventually he serves as an advisor to kings, and his teachings spread throughout Eastern culture. They continue to inspire many followers today, who live by the virtues of wisdom and compassion. Hesse clearly attempts to link the Buddha's values to those of his hero, whose smile at the end "was exactly the same type of smile as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, wise, sometimes-benevolent, sometimes-mocking, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha."


Siddhartha is a novella — originally an Italian literary form with a length between a short story and a novel, focusing on a single conflict, situation, or event, and a form that became popular among German writers in the nineteenth century. But as a story about its hero's quest for individual education and enlightenment from birth to maturity, meant to teach its readers, Siddhartha is a good short example of a bildungsroman. The term comes from the German Bildung, which means "education," and Roman, which means "novel," and refers to a book that describes the personal education and maturation of a hero or heroine. The earliest example comes from the Swiss writer Christoph Martin Wieland, whose semiautobiographical novel Geschichte des Agathon (1766-67) depicts its hero's spiritual and intellectual education. There are many examples of the form in German literature: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werther (or The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774), Ludwig Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (or Franz Sternbald's Wandering Years, 1798), and Gustav Freytag's Soll und Haben (or Debit and Credit, 1855) are just a few. Thomas Mann used the form in several of his works, including Der Zauberberg (or The Magic Mountain, published in 1924) and Joseph und seine Brüder (or Joseph and His Brothers, published in 1933-1942). Famous English examples of the form are Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), Jane Austen's Emma (1816), and Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (1849-50).

Like Hesse's other novels written in the same way, Peter Camenzind (1904) and Morgenlandfahrt (or Journey to the East, published in 1932), Siddhartha focuses on a single character's struggle to find himself, and on his growth through personal experiences. Siddhartha's education consists of a series of events that cause him to grow in self-awareness. Through his story, Hesse attempts to teach readers that enlightenment can be attained without outside sources. Because he uses a European form to express Eastern ideals, Hesse deploys the form in a very unconventional way. His novella ends with the perspective not of Siddhartha but of his best friend, Govinda, who "reads" Siddhartha's face, as the narrator addresses us directly: "Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed a Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you...Govinda still stood for a bit while bent over the quiet face of Siddhartha, which he had just kissed and which had just been the scene of all manifestations, all transformations, all existence." Rather than communicating a clearly articulated moral message, Hesse deliberately leaves vague the revelation both Siddhartha and Govinda experience, emphasizing the point of his bildungsroman that each individual's education consists of a unique path and leads to a different place of maturity. Supplementary materials copyright © 2008 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Meet the Author

Hermann Hesse was born in 1877 in Calw, Germany. He was the son and grandson of Protestant missionaries and was educated in religious schools until the age of thirteen, when he dropped out of school. At age eighteen he moved to Basel, Switzerland, to work as a bookseller and lived in Switzerland for most of his life. His early novels include Peter Camenzind (1904), Beneath the Wheel (1906), Gertrud (1910), and Rosshalde (1914). During this period Hesse married and had three sons.

During World War I Hesse worked to supply German prisoners of war with reading materials and expressed his pacifist leanings in antiwar tracts and novels. Hesse's lifelong battles with depression drew him to study Freud during this period and, later, to undergo analysis with Jung. His first major literary success was the novel Demian (1919).

When Hesse's first marriage ended, he moved to Montagnola, Switzerland, where he created his best-known works: Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), Journey to the East (1932), and The Glass Bead Game (1943). Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died in 1962 at the age of eighty-five.

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Siddhartha (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 275 reviews.
wmorin76 More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for a literature class in high school. Lately, I've been returning to some of my high school assignment books to see how they read now that I'm older and in a different mind-set. The first time I read this, I wouldn't say that I hated it, just rather indifferent to it. I just re-read it! What a great story about the search for wisdom and enlightenment. It makes the very valid point that while knowledge can be taught from one person to another, wisdom simply cannot. It is acquired through one's own experiences. No truer words were ever spoken and I think it is a point that not everyone recognizes. A wonderful and relatively easy reader, Siddhartha contains messages that can be appreciated by anyone who questions the hardships and meaning of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is short, but packed with so much power. Its prose is simple, but it's what's written between the lines that is so thought provoking. I would actually say that this book changed my life every time I am going through a rough time, I think back to Siddhartha and I'm calmed a bit. Pure wisdom.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking and profoundly moving. I really loved the language and the subtle and nuanced writing. Great to read and reread
HANKinCarlsbad More than 1 year ago
This is not a long book, but you'll read every word, and many paragraphs twice. It's filled with insight, drama and high emotion. Tons of introduction before and notes after to set up the story and author, then explain references. A true "Classic."
Lockhart7 More than 1 year ago
This is a classic for anyone interested in Eastern religions/ways of life, but don't expect a real epic adventure. The book is as slow moving as its characters. I was more excited to start reading it than I was actually reading it. However, it holds multiple life-long messages, all extracted from an author who has respectfully learned them first-hand. It's short & precise, and reminds us how cool monks are, even if it's not original (it's nearly identical to the acclaimed story of the Buddha). Read it, learn from it, move on!
seekerWA More than 1 year ago
This book is about a man's journey seeking the ultimate truth. For me, three points stand out. First, the journey is long and hard. It takes a life time to reach. Second, it is hard for everyone, even those who are supposed to be superior in spirituality. Third, humbleness and love for all are the necessary conditions for achieving that ultimate goal. It is a book of great inspiration. For anyone who is interested in spirituality, this book is a must read.
AdamZ1 More than 1 year ago
This book-length tale may be the finest of its kind. It's a book about life, about finding out how to live it properly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked up this Hesse classic on my Nook after a recommendation from a friend. I had never read Hesse and knew nothing of the book's history before reading although I had studied some basic Buddhism in college. In a sense the college work gave me a nice base from which to think a little deeper about some of the concepts Hesse presents through this wonderful story. But, I think one with no prior knowledge of Buddhist beliefs could still stand to gain much from this book. The book is a nice read, well written and just the right length I think for Hesse to present his story. Not too complex and yet not too simple. I highly recommend it.
soccerkitten214 More than 1 year ago
"Siddhartha" was a great book. My favorite part about this book is how the author used symbolism. The author used symbolism to express greater thoughts. An example of this is the river that Siddhartha reflects in his own life. Siddhartha learns to understand through the rivers' "om". Om is a representation of meditation and when Siddhartha finds om in the river then he finds unity in his self. The river also represents the flowing of Siddhartha's life. The river is always moving and doesn't stop for anything, like life. Another example is the songbird. When Siddhartha travels to the sinful city of Samsara, he meets Kamala. Kamala has a rare song bird that she keeps caged up. After 20 years, Siddhartha has a dream that the song bird dies and sees it as his inner self dieing. He decides to leave the city. After he leaves, Kamala sets the bird free because she is heart broken. After leaving and being away for awhile, Siddhartha realizes that the "song bird" within his self is still alive. After seeing the affect that symbolism had on the book, I think the author completed his purpose well. The authors' purpose was to show how the world altered the mind of Siddhartha. The author expresses this by symbolism and conflict. Throughout the book Siddhartha is going through different kinds of conflict, internal and external. By going through different kinds of conflict, Siddhartha realizes the struggles within himself and the world. After realizing how difficult the world is, Siddhartha realizes that he must make himself happy to reach Nirvana. He must keep himself happy by moving on and never stopping or allowing someone to stop him in his path, like the river. He realizes that he must be free and not have anyone hold him back, like the songbird in the cage. This book was a good book and I would recommend it to anyone who is not just learning about the life of Siddhartha, but to anyone who is learning about life itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've loved this book ever since I first came upon it in high school. It is a thoroughly lyrical work that is at once strange and comforting. I've read it very slowly at least four times, almost meditating with each page on the depths of another soul's struggle for enlightenment. It is one of those rare books that not only touches your soul but leaves you changed and for the better afterwards. I'd recommend everyone with an open heart to read it or to re-read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My criticism is not of the beautiful story, but of the poor translation of what is Hesse's usually lyrical prose.  At times the sentences are clunky and  often ungrammatical.  I bought this as a bargain deal - fuess it wasn't such a bargain, after all.  From now on I will check out print translations before I buy an ebook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Let me tell you of the best book i have ever read. Very well written, almost written like a long poem, and an insightful story that has alot to say about life. You won't be disappointed.
Anonymous 6 months ago
A true philosophical classic. It might open your eyes to new possibilities. ~*~LEB~*~
Kristi-Reads More than 1 year ago
I would say this is my first audiobook, but I checked out a cassette tape of Harry Potter when I was ten. Outside of that, this is my first audiobook! I got my copy of Siddhartha from Librivox via We opened the book on the river, and I think somehow the fact I was listening to this book made the description and scenery mean more. I was so moved by Siddhartha's passion for finding bliss and the meaning of life. His standoff against his father, his deep conversations with his friend Govinda. He journeys with his friend to live with Samanas, alleged masters off reaching nirvana. Siddhartha comes to a troubling conclusion that for all they learned and did there, none of the masters have nor will actually reach nirvana. He doesn't find what he's looking for, so he keeps looking. This spiritual allegory has many parallels to religion as a whole. Thinking of my own religion, I found the allegory of Siddhartha had its parallels to Christians desperately searching for God, leaving the whole religion out of frustration, only to grow into wanting what was again. Those reborn (or reborn for the third time) are sometimes much closer to God and Heaven than those who were literally born into the religion and went to church every week but never learned anything (like the Samanas in this book).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eye opening to the true oneness of all things
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Marktavius More than 1 year ago
I did not know very much about Vedic or Buddhist teachings before reading this book, but I found it to be a very entertaining introduction. Various doctrines and philosophical concepts are put forth through the life of the title character. The story line is very compelling and the language style, while rather formal, is still easy to read. Since I do not speak German, I cannot say how faithful this translation is to Hesse's original intent, but it certainly does work well in English. The introduction and footnotes do a great job of explaining the book in the context of the author's life and the finer points of Vedic and Buddhist traditions.
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