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In time for the centennial of his birth, one of the Nobel Prize winner’s finest achievements

A Penguin Classic

This is the story of Moses Herzog—a great sufferer, joker, mourner, charmer, serial writer of unsent letters, and a survivor, both of his private disasters and those of the age. Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, the novel was hailed as “a masterpiece” (The New York Times Book Review).

This beautifully designed Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Herzog features an introduction by Bellow’s longtime friend Philip Roth.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143107675
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/12/2015
Series: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,186,946
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

SAUL BELLOW (1915–2005) won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Humboldt’s Gift, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The only novelist to receive three National Book Awards, he was presented the National Book Award Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

PHILIP ROTH, acclaimed author of Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, and many other works of fiction, is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts from the White House.

Date of Birth:

June 10, 1915

Date of Death:

April 5, 2005

Place of Birth:

Lachine, Quebec, Canada

Place of Death:

Brookline, Massachusetts


University of Chicago, 1933-35; B.S., Northwestern University, 1937

Table of Contents

HerzogIntroduction: Rereading Saul Bellow by Philip Roth


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A feast of language, situations, characters, ironies, and a controlled moral intelligence . . . Bellow’s rapport with his central character seems to me novel writing in the grand style of a Tolstoy—subjective, complete, heroic." —Chicago Tribune

"Herzog has the range, depth, intensity, verbal brilliance, and imaginative fullness—the mind and heart—which we may expect only of a novel that is unmistakably destined to last." —Newsweek 

"A masterpiece" —The New York Times Book Review

Reading Group Guide


Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, Herzog traces five days in the life of a failed academic whose wife has recently left him for his best friend. Through the device of letter writing, Herzog movingly portrays both the internal life of its eponymous hero and the complexity of modern consciousness.

Like the protagonists of most of Bellow's novels—Dangling Man, The Victim, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, etc.—Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, he retreats to his abandoned home in Ludeyville, a remote village in the Berkshire mountains to which Herzog had previously moved his wife and friends. Here amid the dust and vermin of the disused house, Herzog begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex- Presidents, to anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters, we learn, are never sent. They are a means to cure himself of the immense psychic strain of his failed second marriage, a method by which he can recognize truths that will free him to love others and to learn to abide with the knowledge of death. In order to do so he must confront the fact that he has been a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, and an apathetic citizen.

As Herzog obsessively reviews the evidence of Madeleine's and Gersbach's affair, we piece together the circumstances of Herzog's recent past: how Madeleine ached to leave their Emersonian life in the Berkshires, how she grew fond of the flamboyant and masculine Valentine Gersbach, how, after their marriage dissolved in Chicago, Herzog took his melancholy to Europe, and how he returned to interrogate each and every one of their friends about Madeleine's adultery. These recollections impugn not only Madeleine and Gersbach, but, more significantly, they impugn Herzog for overvaluing his own suffering. At one lucid point, he borrows a line from Shelley to express the relative meaninglessness of his suffering: "I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And then? I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And what next?" His sense of injury may be great but what of the pain felt by people like his childhood friend Nachman whose wife has lapsed into insanity? What of the pain of Madeleine's mother Tennie who is left by her playboy ex-husband and her inattentive daughter to age alone? Herzog also asks what the suffering of a cuckolded man is worth in relation to the collective sufferings of societies living in the shadow of Hiroshima and the Holocaust? As a former scholar of Romanticism, Herzog is compelled to weigh serious questions of culture and civilization. Thinking of the world wars, perhaps too of America's involvement in Vietnam and its battles over racism, Herzog wryly revises De Tocqueville's prediction that modern democracies would produce less crime but more private vice to "less private crime, more collective crime." The betrayal he has experienced at the hands of friends and lovers is mirrored by the betrayal he feels at the hands of modern American society where "people are dying...for lack of something real to carry home when day is done." While the garbled, fragmentary letters often display the clashing of personal and public crises; for Herzog the project to restore oneself and the project to restore civilization are really one. It is a Romantic idea that finds eloquent expression in Blake whose work is repeatedly invoked by Herzog.

Crucial to the restoration of American culture, Herzog believes, is a condemnation of the "wasteland outlook." Referring to an intellectual tradition based on the bleak diagnoses of modern civilization by Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Spengler, Heidegger and other existentialist philosophers, Herzog laments the wasteland outlook as "the full crisis of dissolution...the filthy moment...when moral feeling dies, conscience disintegrates, and respect for liberty, law, public decency, all the rest, collapses in cowardice, decadence, blood." Real transcendence, according to the wasteland outlook, is only possible in the immoral, "gratuitous" act. In opposition to this philosophy, Herzog offers the wisdom of Blake: "Man liveth not by self alone but in his brother's face...Each shall behold the Eternal Father and love and joy abound." Bellow dramatizes, with comedic effect, these ideas in the "murder" scene. Pistol wielding Herzog realizes, as he peers through Madeleine's bathroom window and sees his wife's lover bathing his own daughter, that the taking or the saving of life has meaning. He resists the temptations of immoralism, and through this act of moral will Herzog manages to regain his balance. That Herzog transcends his personal hurt while being charged at the police station is both ironic and deeply affecting. Now with a "tranquil fullness of heart" he can compose letters of a different character. He reaches out in love to join the human race, writing to his dead mother, to congratulate a colleague on a recent book, to Nietzsche to resolve his mixture of admiration and distrust, to God to affirm his will to live, and to himself in which he rises to a state of rapture: "Something produces intensity, a holy feeling, as oranges produce orange, as grass green." In the end, with "not a single word" left to say, Herzog is restored to himself.

Herzog is primarily a novel of redemption. For all of its innovative techniques and brilliant comedy, it tells one of the oldest of stories. Like the Divine Comedy or the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross, it progresses from darkness to light, from ignorance to enlightenment. Today it is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America.



Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), which won the National Book Award; Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989);The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, in which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."


  • From the beginning, Herzog calls into question his own sanity. Throughout the novel he confronts the concerns and accusations of madness from Dr. Edvig, his brother Shura, Mady, Gersbach, and others. Is Herzog insane? Does the novel follow Herzog from mental illness to mental health? Is Herzog's condition "normal" for an intellectual living at the height of the Cold War?
  • Discuss the "murder" scene. Why does Herzog not carry out the crime? How does this refute immoralism or nihilism? Does it? Does the action, or non-action, constitute heroism?
  • Examining the portrayals of Madeleine, Ramona, Zono, Zipporah, Daisy, and the other women in Herzog's life, what generalizations, if any, can be made about Bellow's ideas about women? Are women unknowable to men, as Herzog comes despairingly close to concluding?
  • In addition to the letters, what else has played a decisive role in Herzog's "cure"? What role, if any, has Ramona played? His brother Shura?
  • Discuss the geography of Herzog, particularly the four main locales—Quebec, New York, Chicago, Ludeyville. If Ludeyville is meant to represent an Emersonian ideal, albeit an impossible one, what do the other settings signify?
  • With the vast amount of epistolary material and the great intimacy the narrator has with the hero, we tend to forget thatHerzog is not a first person narrative. Who is the narrator? A removed aspect of Herzog's personality? A competitor to Herzog? His analyst? Where do the narrator and Herzog part ways?
  • Some of the most moving parts of the book are Herzog's recollections of his childhood on Napoleon Street. Besides informing the reader about details of his past, how do these sections function in the novel as a whole? How do they assist Herzog during his time of crisis?
  • In his portrait of Dr. Edvig and in the comic "gun" scene with Herzog's father, Bellow parodies psychiatry and Freudian ideas on the hostility between father and son. However, Herzog's cure for his emotional problems is essentially a talking cure, a method pioneered by Freud in which the patient gives voice to his/her deepest anxieties. What kind of view of human psychology does Herzog present?
  • Most of Bellow's fiction dramatizes the struggles specific to Jewish intellectuals in America. What is significant about Herzog's Jewishness? Is an understanding of his Jewishness indispensable to an understanding of the novel?
  • Herzog is a novel that champions ordinary experience. At one point, Herzog eulogizes his father, an ordinary man, by saying "his I had dignity." Opposed to the value of ordinariness and the common connections between people are the ideological arguments—marxism, existentialism, nihilism—of the age. Discuss Herzog's comment at the end of the novel that Mady "brought ideology into my life." Did she? What role did Gersbach play in perverting Herzog's faith in ordinary experience? What about his colleague Shapiro?

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Herzog 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
TN1796 More than 1 year ago
You know that bad feeling, the one that comes from reading a novel considered a classic and it just doesn't do it for you? The frustration of the experience extends beyond the reading itself; now you wonder if maybe you were not bright enough to appreciate its brilliance before throwing the book down and deciding it's the story's fault. Well, I just introduced you to the experience of reading Saul Bellow's Herzog. Having read raves everywhere for this book I dived in... and hit a waterless pool. The tribulations of Moses Herzog as his second marriage breaks up and he fears he is losing his mind should have been more entertaining than it was. I was left with competing feelings toward this protagonist: pity for his sufferings mingled with disdain for his whining ways. I really wanted to like it; since I think the basis for a better novel is buried somewhere in this shambling mess I'm giving it 3 1/2 stars. And that ends my suffering through Herzog.
ctpress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very cerebral novel with a lot of references to important names of philosophy, politics, history and religion. The main character Herzog is in a deadlock in his life, twice divorced and drifting toward a total mental meltdown. The book follows him within a few days, but there are numerous flashbacks to earlier episodes in his life and then there's the letters he writes to everyone without sending them - they cut into the story - some funny others very philosophical.The parts of narrative I liked very much and the conversations he's having with different people. Not that anything dramatic happens - but it's more the psychological journey he's on, learning to accept his place in the world. Herzog has one problem - he has lived many years with a lot of ideas in his head - and they are presented here - in a way its fascinating to read all this seemingly random generalizations about society and culture - but it becomes quickly very tedious. I will try another Bellow - this one didn't work for me.
kant1066 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I remember reading "Henderson the Rain King" and then "Ravelstein" perhaps in my first or second year of university, and thinking they were pedantic and overly contrived. I hadn't read anything by him in the intervening ten years or so. Then, on a fluke, I picked up "Herzog" wondering if I might have learned how to appreciate Bellow. To make a long story short, I read it in a few days, and finished it thinking that it may be one of the greatest American novels of the last fifty years.Bellow once said "People don't realize how much they are in the grip of ideas. We live among ideas much more than we live in nature." Bellow's Moses Herzog - both the protagonist and the novel he inhabits - are brilliantly illustrative of this. He is a scholar of nineteenth-century intellectual history whose interests run from Hegel to "the state of nature in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English and French political philosophy," the title of his only published book. Herzog brims, intensely and relentlessly, with ideas; they are how Moses relates to his world. Unable to articulate his ideas in any other way beside letter-writing, Moses does this endlessly, composing letters to President Eisenhower, his dog, his mother, and the long-dead philosophers that have consumed a lifetime's worth of attention. He never sends them.After two failed marriages, the second of which ended with his best friend Valentine Gersbach living with his wife, and a current love affair with a woman named Ramona which is in ambiguous standing, Moses decides to escape. But he can't. Everywhere he goes, he is confronted with the world's ugliness: while waiting to talk to his divorce lawyer, he overhears cases of prostitution and child abuse, he is haunted by the life that Valentine and his ex-wife are living, and is tempted to take a few Old World Russian rubles and a handgun from the desk of his dead father. At the end of the novel, Moses achieves a kind of catharsis in which he finds that he no longer needs to write any letters, and in which the sentimentalist might hold some faint hope that Ramona might successfully enter his life. Knowing Moses, I wouldn't hold my breath, but I was surprised at the degree to which I was hoping that he would find an undiluted happiness which wouldn't have to suffer his constant hyperscrutiny.This is a book about all the Big Subjects: writing, memory, displacement both physical and intellectual, love and its discontents, and philosophy. It seems that not even the novel itself can contain its subjects or all of its size. "Herzog" asks a lot of its readers, but I found its rewards to be numerous. If you have never read Bellow before, I would suggest that you read the first fifty pages. If you dislike it, don't bother with the rest: he never eases up and the tone doesn't change. However, don't make the same mistake I made, reading a couple of his books in college and then failing to return to him for a decade. Bellow, at least for me, was one of those writers that I needed to be at a certain age to fully appreciate.
LostFrog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A brilliant and mad book, but that doesn't necessarily make for an entertaining read. It wasn't very captivating, but I do appreciate it, and it got me interested in Bellow's other works.
gbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Herzog is not unlike Ulysses in style as a lot of the novel takes place in Herzog¿s brain, and Bellow is certainly more accessible than Joyce, but to me the comparison relative to the book being a classic is a stretch.The use of writing letters to process the pain of losing his wife to his best friend makes for entertaining reading in many cases, and the range of those to whom these letters are addressed is quite wide, e.g. dead philosophers, politicians, childhood friends, the credit department of Marshall Field & Co, etc. However, they were sometimes a little too esoteric for me, and some, like the letter to God at the end, were disappointments.At the end Herzog is at peace with his situation, but because he has dealt with this crisis and others in his life mainly intellectually, it¿s harder to feel empathy for him. The allusions to sex and Herzog¿s relationships with women are interesting in the beginning of the book (¿Quack¿! ¿ ¿The ejaculatio praecox¿!), but they wore thin towards the end. The book seems to drag on a bit and could have been pared down.I was tempted to give the book 2.5 stars but after going through it again, I did find enough nuggets of wisdom to rate it higher. Some of Bellow¿s descriptions, like the one contained within the passage between leaving the subway and the man in the change booth sitting in a light ¿the color of strong tea¿ to the ¿pious old women who trod the path of ancient duty, still, buying kosher meat¿ I thought were truly great.Bellow was certainly timely in 1964, but then also made timeless conclusions:¿The point was that there were people who could destroy mankind and that they were foolish and arrogant, crazy, and must be begged not to do it. Let the enemies of life step down. Let each man now examine his heart. Without a great change of heart, I would not trust myself in a position of authority. Do I love mankind? Enough to spare it, if I should be in a position to blow it to hell? Now let us all dress in our shrouds and walk on Washington and Moscow. Let us lie down, men, women, and children, and cry, `Let life continue ¿ we may not deserve it, but let it continue.¿ In every community there is a class of people profoundly dangerous to the rest. I don¿t mean the criminals. For them we have punitive sanctions. I mean the leaders. Invariably the most dangerous people seek the power¿.And while criticizing the ¿establishment¿, also criticizing the next generation:¿But what is the philosophy of this generation? Not God is dead, that point was passed long ago. Perhaps it should be stated Death is God. This generation thinks ¿ and this is its thought of thoughts ¿ that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile, can be durable or have any true power¿. On philosophy: I don¿t agree with Nietzche that Jesus made the whole world sick, infected it with his slave morality. But Nietzsche himself had a Christian view of history, seeing the present moment always as some crisis, some fall from classical greatness, some corruption or evil to be saved from. I call that Christian.The view of man as both good and evil¿But reluctance to cause pain coupled with the necessity to devour ¿ a particular human trick is the result, which consists in admitting and denying evils at the same time.¿And:¿Demographers estimate that at least half of all the human beings ever born are alive now, in this century. What a moment for the human soul! Characteristics drawn from the genetic pool have, in statistical probability, reconstituted all the best and worst of human life. It¿s all around us. Buddha and Lao-tse must be walking the earth somewhere. And Tiberius and Nero. Everything horrible, everything sublime, and things not imagined yet¿. My net: there¿s certainly enough here of interest to say this is a good book, but for me neither the story nor the insights are profound enough to say it¿s a great book.
sinaloa237 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I must be really honest: I guess I'm not knowledgeable enough to fully understand Saul Bellow (and Herzog in particular)... This one was hardly accessible to me ; certainly a masterpiece but a demanding one.
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really didn't like this. It's probably my fault. I've tried two highly rated Bellow novels, and finished them even, but I can't connect. To me the book seemed from another time, but not in a good way.
theportal2002 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A number of hours I will never get back, I don't know if I am too dense for this book but it was just the ramblings of a sick mind...
marysargent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This also quite good (I read Humbolt's Gift first), although not as enjoyable as Humbolt. The main character is a more crazy Charlie Citrine , and there are many letters (unsent) to famous and not so famous folks, expounding his philosophical and other views, thus, not as enjoyable, more difficult, but certainly interesting.
samatoha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a true modern classic.deep and complex as it is,it might be the most importend american novel of the last century.trying,like Musil,dostoyevski and tolstoy,to deal with the problem of indvidual existence in the confused (post) modern world, through the eyes of an intelectual of the old world.more a book of ideas,and the problem they arise,Herzog,in a way,is the opposite charactar to Updike's Rabbit,but it seems both are trying to cope with the same problems.Bellow here,also has the deepest understanding of the psychology of mankind,and like all the greatest books,he also offers true consolation.fantastic.
joshrothman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bellow's best novel. Beautifully written. Herzog is like the professorial, Jewish equivalent of Tolstoy's Levin.
puzzleman More than 1 year ago
Modern-day hero not! A middle-aged whimperer. The story itself is fine, but Ithe letters were unbearable.
bobic More than 1 year ago
Very frightening!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After more than 40 years, Saul Bellow's Herzog still appeals to an idealized image of American intellectual life in the post-WWII era. No doubt, Moses Herzog was a hero easily recognizable by the audience Bellow wrote for in 1964, the 'people of powerful imaginations.' Like them he was brilliant, sophisticated and creative. His afflictions were also theirs: indulgence, envy, self-destructiveness, immobilizing self-awareness. Many ached to solve the puzzles of existence motivated, as was Herzog, by the twin dangers to human flourishing of the Cold War and strident behavioralism. Today, these dangers no longer motivate, and readers may find that Herzog is no longer an archetype of the thinking American. It is no doubt true that he is still in some ways like his audience. But, his florid use of words, broad knowledge of letters and mastery of languages is rarer. Acquiring them required of him a disciplined study and perseverance now less fashionable. Near the end, Herzog writes about intellectual perseverance in one of his trademark letters to the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, telling him that to survive 'you must outlive the pain.' Perhaps pain is for us too high a price to pay for a thoughtful life; perhaps true education is too meager a reward. Whatever his limitations, Herzog is an educated man and a survivor. Bellow's description of his struggle begs us to consider whether we have achieved either, or want to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything about this book is gorgeous, page after page of language at it's finest, each sentence glinting with Bellow's craftsmanship. The novel is wrapped around characters, ideas, and the ironies of the human condition, not so much the action of the plot. It's a stunning piece of work. Smart. Absorbing. Aware.
Guest More than 1 year ago
' The blood-coloured sunsets of winter and solitude were behind him. They didn't seem so bad now that he had survived them' Bellow records both vague transient emotions and heart-scalding pain with the same unremitting attention to detail. A compelling read and an eye opener to - dare I say it - male sensibility!