The Glass Bead Game - A Novel that Shows We Can't Take Progress for Granted
I recently finished the audiobook version of The Glass Bead Game. Listening to this was a powerful, uplifting experience. Also, working out while listening to a good book always seems to supercharge its impact of on my mind. Hesse won the Nobel Prize for literature for The Glass Bead Game - his last work. The novel is set in the 25th century and I think could be deemed "philosophical science fiction." It imagines a world where an elite group of intellectuals - essentially a priesthood - devote themselves to cultivating their minds and worshiping knowledge. They strive to find the interrelatedness of all fields of study by playing a complex "game" that connects, for example, mathematics, music, literature and philosophy.
I was fascinated by Hesse's vision of the future - how he sees that human society might evolve to worship the intellect and knowledge above all else. He also tells the tale of the downsides of this ultra-cerebral world and emphasizes how fragile the institutions (and individuals) are that are required to pass on culture from one generation to the next.
The best part of the book for me was seeing all the sacrifices and hard work put forth throughout human history in order to make progress in any area. All that is good we have today came through great toil: the unceasing efforts of parents and teachers to give young people knowledge, wisdom and ethics.
Another aspect of The Glass Bead Game that made a big impact on me was seeing Hesse's appreciation for meditation and the spiritual life. His characters were into yoga back in the 1940s - much earlier than its current 21st century rediscovery in the west. He also clearly showed how meditation cultivates strength - that by learning to focus your mind and spirit you can overcome your circumstances, rather than being controlled by them.