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Doctor Faustus

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  5,896 ratings  ·  258 reviews
Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck ...more
Paperback, 535 pages
Published July 27th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1947)
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Oratorio in Five Parts.

Composer: M.

Conductor’s Edition.

Dynamics and Mood: Melancholia.

Tonality: G** minor.

Venue: Church of St. Thomas, Leipzig.

Date: 23rd May 1943.

Duration: The Hour-Glass will determine its Time.

Première: Serenus Zeitblom as Conductor.

Singers: Tanya Orlanda (a dramatic soprano and a stupendous woman with a heroic voice).

Harald Kjoejelund (as Heldentenor, a quite rotund man with pince-nez and voice of brass. (p. 293)


I, John Serenus
Reviewed in May 2014
Spring cleaning my gr shelves recently, I noticed the absence of a review of this book. Truth to tell I was well aware of its absence as the thought of reviewing Doctor Faustus had haunted me since I finished the book over two months ago. But spring cleaning is still a useful analogy. When the stronger rays of the sun hit our window panes at this time of the year, they reveal the layers of dust that have built up on the glass over the winter which block our view of the outsid
Tell me, what do you think about greatness? I find there is something uncomfortable about facing it eye to eye, it is a test of courage — can one really look it in the eye? You can't stand it, you give way. Let me tell you, I incline more and more to the admission that there is something very odd indeed about this music of yours.


I do not like to call it beautiful. The word 'beauty' has always been half offensive to me, it has such a silly face, and people feel wanton and corrupt when they s
Is it enough to say I loved it?

No, that won't do. Although, it seems silly to write a proper review. Oh, there are pages of notes stuck in the back: some pretension of understanding. But this is a book you could devote an entire academic life to. Or even be humbled in a group read with readers who know or can track down every clue.

(My thanks to all of you who enriched this read. And for letting me tag along. I don't know if all group reads are like this (I suspect not); but my sincere thanks to
Got up before dawn this morning to finish the last two chapters with coffee, knew I wouldn't be able to read the final 17 pages last night -- didn't really want to put the book down over the past few days as it started to take off towards its finale thanks to way more dramatization than in, well, most of it. Like all Mann I've read it requires and it rewards patience. Like in The Magic Mountain, if you make it through the first 250–300 slow, dense pages, things take off at a pretty good upwards ...more
I have hesitated to write a review of this book because there is so much here and it is so difficult to know where to begin. Based on the Doctor Faustus story, it is the tale of one Adrian Leverkühn, born early in the 20th century, who trades his soul for the ability to compose brilliant music. Of course this is a limited pact, in his case for 24 years. His story is told by a childhood (and adult) friend Serenus Zeitblom, who also presents the changes in German culture during the years, ending w ...more
Apr 24, 2008 Rebecca rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for an intellectually-engaging read
Recommended to Rebecca by: DK
Shelves: fiction, music, 1001
It is rare that it takes three months for me to finish a novel, but I have a few theories as to why this was (aside from the rigors of a teaching schedule/adjunct commute).
The novel operates on so many levels it is difficult to read more than a few chapters before you need to stop to digest. Keeping track of the numerous secondary characters is a painstaking, but worthwhile, endeavor. Mann forms his environment with this multitude, presenting a photograph of German bourgeois life in the early 20
This is not a beach book. The literature on Thomas Mann's "Doktor Faustus" is huge, and I'm glad I didn't try to master it all. I tackled the novel (actually re-reading it after 40 years) with an untutored but relatively open mind. However, I needed a reading group to get through it, and here goodreads really came through for me with an international group of 14 close readers on the same schedule. They helped enormously.

Thomas Mann wrote his fiction in response to a heartbreaking reality: his b
Faust miti yüzünden ilgimi çekmişti. Ancak çok daha fazlası var; Almanya tarihi ve özellikle müzik adına. Mite gelince; onun da her açıdan bir yorumu olarak okunabilir kitap.
Mar 15, 2008 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Classical Music and German History
Mann is Teutonic Melville, and like Moby-Dick this book is filled with digressions and discussions alongside the unavoidable plunge toward madness and doom. These digressions interweave the narrative with images of Dante’s Inferno, Dürer woodcuts, puppet theater, fairy tales, German culture during the period through the World Wars, lengthy discussions of Classical music, and apocalyptic and prophetic literature. Written in the waning of the Second World War as the narrator tries to understand th ...more
Stephen Durrant
I hardly ever give up on a novel. Somehow I always hear my late mother's voice telling me to "bite off more than you can chew and chew it." Well, Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" was perhaps more than I could chew, but at least I kept chewing to the end. And I'm glad I did. As all Mann readers know, his books can be terribly slow and sometimes maddeningly ponderous, but I invariably reach the final page, having resisted the inclination to throw the book aside forever, feeling that my time has been ...more
Justin Evans
I read this when I was an undergrad; you remember, back when it was great fun to torture yourself by reading 500 page books you could barely understand? Loved it.

I flatter myself that I understood much more this time round: the way that the two levels of time interact (the narrator writes in the closing year of world war two, the story takes place in the twenties); the music theory and, much more importantly, modernist aesthetic theory; the reflections of those theories in the book (two charact
It was only a matter of time before I re-read Mann's Dr. Faustus, one of the handful of novels that made me a lifelong reader of literary fiction. Besides, Alex Ross kept mentioning it in "The Rest Is Noise," which I took up about a month or so ago, an excellent book in its own right, tho hardly literary fiction, details of which to follow.

Mann writes the unwriteable, expresses the inexpressable and does the undoable. Not only does he manage to capture and communicate the notoriously difficult a
Doktor Faustus is – besides Zauberberg and the Josef novels – one of Thomas Mann’s great novels (and yes I’m aware that most people would add Buddenbrooks to that list or even have it solely consist of that novel – for my part, however, I think it is very overrated and one of Mann’s lesser efforts) – and has a reputation of being inaccessible even by his standards. This reputation is not completely undeserved, it is a complex and difficult book and takes some effort to get into – on the other ha ...more
Dry. Mann writes several engaging passages concerning his characters and plot which hold the reader's attention. They are very good. But most of this book is him expostulating about music theory, German religious history and other random subjects in the most complex language possible. The book seems almost hostile in how much it requires the reader to work to follow tangents that really do not make the story progress. It made me very mad. I actually punched the book. Maybe I'm over-emotional. Ma ...more
Michael Austin
I turned to Doctor Faustus to remedy two major deficiencies in my intellectual development. First, I had never read anything by Thomas Mann. I have started "Death in Venice" a few times, but it just never stuck. Second, and perhaps more embarrassingly, I have never been able to understand any but the earliest of Schoenberg's compositions. I don't get twelve-tone music. It sounds like people tuning their instruments. Since I have always been patently incapable of understanding atonal music as mus ...more
I read the translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter. She worked with Thomas Mann. I think she captures his tone better than later translators. Then again, I don't know German, which was the in which Mann wrote. But, every so often I compare some of the translations. I still hear a particular voice when I read Lowe-Porter's phrases. From her translations I get a sense of Thomas Mann as a sort of diligent, puckish, sometimes aggressive writer. I read the edition published by Knopf, with the great photo of ...more
translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter

This 500-page tome is a dense, rich experience detailing the deterioration of Germany from a paragon of culture in the 19th century to a force-worshiping anathema by the ignominious end of WWII. The narrator, Serenus, is a staid, conservative Catholic bourgeois, who worships his subject, the composer Adrian. This latter is a Lutheran, possessed with musical genius and detached from the world after a sinful tryst. Adrian's genius and madness parallel Germany's genius
Feb 11, 2012 Jeffrey rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my son the musician, any composer
Recommended to Jeffrey by: another reader on Good Reads
Someone on Good Reads noticed that I liked The Magic Mountain and suggested that I read Doctor Faustus, also by Thomas Mann. What a suggestion! This is one tough read from an author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1927, 20 years before he published Doctor Faustus!

I am in awe of the translator, H.T. Lowe-Porter. She calls Doctor Faustus "a cathedral of a book," and I must agree. What a project this must have been to translate. There are quotes in German, French and Latin. In plac
This is probably the most painstaking desperate book I have ever read. Here, Thomas Mann shows his skepticism about Germany ever becoming a country again, his doubts about the actual fate of the German people and how tragic this destiny can be. Adrian Leverkuhn is, indeed Germany in this highly symbolic and allegorical text. A humble and brilliant boy born in the countryside that journeys through German culture in the first part of the book, with clear analogies with "The Magic Mountain" in the ...more
This book grew on me progressively.
When i finished it I was between 2 or 3 stars, I rated it 3, to end up in 4.

There were many reasons to like it: Beethoven's life was there, the shy man entering the brothel(to touch only the piano from nervousness) was a young Nietzsche, Leverkuhn and his music was based on a real person-A. Schoenberg-his music too revolutionary to be appreciated at the time also. Actually Schoenberg had it worse, I don't think any composer had ever been more depreciated and pu
Doktor Faustus is an intricate web of connected narratives: the main story about the composer Adrian Leverkühn, the story of the narrator Serenus Zeitblom, the historical time of Germany at the end of world war II, Thomas Mann and his diary where he details the story of how the novel was created, philosophical, historical and musicological ruminations, and many, many more. I read this book the first time it must be twenty years ago, and it left an impression - even though I don't really remember ...more
Ploughing doggedly through the final chapters of Thomas Mann's masterpiece, I reflected more than once that it must share the quality Dr. Johnson ascribed to John Milton's, namely that 'none ever wished it longer than it is.'

Doctor Faustus is a challenging read, especially for an Anglophone reader in this day and age. The Germany whose psyche it so brilliantly anatomizes through its account of the life of the fictitious composer Adrian Leverkühn is long gone; it was writhing in its death-throes
Greg Brozeit
Nov 14, 2015 Greg Brozeit is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: deutsch, german-lit
I've put this book on hold for a while. I'm up to chapter 25, where Adrian has his conversation with the devil. I never give up on books, so rather than do so, I decided to re-read the novels of Leonhard Frank, who befriended Mann when they were both in WWII exile in Hollywood. Maybe this will inspire me to move on. This novel has exasperated me so far. As I read the reviews, especially from a Goodreads friend who I respect and loves this novel, I find myself questioning if I'm missing something ...more
Cooper Renner
I didn't finish, but I need to move this off my main page. I made it not quite halfway before crying "Mann hath defeated me!" I love Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks, but Dr F is too abstracted, too theoretical and abstracted for me. I forced myself to finish the likewise unsympathetic Lotte In Weimar, but I see no reason to suffer through this one.
This was my third attempt at reading Doctor Faustus, and my second attempt at a Mann novel, the first being Magic Mountain, which I was also unable to complete, though I got farther in that book than this one. I was excited about Doctor Faustus, being tangentially familiar with the theme of the story through musical representations of Faust, and since the story has a main character devoted to the arts. The intellectual scope of this work is indeed impressive, and my rating reflects the pop-up su ...more
Ana Ruiz
Jan 03, 2012 Ana Ruiz rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those with poor reading comprehension skills, the musical zealot
I can't say that there's nothing behind Thomas Mann's reputation. He was obviously one of those rare men who are so intelligent that you simply wish you had never met them. Parallel to that thought, he's one of those authors so smartingly bright (pun intended) that you wish you had never read them.

I honestly hope I could say I finished this book. I did, in fact, finish it, but not in the truest sense of the word. That is, because after the arudous effort behind turning on page 300, my reading be
Paul Haspel
Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is a symphony of a novel by Germany's greatest modern writer, recounting the life story of the brilliant and troubled composer Adrian Leverkühn, as told by his lifelong friend Serenus Zeitblom. Just as the talented Leverkühn seems to revoke the ties of ordinary humanity in his obsessive quest for greatness, so Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the time of the Weimar Republic, must have long meditated on the danger that the ambitious artist might los ...more
Dry, thoroughly expository prose mars what is the sometimes brilliant bildungsroman of Adrian Leverkuhn, a character I admire and sometimes wish to identify with (I have the arrogance and aloofness down, not so much the renowned composer part). Much of the book is superb writing about art and music, some of it when it is dry is still intellectually engaging, but parts of it are a slog.

I remain conflicted on how much I like the idea of a person becoming an allegory for an entire nation. The nati
May 02, 2009 Katie added it
So on my second reading of this godforsaken masterpiece, I started thinking about Faustus and Bolano's 2666 (a little bit about Infinite Jest, a little bit of Conrad, and a little bit about Macbeth)

It's funny how there can be so many ploys on the exact same idea.

I think Mann's book is better (my own very un-literary-criticism-like opinion) because:

I can remember the characters, what they look like, how they sound, etc. and I miss them once they are gone. Mann is more Shakespeare than anything-bu
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intel
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