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The Man Without Qualities (The Man Without Qualities #1-3)

4.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,480 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
Although he wrote a handful of other works, Austrian Robert Musil's (1880-1942) reputation as one of the greatest modern German writers is based almost entirely on The Man Without Qualities. The first three parts were published in the early '30s, and Musil continued working on it when he flied for Geneva in 1938. Even unfinished, this parallel investigation of Ulrich (the ...more
Hardcover, First American Edition (boxed set), 1774 pages
Published March 1st 1995 by Alfred a Knopf (first published 1930)
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This book is huge in every respect. It is a culmination and at the same time marks a decisive point in my reading life. For the books from the same league as this one, the bar is now set quite high.

Musil's Ashes

In this special case I think I have to say something about the author and the way the book was published: The novel remained fragmentary. Robert Musil died of a stroke while working on the last part in April 1942. At this time he lived with his wife in exile in Switzerland near Geneva, al
A comic novel. A modern novel. A novel of ideas and more. This is without a doubt my favorite novel and one that both encapsulates and foreshadows the the development of the modern condition. Musil's scientific mind is able to present a humanistic view of the world of Ulrich and the rest of the characters that inhabit this novel. Continuously inventive and invigorating for the reader, the writing is so precise and the argument Musil makes about Ulrich and his situation so intricate that it is in ...more
Emilian Kasemi

He's a man without qualities!
And now you just run your mind over the sort of man he is. He always knows what to do. He can gaze into a women's eyes. He can exercise his intelligence efficiently on any given problem at any given moment. He can box. He is talented, strong-willed, unprejudiced. He has courage and he has endurance, he can go at things with a dash and he can be cool and cautious -- I have no intention of examining all this in detail, let him have all these qualities! For in the end
Darran Mclaughlin
This is the greatest demonstration of human thought I have ever encountered. It demonstrates that the novel can be the best method for deciphering and analysing the human condition and the nature of existence that we have, over and above philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology or any other ology you care to mention. His range is breathtaking, encompassing the intellect, the erotic and the spiritual, he is funny and at times sublime, and his prose is perfection. If you are the kind o ...more
Derek Davis
Jan 25, 2009 Derek Davis rated it it was amazing
This is a world masterpiece. Musil seems to me everything that Mann isn't: Totally engaged with humanity while at the same time a superb, highly nuanced commentator on his society, time and the human condition. I've also picked up the newer translation but haven't read it yet. If the big, soaring, grand, worldbeater novels, this may well be the best (well, Moby Dick?)
Aug 20, 2012 Maximilian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not one for superlatives, but this has to be the greatest novel I have ever read, hands down (even including the Brother's Karamazov - it is almost as if this book carried the former's concerns into the 20th century, evolving them in the process). The characters, situations and philosophical discussions have a level of complexity and observational depth that I have never before encountered, and at times I almost found it hard to grasp that such a work could have been written by a single huma ...more
Ronan Fitzgerald
how do I review the greatest work of art of all time? how do I review a book that rubbishes the superlatives I would use to praise it? just buy this and set off on the journey through the 1100 pages.......
Mar 26, 2012 Vit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of a few 'Six stars books' of modern literature (there are maybe three or five of them?). The ultimate work of western dualism. Armheim vs. Ulrich, Ulrich vs. Walter, Arnheim vs. Tuzzi, Diotima vs. Bonadea, General Stumm vs. Leinsdorf, Fischel vs. Hans Sepp, Kakania vs. Prussia. Reality vs. pseudoreality. Individual spirituality vs. regulated and intelligible morality.

This is the peak, or plateau, of European thought, just like Mahler is the romantic cream of the western Music. If you go thr
Kilburn Adam
Feb 23, 2013 Kilburn Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This review is for the Picador edition. translated by Shophie Wilkins and Burton Pike.

I don't know how people found books to read before the internet and Goodreads. Goodreads has been recommending me this book for a very long time. Finally I've managed to read it.

Anyway about the book:

This is posibilly the most accessible, inspiring, and influential philosophy book that I've read. It's also a novel. So it has a plot and characters. The book covers many concepts, themes, and ideas. Some of the t
This book is so inspiring, that I could rarely read more then a few pages at time. It gives you so much to think about. It is though very dense and therefore really is not an easy read. I find this book life changing.
Shivani Radhakrishnan
probably the best novel i've ever read. genius.
Dec 09, 2015 Duc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a life changing work by a life changing author. Musil inspires without trying to inspire, is wise without preaching. In the mold of Aurelius, disguised as a novel, most of those hundreds of pages are quotable. Reminds me of Dostoevsky very much, but their styles are very different.

It is easy to see why his work was quickly forgotten after his death. A world races madly towards consumerism and self gratification, in the name of all sorts of ideologies, will not understand and genuinely ap
Apr 20, 2014 Guy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the first page one knows one is in the presence of a master story-teller, who will keep one keenly wondering what will happen next, and how he will next digress.

It is a book to savour, and I miss it keenly all the time that I'm not reading it. Musil reminds me of Proust in his range, whimsy and delight in life, and in the elegance of his style.It is also topical, as it depicts Austrian society (specifically Viennese society in the last days of the Habsburg Empire) on the eve of the First Wo
Nov 04, 2013 George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I've ever read. Will probably come back to it again and again over the years. The way Ulrich conceives the world depicts the complexity of life and the tremendous effort required to dive into the depths of the human psyche. Musil lands a death blow on the deterministic way of looking at things.
David Bird
Aug 24, 2012 David Bird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I came across this book in 1995, I had become very skeptical of the possibility of fiction expressing my worldview. Musil did.

In the grand competition for 'best novel ever' I would have to put this one just slightly behind Proust's In Search of Lost Time, but this one is closer to my heart.

Ulrich, the titular Man, dwells in a world that is in denial of its imminent collapse, Vienna before the first world war. It's not practical to summarize the plot, but it's also unnecessary. Musil manag
Seong Min
Oct 03, 2009 Seong Min rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite novels. Musil's magnum opus, the epitome of 20th-century literature, which shows to the limit what a novel can do.
One of the forgotten classics of the 20th century and very probably the single best book about the lost world of late-imperial Vienna, about a world where nostalgia is as much about the future as the past, where all the new art and philosophy of the years just before 1914 are gently but relentlessly undermining civilized and genteel certainties. Finely written, delightfully ironic, slowly disturbing. This is very much the book you want to take with you to Vienna. Recommended absolutely.
Feb 02, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Blows your mind. Read it over a decade ago and still recovering. In a good way.
Monumental Book.

Ulrich is like no other character in fiction. My mind refuses to believe that such work, destitute of plot whatsoever yet is very rich is written only by one man.

Brilliance and Purity oozes out in all lines, in every single words of this work. Tackling every universal theme, such as life and death, money, love, religion, soul versus reality.

I often feel sorry for those who cannot appreciate such works, but the translation of Pike and Wilkins, is available for those who wants to
Ann Klefstad
Nov 29, 2008 Ann Klefstad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this so long ago--it was really the first window for me in what could be done with language indirectly. A masterful, subtle book.
Nessuna altra opera letteraria finora letta -e dubito che nessuna altra mai- ha avuto in me un effetto così travolgente come “l’uomo senza qualità”. Come ho già detto ad alcuni amici, leggere Musil è stata una palestra per i miei neuroni acciaccati. E quando vai in palestra per la prima volta dopo anni di inattività, ne esci per giorni con le ossa rotte, torni a casa indolenzita, hai voglia a fare massaggi e spalmare creme lenitive! Così è stato l’approccio con Musil: difficile, difficilissimo. ...more
Feb 22, 2012 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the Picador volumes - I was in Japan at the time and I asked my late mother to send them - and I was so enraptured by the prose (in translation of course) and the content - there is so much going on, it is not just about the story - Musil was a philosopher. This work is in the league of the greatest 20th century novels, it is not a question of having to read it, it is just a question of when will you read it - and reread it.
James Kendley
Mar 09, 2012 James Kendley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing window into the intellectual life of a world gone by. Brilliant, brilliant book that took weeks for me to read and will take years to digest.
Nov 22, 2014 Speranza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
Warning: Pathetic rambling gibberish to follow that does The Man Without Qualities no justice.

Finally! My sentence is over. This book kept me imprisoned for more than two months and I am now thrown back into the real world.
Prison is a strange place. It made my heart heavy, longing for the company of all those books running at large out there – piling up on my reader, staring at me seductively from my shelves, calling me from bookstore windows.

Yet, as much as I craved freedom, I found comfort be
Jun 03, 2015 Awrup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A novel, yet more than just a novel, spanning many themes. A mix of fiction, poetry, essays; fantasy, aphorism, philosophy, all rolled into one, a truly modern novel. Written at the cusp of the decline of empire and the modern era. A "polyhistorical" novel. Yet, it is an unfinished work. Musil stands only in the company of few, with this epic — its condensed expanse, to paraphrase Kundera, who incidentally led me to Musil, through The Art of Novel.
Paul Adkin
May 21, 2012 Paul Adkin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superb book. One of the greatest novels of all time.
Apr 08, 2015 James rated it it was amazing
Long, continues my foray into Austria-Hungary. Novel of ideas seems contemporary at times with issues of consciousness and reality. Finished Volume 1 2/15/15 and checked out Volume 2 from Rockefeller Library on 2/17/15. Reading a book of criticism on novel. Finished Volume 2 on 4/3/15
Leo Robertson
Here’s a song for you.

The song is ‘Bros’ by Panda Bear, maybe you’ve heard of it. Anyway, have a wee listen to it now, a minute or so (or it'll make good background music while you read this review!) Okay, fine, it’s a breezy summery song, nothing too special. But did you hear the screaming, sobbing, racecar, owl hoots, or anything else that makes up the dense collection of samples? It’s blurry, messy, no two listens are alike. You pick up on different things each time. To me at least, listenin
Michael Greening
Please consider reading this book.
Jul 17, 2013 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
by far my favourite book
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
reading challenge 7 23 Sep 19, 2015 02:47AM  
Reading the incomplete 4 50 Sep 19, 2015 12:46AM  
E-book of the complete Wilkins-Kaiser translation? 1 7 Nov 29, 2014 08:08AM  
role of comic devices in creating new insights 1 6 Nov 11, 2014 09:35AM  
The Novel 100: Marchs book to read... 3 13 Mar 31, 2012 10:31PM  
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Austrian writer.

He graduated military boarding school at Eisenstadt (1892-1894) and then Hranice, in that time also known as Mährisch Weißkirchen, (1894-1897). These school experiences are reflected in his first novel - The confusions of young Törless.

He served in army during World War I. When Austria became a part of the Third Reich in 1938, Musil left for exile in Switzerland, where he died of
More about Robert Musil...

Other Books in the Series

The Man Without Qualities (4 books)
  • The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 1
  • The Man Without Qualities, Volume 2
  • The Man Without Qualities: Vol 3

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“The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the title and the table of contents. Anyone who lets himself go and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian...He's bound to lose perspective.” 54 likes
“His appearance gives no clue to what his profession might be, and yet he doesn't look like a man without a profession either. Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. He can put his mind to any question at any time. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fearless, tenacious, dashing, circumspect—why quibble, suppose we grant him all those qualities—yet he has none of them! They have made him what he is, they have set his course for him, and yet they don't belong to him. When he is angry, something in him laughs. When he is sad, he is up to something. When something moves him, he turns against it. He'll always see a good side to every bad action. What he thinks of anything will always depend on some possible context—nothing is, to him, what it is: everything is subject to change, in flux, part of a whole, of an infinite number of wholes presumably adding up to a super-whole that, however, he knows nothing about. So every answer he gives is only a partial answer, every feeling an opinion, and he never cares what something is, only 'how' it is—some extraneous seasoning that somehow goes along with it, that's what interests him.” 37 likes
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