Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Michael Kohlhaas” as Want to Read:
Michael Kohlhaas
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Michael Kohlhaas

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  3,654 ratings  ·  223 reviews
Based on historical events, this thrilling saga of violence and retribution bridges the gap between Medieval and modern literature, and speaks so profoundly to the contemporary spirit that it has been the basis of numerous plays, movies, and novels.

It has become, in fact, a classic tale: that of the honorable man forced to take the law into his own hands. In this incendiar
Paperback, 133 pages
Published April 1st 2005 by Melville House (first published 1810)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Michael Kohlhaas, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Michael Kohlhaas

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,654 ratings  ·  223 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Michael Kohlhaas
Bill Kerwin
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novella

It is not surprising Kafka loved this novella so much that it often brought him to tears, for here, a hundred years before Kafka, Kleist created a hero whose single-minded attempt to right one act of injustice leads him into a nebulous world of bureaucratic timidity, familial influence, and existential absurdity where he is transformed into a criminal, defined as a terrorist, and eventually deprived of everything in life except one final secret, one silence.

But the marvelous thing about Michael
The story of a man whose sense of justice turns him into a robber and a murderer.

This story is reinterpreted in the novel Ragtime.

I bought this book the first on my long and very slow road to acquaintance with Kleist, in Kassel(view spoiler)
Manuel Antão
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2000
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Tossed Hither and Thither: "Michael Kohlhaas" by Heinrich von Kleist

Just back from a long train journey, I took the opportunity to read Michael Kohlhaas in German. I can't imagine this text in English; it somehow seems simultaneously modern, and of the time in which the story is set. The actual language hardly intrudes at all, but there are particular words or phrases whose recurrance or juxtaposition hints at darker, hidden meaning; h
Feb 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
the repetition contained within this novella raises, once again, the perennial question regarding a strategy in which the narrative structure itself is meant to mimic and/or reinforce the work's major theme; a kind of narrative onomatopoeia, if you will. one considers godard's slow-moving 15 minute tracking shot of traffic in weekend and wonders if his point (a cinematic representation of the repetition & monotony of a particular aspect of contemporary life) comes across or if just bores the liv ...more
You better not mess with Michael Kohlhaas!

Kohlhaas was a model 16th century citizen. He was one of the most righteous people around. He was God-fearing, benevolent, just, and faithful. And then he became a raider and a murderer. And the reason for this was his righteousness.

That's pretty much the summary of the first paragraph in Kleist's novella. I pondered a while what else there is to say about this book that may want you to read it, because read it you must. In the end I think the above shou
Ben Winch
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I just re-read this for the first time in ten years or so and it was great. I laughed aloud at the absurdity of it, and yeah, I thought of Kafka more than once. Kleist's grasp of storytelling is phenomenal here - it all happens so quickly, and because the thing goes for 100 pages or so we're soon surrounded by a labyrinth of no less complexity (probably greater complexity) than the one faced by K. in The Castle. I mean, this is off the scale. And it's thrilling, to see the contortions Kleist can ...more
Alice Poon
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
In 2013 I saw the film adaptation Michael Kohlhaas at the French Film Festival in Hong Kong and was very impressed with the powerful theme of one man’s obsessive quest for justice and the intensely haunting cinematography and acoustics.

Recently I saw a GR friend’s review of the novella and was lured to read it. Styled in a chronicle format, the novella is written with impassive detachment, which actually adds to the poignancy of the story that is based on a true event in 16th century Germany (th
Aug 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
_Michael Kohlhaas_ is a fictionalized account of an actual historical event. A horse trader from Brandenburg on a journey to Saxony is falsely extorted for a border crossing by the Squire Wenzel von Tronka, who also keeps two of Kohlhaas’ horses as surety against the trader’s inability to pay. Upon arriving at Saxony, Kohlhass learns that, as he suspected, the border tax was a ruse and on his return journey demands his horses back from the squire. Instead he finds that the servant he had left in ...more
In this story, inspired by an old chronicle of the 16th century, in a Germany fragmented between small states, Kohlhaas, a wealthy horse dealer, collides. At the same time, he went a fair of Saxony in the company of three of his animals, at a toll belonging to a mean and frivolous squire. The passage prohibited until obtaining a pass. Kohlhaas leaves his animals, as a pledge, and their upkeep, one of his valets with a sum of money. Once in Dresden, he learns that this regulation is arbitrary and ...more
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Wanda by: Karen
Project Gutenberg - -

Karen found another Project Gutenberg ebook which contains both a different translation and an interactive table of contents. Find it here:
Thank you, Karen.

3 MAR 2016 - Maintaining an obstinately stubborn vigilante mindset is not a good idea!
Oct 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A man caught between the grindstones of nepotism, corruption and sheer disinterest, whose outrage makes him take justice into his own hands and exact a terrible revenge against the arbitrary extortion of a local baron. The final scene of his execution sees his magnificent triumph; the state takes his life, but he takes a secret with him to the grave. Radical, disturbing.
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tsundoku

First of all, here's Becca Rothfeld saying it better than I can:

Scalding, propulsive momentum. Poor Kohlhaas tries to fight city hall and even though he’s right to be outraged at how he’s being swindled at every turn his righteous outrage is no match for the bureaucracy of early modern Germany. Even Martin Luther passive-aggressively yanks his chain (which really isn’t all that surprising, all things considered). And when he goes on a red-eyed rampage to
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
A married employee of a catholic school was accused of having sex with the school physician right there inside the school clinic during office hours. She was dismissed for improper conduct and immorality. The evidence on this was weak because the lone witness to this was the school janitor whose testimony was not only shot full of holes, but he even reported the incident quite very late--around five months after it supposedly happened. A court, however, gave credence to the charge because of ano ...more
Jul 23, 2016 rated it liked it
The introduction of my version of Kohlhaas waxes over Kafka's infatuation with von Kleist, an author who had to some extent been vilified in the nineteenth century for his wilful inversions of the romantic mode. Though he was considered a Romantic, there is little of the violently throbbing heart, little Sturm und Drang, to his prose. Rather, it seems finely calibrated, and indeed in its labyrinthine ways bears a resemblance to Kafka.

Kohlhaas is a small man who, on the face of it, can no longer
Would it be too contradictory to say that it was an interesting story and that it bored me out of my mind? Maybe I'd better say that the writing style didn't agree with me. I found it difficult to follow what was happening, especially because so many people were referred to by nothing other than a title, which made it pretty much impossible for me to keep things straight. I did feel sorry for the main character, and I do think that it's a good illustration of just how far law can be manipulated ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it

I enjoyed it & I think some of the themes are still relevant.
The writing style was good but overall it was missing something for me.
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How much sacrifice is justice worth? And how far can you go while seeking justice before your cause itself becomes unjust?

Michael Kohlhaas, a horse dealer from 16th-century Brandenburg, is on his way to a market in the neighbouring country of Saxony when he is stopped at the estate of nobleman Wenzel von Tronka and asked to present transit papers due to a new law. Unable to do so, he is forced to leave two of his horses as collateral.

In Dresden (the capital of Saxony), Kohlhaas finds out that
Jessica Hansen
Edit Review:
I read this book again even if I originally didn't enjoyed it at all because of a discussion I had with my boyfriend. I have to say that I still don't like this book but I think it deserves 2.5 stars instead of 1 star. The story itself is actually quite interesting. I don't like Kohlhaas as a protagonist because I think his revenge is exaggerated but I think the plot of the story is meaningful and that is why I change my review after reading this again on my own. I know I wrote that
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1315-read, all-boxall
Michael Kohlhaas was kind of a badass!

 photo michael-kohlhaas-pictures-5_zpsd17038e9.jpg

I expected a stuffy old story, but NO! This man was wronged by some sniveling dude who just happened to have familial ties to governmental agents, which resulted in Michael not being able to obtain justice. But, when he takes matters into his own hands, he starts a series of events that will not be stopped.

I totally want to see this movie, but it's in French. (I think - possibly German, but I'm pretty sure it's in French.) So, I'm anxiously awaiting the
Josh Friedlander
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kafka said that he "could not even think of this work without being moved to tears and enthusiasm", and you can see why he, of all people, liked it: it is a gripping but somewhat gloomy fable of a spirited fight for justice in the face of a corrupt and passive world. But also it's kind of like a gritty early modern Holy Roman Imperial superhero story, an unexpected page-turner.

Also note that both the (100% public domain) translation and recording (by Greg W on Librivox) are top notch.
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit that was insane - the part of my peabrain currently in 2020 is like "that was more bonkers than a tarantino revenge flick, even in the (very) slow parts" - would that I could invoke somebody other than that misogynist toe-sucker as a comparison, BUT I'm far more wrapped up in trying to figure out what the f happened in last 15 pages. Could it be that this decapitation is more glorious and demented than Julian's in The Red and The Black? Consider me a convert, Geist von Kleist, I'll rev ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is not a historical fiction good-time read. I think it is meant for historians or history class more so than a semi-literate Colorado housewife wanting a little German history. It’s antiquated language was mind numbing, it’s possible the translation (from German) made this worse. The chronicle of 1 man fighting corruption in government and injustice is a classic, sad tale. It is a worthy story to be told, but I am shallow enough to admit I would love a modern rendition.

I would love a recom
Oct 28, 2019 added it
Shelves: favorites, 2019
very clear that suskind's perfume was inspired by this, and coetzee's life and times of michael k (both of which have other ties apart from this, weirdly). a friend described this as "the original joker story" and i can't unsee it. man is cheated and goes full fucking flamethrower. as a fellow vindictive and sanctimonious person, i approve. favorited.
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely marvelous! I had never heard of this story before (shame on me) and was wowed by it. How is it that this story was written in 1808? Crazy! It's like reading a very modern story even though it's over 200 years old. Just boggles my mind. WOW.
It's clear the influence this had on Kafka. It's easy to read through an Agamben lens as well. A wild ride!
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it
A man with a sense of justice is carried by this virtue to be a robber and a murderer.

It was very difficult to read the book. The format of the edition I read (made in the USA, San Bernardino, CA, 09 April, 2018) was not friendly. Long paragraph and long sentences.

The story shows the world in its worst side.

I was relieved when I complete reading it.
Tom Lee
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books-2008
When does it behoove someone to take the law into their own hands, and when does justice become vengeance? Within this microcosm of 16th century German life, Kleist ponders these questions
Angelo Leonor
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
an incredible and simple story
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this together with 'The earthquake in Chili' and 'The Marquise of O.'. While the others are short stories, Michael Kohlhaas is a novella and I liked it best of the three. In fact, it's the only story I really liked. Again, there's a lot of action, a lot of coincidences, the characters are put into extraordinary situations and act extraordinarily.

Michael Kohlhaas is a horse trader revolting against injustice he suffers from a local noble who high-handedly levies unjustified charges, takes
Michael Kohlhaas is a classic in German literature. I found the book by accident and really enjoyed it.
Michael Kohlhaas tells the story of a horse-dealer of the same name, who encounters injustice by the rulers of his country and is determined to fight for his rights and obtain justice. When his law-suit fails to achieve the desired results he is even prepared to take up arms against. This story is based on real events that happened in Brandenburg and Saxony (both Germany) during the mid-16th ce
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Die Judenbuche
  • Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts
  • Woyzeck
  • Die Räuber
  • Das Fräulein von Scuderi
  • Der Besuch der alten Dame
  • Kabale und Liebe
  • Nathan der Weise
  • Bahnwärter Thiel
  • Don Karlos: Infant von Spanien
  • Henry von Ofterdingen
  • Simplicissimus
  • Wilhelm Tell
  • Der Schimmelreiter
  • Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre
  • Götz von Berlichingen
  • The Wonderful O
See similar books…
The dramatist, writer, lyricist, and publicist Heinrich von Kleist was born in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1777. Upon his father's early death in 1788 when he was ten, he was sent to the house of the preacher S. Cartel and attended the French Gymnasium. In 1792, Kleist entered the guard regiment in Potsdam and took part in the Rhein campaign against France in 1796. Kleist voluntarily resigned from ar ...more

Related Articles

Emma Straub was all set to spend May on tour promoting her new novel, All Adults Here. Instead, due to the global pandemic, the Brooklyn-based...
14 likes · 5 comments
“Ben bu toplumun dışına atılmış olmasaydım, insan topluluğuna açtığım bu savaş, kötü bir davranış sayılabilirdi.” 2 likes
“Yasanın korumadığı kimseyi ben, devlet topluluğunun dışına atılmış sayarım.” 2 likes
More quotes…