Book Review: “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

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This book came highly recommended from many people, good reviews on most sites and a good rating on GoodReads, but by the end of the book I failed to understand why. This book is the flawed journey of a an overly proud vain man. He mocks everyone and everything, doesn’t hold anyone above himself and doesn’t learn a whole lot after a whole lifetime. The self aggrandizing and intellectual dishonesty shown by the main character is quite frankly irritating. Throughout the book the character of Siddhartha is so sure of himself, he always just decides that his path is the right path, that his thoughts are the right thoughts, that it is only he who can teach himself and no one else. I dont understand where this is coming from, throughout his life not one thing happened which should show him that he is right about anything. He constantly mocks and berates everyone else, not having any regard for teachers, simple people or even people who he himself says have achieved nirvana.

For a book which is supposed to be about someone seeking enlightenment this book is surprisingly anti intellectual. Siddhartha has no desire or patience for knowledge of any kind. Even people who have taught him (Kammaswami, Kamala, Vasudeva, the Samanas) he mocks and berates. Every single page I was reminded of how much of a supreme prick he really is. Even when he realizes that he lost his path in the samsara he laments for a few paragraphs but he is right back to patting his own back in no time at all. When he is in need he doesnt ask the ferryman “will you take me across the river” but “do you want to take me across the river”. This is a subtle difference in language but shows a huge difference in the man’s character.

Furthermore I don’t understand his contempt for teachings and words. I understand words are inherently imperfect but disposing of them entirely is both counter productive and foolish. You cannot understand the meaning of something through words alone, but a good teacher will make you learn through similar experiences than theirs. Blindly following words leads to corruption (see: every major religion ever) but blindly doing whatever you want in life and calling that wisdom or knowledge is stupider.

The major flaw of the book is that it doesn’t challenge its own ideas. Except for a brief encounter with gautama and some brilliant advice by vasudeva, nobody attempts even a weak counter argument with Siddhartha. The amount of time the characters in the book spend on describing the perfection of Siddhartha is astoundingly vain. I seldom see a book so much in love with its main character outside of the genre of bad romance novels. Everything he does is perfect, if he decides it is so it damn well will be so. The book is like a bad parent, even when the Siddhartha’s whole life up till he escapes the city is proven to be a bad path the book gives it hugs and kisses saying “oh you realized its wrong and thus you are exactly the exalted one you thought yourself to be”.

All of this and more makes it a awful book supremely worthy of a one star.

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