Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Overall Rating: 4
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Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Title: Italienische Reise [Italian Journey]
Time: 1786-88
Destination: Italy
Length: about 2 years
Type: overland
Rating: 4/10

The boring genius

First things first: By the time JWG embarks on his big journey to Italy, he is already a veritable superstar: Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther) of 1774 had been a real zinger, and JGW had consequently been made JW von G in 1782.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a star breaks out

The story of this journey: JWG breaks out of the German literary circles to look for inspiration in the sunnier climes of Italy. This is a pretty popular thing to do at the time, even though Italian roads were surprisingly dangerous back then. Anyway, JWG willingly takes on this journey, hoping to broaden his knowledge of natural sciences and art history in the process.

But it is about more than that: he is in fact looking for a certain cultivation of character. I don’t know if he came back a better man. But I think from what I’ve read, he came back with a pretty boring book. (But then I didn’t like Die Leiden des jungen Werther or Wilhelm Meister that much either.) Why is this book so lame?

too much genius

I think the problem lies in the fact that JWG secretly knows about his own genius. And to me, it was just tiring to hear the echo of it in every one of his words. I didn’t enjoy reading his endless ramblings about botany or geology. His thoughts on art were wordy but okay. But when he was like “I’m going to turn into a painter now!” I found myself yawning and counting the pages.

The worst thing about this book though: JWG is so obsessed with the cultivation of his own character that he seems to grow completely indifferent to other human beings (as long as they’re not hot chicks). This book is mostly about him. And his genius.


The only reason this one is getting a 4/10 is because JWG is a true master of the aphorism:  ”Nature is, after all, the only book that offers important content on every page.”

Word. 4/10 it is.

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