Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self

Do you consider yourself self-centered? This may be a difficult question to answer, but according to author Andrea Wulf, it may not be so much your ego’s fault as it is a widespread issue in modern society. 

In her book “Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self,” 

Wulf explores when society reached this turning point of self-centeredness and adopted the expectation that we are entitled to determine our own lives. 

Something that stood out to me in the book was Wulf inquiring when exactly humans first asked the question, “How can I be free?” This question then catapults the reader into 1790s Germany, where a group of playwrights, poets, and writers whom Wulf calls “the Jena Set” ponder their thinking, writing, and lives. 

This group includes famous poets like Goethe and Schiller, along with philosophers like Fichte, Schelling, and many more vibrant souls and characters. It is the perfect crew to stimulate engaging and thought-provoking conversations surrounding the self, nature, identity, and freedom.

Taking a peek into the past reminds us that we are still motivated by so many of the same emotions and aspirations as people from any past period. We are enamored with the creative potential of the individual and the highest aspirations of art and science. 

I highly recommend this book for those looking for an inspirational read and analysis of the modern tension between selfishness and the possibilities of free will.

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