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First: From a prose point of view, I found the first 50 to 100 pages of this translation to be very difficult going. More astute readers would probably pick up on the subtle humor (Ziolkowski mentions it in his introduction) but I found it dry and tough going. I mention this because I've run into a number of people who say, "I really wanted to like it, but I couldn't even make it past the first 50 pages!" If you find this to be the case, just grin and bear it: Know that after the first 100 pages the book picks up considerably in pace.
I won't comment on the book's philosophical corollaries or references, since others better versed in such things have already done so, better than I could.
Rather, one of the aspects of the book that I found particularly compelling is the Game itself and the ideas behind it.
The Glass Bead Game, as Hesse describes it, is a meditation, seemingly both competitive and collaborative, on different fields of knowledge, where the point is to take concepts from otherwise disparate disciplines and associate them in creative, profound ways -- finding a pattern shared rhythmically by a piece of Baroque music and spatially by ancient Chinese architecture, say.
An observation I've made over time is that of all the people I know, those that I would say are possessed by genius all share a common trait, the ability, to use the cliche, to "Think Outside the Box." To realize new, previously unseen associations between things is a quality of a great mind, and here Hesse acknowledges the value of this talent, elevating it even to an artform (though I suppose the Castalian players in the novel would firmly call it "post-art".)
The analogy I make is to 2D math: Consider a point in space, represented in either Cartesian or polar coordinates. Each representation is as valid as the other, but each representation, makes different analyses easier and others harder.
Another good analogy is the Windows 98/2000/XP explorer window: the window displays a list of files, with a number of columns of various information. You can click a column header to sort the list by that information. A given sort makes certain things easier, and others harder. If I sort by file size, I can easily find the largest file. If I sort by name, I can easily find a file beginning with the letter 'C'.
The idea of the Game is, essentially, to find different "sort columns" -- to find different ways to slice knowledge to compare it and examine it and learn from it.
The fascination of *Glass Bead Game* was that, for me, it began to formalize the idea of meta-knowledge -- that is, how we think about what we know. There's probably tons of psychology literature about this phenomenon, learning theory, or whatnot, but Hesse manages to incorporate it not into a dissertation on the Game, but on a decidedly artistic book that revolves around the Game. What talent, to so eloquently present such a profound idea as merely one aspect of a larger work of art!
It took me about a month to read this entire book, consistently reading twenty or thirty pages a night. When I finished, I found that some nights I'd get so caught up thinking about the book and its implications and possibilities that I'd be unable to fall asleep.
Rarely do I have the opportunity to read something so compelling!