Hesse grew up in a small town in the Black Forest area of Germany. He was a difficult child, resisted authority and became a loner. He knew he wanted to become a writer in his early teen years. By his late teens he was reading books on Greek mythology and such prominent German writers as Schiller, Lessing, Goethe, and Nietzsche.
His first successful novel was Peter Camenzind (1904), whose hero is a young man from a mountain town who struggles to become a poet. The novel was popular throughout Germany and was praised by Sigmund Freud.
Steppenwolf (1927) concerns Harry Haller, who, much like Hesse, feels himself to be an outsider in society, and wrestles with his dual nature as both a spiritual man and a low, animalistic one. The book is named for the lone wolf of the steppes. The 1960s band Steppenwolf is named for Hesse's work. So is the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. In San Francisco, the Magic Theatre Company is named for a place included in the novel. The Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound of Silence draws upon imagery in the book.
Siddhartha (1922) tells the story of a young man's pursuit for enlightenment in India during the lifetime of the Buddha. An English translation was first published in the United States in 1951, and it became wildly popular as the youth of the Sixties turned to it in their own pursuit of enlightenment. Several musicians, including Pete Townshend, referred to Siddhartha in their work.