From the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature comes an exhilarating story about a remarkable group of young rebels—poets, novelists, philosophers—who, through their epic quarrels, passionate love stories, heartbreaking grief, and radical ideas launched Romanticism onto the world stage, inspiring some of the greatest thinkers of the time.

"Make[s] the reader feel as if they were in the room with the great personalities of the age, bearing witness to their insights and their vanities and rages.” —Lauren Groff, New York Times best-selling author of Matrix

When did we begin to be as self-centered as we are today? At what point did we expect to have the right to determine our own lives? When did we first ask the question, How can I be free? It all began in a quiet university town in Germany in the 1790s, when a group of playwrights, poets, and writers put the self at center stage in their thinking, their writing, and their lives. This brilliant circle included the famous poets Goethe, Schiller, and Novalis; the visionary philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; the contentious Schlegel brothers; and, in a wonderful cameo, Alexander von Humboldt. And at the heart of this group was the formidable Caroline Schlegel, who sparked their dazzling conversations about the self, nature, identity, and freedom.

The French revolutionaries may have changed the political landscape of Europe, but the young Romantics incited a revolution of the mind that transformed our world forever. We are still empowered by their daring leap into the self, and by their radical notions of the creative potential of the individual, the highest aspirations of art and science, the unity of nature, and the true meaning of freedom. We also still walk the same tightrope between meaningful self-fulfillment and destructive narcissism, between the rights of the individual and our responsibilities toward our community and future generations. At the heart of this inspiring book is the extremely modern tension between the dangers of selfishness and the thrilling possibilities of free will.
“The Jena Set was a late-eighteenth-century group of philosophers, artists, and thinkers so earthquakingly brilliant that we feel the tremors their ideas set off under our feet today. Nobody but Andrea Wulf, with her exquisite grasp of ideas and personalities, with her meticulous, sensitive, and acutely observed prose, could make the reader feel as if they were in the room with the great personalities of the age, bearing witness to their insights and their vanities and rages. Her storytelling had me immediately in her thrall.”
—Lauren Groff, New York Times best-selling author of Matrix

"Magnificent Rebels thrums with all the redhot frenzy, wild passion, and radical ideas of a free new world created out of poetry, sex, music, and romanticism! Wulf's superb group biography of the German Romantics is elegantly written, deeply researched, and totally gripping." 
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, New York Times best-selling author of The Romanovs

"Truly extraordinary ... An intellectual history, group portrait, and elegy to Romanticism, which at points reads like a prizewinning novel. You feel you’re there in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Germany, experiencing the debates, disputations, and deep emotional interconnections between the most profound philosophers and greatest writers of the era as they grapple with the birth of the modern."
—Andrew Roberts, New York Times best-selling author of Napoleon: A Life

“A magnificent book, fascinating in its focus and breathtaking in its scope and sweep. . . . Magnificent Rebels is a work of formidable scholarship worn lightly; of complex intellectual history told evocatively, absorbingly, compellingly. Wulf’s superb prose draws us deeply into the lives and minds of this remarkable circle of people, who together explored the breathtaking possibilities — and tremendous risks — of free will, individual creativity and liberty."
—Robert Macfarlane, New York Times best-selling author of Underland

“Andrea Wulf is that rare historian who makes the past feel present and turns distant lives into gripping stories of the human heart. Without doubt, Magnificent Rebels is the best book I’ve read all year. It is an absolute masterpiece: mesmerizing, heartbreaking and incredibly timely, it is an important reminder that the desire to be true to oneself transcends time and borders.”
—Amanda Foreman, New York Times best-selling author of A World on Fire

“After her triumphant open-air biography of the explorer Alexander Humboldt who traversed half the globe, Andrea Wulf brings that same passionate gaze to bear upon a single, tiny, late-eighteenth-century university town in Germany. The result is a big, thrilling and constantly surprising book – an extraordinarily intimate and down to earth group biography. Wulf’s astonishingly vivid and bustling narrative, moves swiftly from lecture halls and libraries to kitchens and bedrooms, producing an amazing polyphony of youthful ideas and impassioned voices. . . . Brilliantly orchestrating a mass of original letters, diaries, and archival documents, Wulf revives a whole world of intense friendships, shifting intellectual alliances, furious philosophical arguments, inspirational suppers (including the cooking), theatrical first nights, seductive carriage journeys, hypnotic candlelit lectures and, of course, non-stop love affairs and betrayals (including the ecstatic love-making and equally ecstatic rows) ... It is a glorious piece of work, both thought-provoking and magical, and I loved it.” —Richard Holmes, New York Times best-selling author of The Age of Wonder

"Magnificent Rebels is a beautiful group biography, celebrating the lives and loves of Germany’s most brilliant minds: Goethe, Schiller, Fichte, Novalis, Schlegel, Schelling and Hegel. At the centre of their group in the small university town of Jena was a free-spirited, thrice married, single-mother named Caroline Michaelis-Böhmer-Schlegel-Schelling. She carried her father’s and husbands’ names but her life was entirely her own. Caroline is Andrea Wulf’s soulmate. This is a perfect pairing of author and subject – a joyful, life-affirming, freedom-loving tour de force." 
—Ruth Scurr, author of Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows