Published in 1901, Buddenbrooks was 26-year-old Thomas Mann’s first novel and the work that set his career on a relentlessly inevitable path toward winning the Nobel Prize twenty-eight years later. The story covers four generations of the titular family on their way to decline throughout the 19th century. The novel contains one of the most fascinating central metaphors for the root cause of the family’s misfortune and ultimate downfall through succeeding generations: the rotting teeth of patriarch Thomas Buddenbrooks.
That hidden weakness which is manifested early, but does not take full significance until after a visit to the dentist become symbol of what eventually undoes the success he worked so hard to build for the family. The genetic strain of weakness and poor health will ravage the Buddenbrook until they are no longer equipped to fend off the rivals grown more suited to survival in the world on the cusp of the 20th century.
At thegreatestbooks.org, a web site that that uses an algorithm to generate a ranking of the best novels of all time culled from books that have been chosen for representation on over 100 such independent lists, Buddenbrooks was ranked as the 96th greatest novel of all time as of summer 2017.