Herzog, the hero, is a university professor. He is knowledgeable, kind and sensitive, but he is at variance with the real society. He was married twice and divorced twice. The second wife, Madeleine, was fooling around with his best friend and drove him out of the house. Like an outsider, Herzog wandered about outside the family and society, but he could not find a spiritual way out. He was extremely miserable and lonely in heart, and he kept writing letters to all kinds of people, exploring and searching for the meaning of survival. He knew that he would not be understood, but regarded as a lunatic. But then he felt happier and more peaceful than he had ever felt before. Herzog came to visit an old flame, but immediately left without saying goodbye. Later, he returned to his childhood home and took an old gun that his father had left behind. He wants to kill Madeleine and Valentine. But after seeing Valentine patiently bathe his little daughter, he lost the will to kill. Soon after, he had a car accident. The police found his gun and detained him. His brother paid the fine before he was set free. Herzog in his middle years was bewildered, dizzy, mentally broken and helpless. In the end, Herzog and his lover Ramona return to their country home and found a home in love and nature.
The name of the protagonist of the novel focuses on a middle-aged Jewish intellectual seeking psychological balance, trying to find a foothold in the process. Herzog is a Jewish historian who teaches in the university. He is a senior intellectual who advocates rationality and bourgeois humanism. He believes in the development of social civilization and cares about the living conditions of human beings. Two failed marriages, his best friend became the lover of his second wife, and his emotional difficulties drove him almost insane. Because real life is everywhere against him, the hero fell into the habit of writing letters in the crazy meditation of a deep spiritual exploration. He vented his frustrations in words or in his head in a thousand letters but never sent any. He wrote to family members, relatives, friends, newspaper editors, even enemies, and prominent members of society, living and dead. Here Bellow does not directly show the readers Herzog’s personal life experience, but lets the isolated intellectuals in real life reflect his confusion in the process of trying to state the past, search for rationality, clarify thinking and find themselves.