Riehl was born in Biebrich in the Duchy of Nassau and died in Munich. Riehl was born into a settled middle-class background, was a professor at the University of Munich, and later in life a curator of Bavarian antiquities.
According to George Mosse,
"Riehl's writings became normative for a large body of Volkish thought...he constructed a more completely integrated Volkish view of man and society as they related to nature, history, and landscape....in his famous Land und Leute (Land and People), written in 1857-63," which "discussed the organic nature of a Volk which he claimed could only be attained if it fused with the native landscape....Riehl rejected all artificiality and defined modernity as a nature contrived by man and thus devoid of that genuineness to which living nature alone gives meaning...Riehl pointed to the newly developing urban centers as the cause of social unrest and the democratic upsurge of 1848 in Hessia"....for many "subsequent Volkish thinkers, only nature was genuine."
"Riehl desired a hierarchical society that patterned after the medieval estates. In Die bürgerliche Gesellschaft (Bourgeois Society) he accused those of Capitalist interest of "disturbing ancient customs and thus destroying the historicity of the Volk."
..."animosity towards the city was an integral part of the rise of Volkish thought. At times it was expressed in the slogan "Berlin is the domain of the Jews" or in the remark by another writer that "cities are the tombs of Germanism". Not until the big cities were devastated in the Second World War did this hostility end.... Only with their annihilation did the cities attain equal ideological status with the rooted peasantry. Such ideas secured a place for Riehl in the history of Volkish thought. Such superficial actions as the founding of the Riehl Bund (1920) and the Riehl Prise for German Volkskunde (1935) only symbolized a more profound influence."
Riehl argued that the 'working class' were the most respectable Volk, since they were best attuned to nature itself. Throughout his work, Riehl displays a strong conviction that the German people and land are intrinsically connected to one another. He also is considered the founder of the "German ethnographic Volkskunde" and drew many of his conclusions in his work from his personal experiences hiking throughout Germany.