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GOOD BENITO: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Alan Lightman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $9.78
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

From the author of the best-selling Einstein’s Dreams comes a wonderfully original, deeply moving, and wryly funny novel about the clash between the absolutes of science and the vagaries of human experience.
Bennett always knew he would live a life of science. From the homemade rockets and experiments of his childhood to the complex equations he solved as a professor of physics, his vision has transformed the uncertainty and frailty of life into an order and beauty that he inhabits with deep satisfaction. But his vision betrays him, revealing a profound incompleteness, an inadequacy to confront the contradictions his life: the black maid who raises him and loves him but cannot welcome him into her own house, the mentally absent father who wishes he’d died a hero in World War II, the self-destructive wife who invites Bennett’s cruelty. As Bennett struggles between reason and intuition, he slowly learns to allow the imperfections of daily life—the chaos he has worked so hard to control—to broaden his understanding of the world and his place in it.
Written with lyrical sparseness, hilarity mixed with sadness, the story of Bennett’s struggle becomes both a beautifully rendered portrait of the emotional life of a scientist and a resonant tale of the disillusionment that haunts us all.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A more prosaic work than his ingenious Einstein's Dreams, Lightman's second novel is a disillusioned bildungsroman about a physicist, Bennett Lang, who ends up discovering how little he knows of the world and its people. Told in self-contained, spare vignettes, the story chronicles a series of failed relationships between Lang and family, friends or lovers. Counterbalancing these personal affairs is the physicist's competitive scientific career, from boyhood rocket experiments to graduate school equation-crunching and academic intrigue. While trying to purify himself mathematically, Lang runs into the unpredictable human element, which has led to his Ph.D. advisor's dwindling productivity and an eccentric colleague's inability to publish but which inspires Lang to his personal breakthrough in problem-solving. Ultimately, Lang realizes that his constrained universe has squeezed out the people closest to him, such as his ne'er-do-well uncle, addicted to gambling and household repair, and his wife, whose painting is at odds with his ambitions for her. Despite an array of well-drawn secondary characters, a sense of anticlimax pervades the book like background radiation, and, after the compulsive readability of his dreaming Einstein, the appeal of Lightman's new protagonist, though not inconsequential, has a short half-life.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

As a physicist, Bennett Lang prefers the elegant purity of scientific equations to the inevitable messiness of human life. Warned by his mentor to avoid any questions that cannot be answered with mathematical certainty, Bennett finds himself repeatedly involved in problems that defy such solutions. His friend becomes hopelessly addicted to drugs, his uncle gambles compulsively, his father silently suffers the traumas induced by World War II, and his wife is a talented but fiercely self-destructive artist. Lightman's narrative is brief and episodic, leaving haunting gaps between events. Since the story covers more than 30 years of Bennett's life, characters appear and disappear with sparse development. Much less cerebral than Einstein's Dreams (LJ 11/15/92), this second novel remains equally elegant in style. Recommended for general collections.
--Albert Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 214 KB
  • Print Length: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (March 23, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004J4XA6O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,834 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science Makes Sense, but Life Does Not. February 14, 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alan Lightman has written a series of vignettes about the passage of an idealistic youth into not-very-rewarding adulthood. Although Benito (as his best friend John dubbed him) has success in theoretical science, it is not matched when it comes to his personal encounters later in life, where relentless bad fortune is visited upon him as he grows older.
Possibly because I grew up similarly in the warm grasp of science, I thoroughly enjoyed Bennett's childhood experiences and his close friendship with John, who shared his interests. Later, Bennito was most at home in the detached world of mathematics, where a clean sheet of white paper and a pencil opened the magical doors to his creativity. He naturally was led to a career in science, which provided him with all the satisfactions and rewards he seemed to need.
But it did not prepare him to share his life with other people. Nor did his meager interactions with his parents, particularly his father, give him a good foundation for life. Lightman suggests that to be successful in physics, one must be obsessed by it until age forty. Benito was. And it paid off careerwise. But there is still the last half of one's life to be lived. Benito found a wife, a beautifully sensitive creature, but she was not really meant for this world. Their relationship developed promisingly at first. But then what happened? What makes people act in self-destructive ways? A lack of preparation in youth, perhaps. But whose fault, or responsibility, is it?
I liked this book mostly for its insights into the creative process. In describing Bennett's brilliant teacher Davis, Lightman wrote: "...It seemed to Bennett that Davis took more pleasure in being wrong [about scientific problems] than in being right.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Benito is a superpartner to Einstein's Dreams September 26, 2002
Good Benito seems to have been somehow overlooked amid the attention to other Alan Lightman greats like Einstein's Dreams and The Diagnosis. That's unfortunate, since Benito shares equally with those two books in its ability to linger and continue growing larger in your mind long after reading it. This one has the curious twist of centering on an alter ego of the author, as with Orson Scott Card's "Lost Boys," with parallels eerily close enough to make you wonder how much or how little the author is taking liberties with biographical experiences. To see for yourself, compare fictional Bennett Long's breakthrough in globular cluster dynamics in Benito, with real-life Alan Lightman's breakthrough in globular cluster dynamics in the Review of Modern Physics (Volume 50, page 437, published 1978).
As such, the novel stands as much a creative quasi-autobiography as an apological defense for leaving a profession in physics. For Bennett strives constantly for a rational universe capable of becoming well-understood. But while his study of physics delightfully rewards this instinct, the vicissitudes of human life and the mysteries of human behavior are far more ambiguous and troubling. This plays out almost in a series of vignettes not unlike Einstein's Dreams in structure, with serial encounters and comraderies punctuated by modernist episodes of detail-laden solitude. A pot-smoking MIT roommate, a brilliant but estranged childhood friend, a gambling-addicted uncle, a compassionate nanny, and a harried astronomer, among others, all puzzle Bennett with their irrational motivations.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This falls short December 20, 2004
This book is a novel about Bennett Lang, a scholar of theoretical physics, and is told in short vignettes about his life, in terms of his relationships. These are in the form of relationships with teachers, lovers, friends and colleagues.

While the book purports to be a novel, as opposed to how skillfully and beautifully Einstein's Dreams was told in short, distinct and separated vignettes, it doesn't have the main aspect that we expect in a novel, which is that we expect to be able to connect the dots in the story to form a line of plot. While I think this book has something to offer in terms of some of its ideas on academia, ambition and relationships, they are not presented cohesively enough to make themselves known in a real and felt way for the reader.

Around 10 pages from the end of this book, I asked my husband, "Will we find out what this is ABOUT soon?" I think it would be more effective if it were more definitely divided a la "Einstein's Dreams" or more overtly connected, in the form of a more traditional novel. I would recommend skipping this one, and picking up "Einstein's Dreams" if you haven't already. That is a beautiful book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Throughout this book, the reader is drawn into Bennet's beautiful, sometimes comedic, but ultimately fruitless quest to reconcile his scientific, absolutist philosophy with the quirks and challenges of life. His decision to leave his wife, based upon a pseudo-mathematical reasoning, is a perfect example of this. The decision makes him sick with grief, yet he follows his reasoning and leaves. How can a scientific man face the all-to-emotional experience of life? Lightman shows the reader, through Bennet's strained relationships, that it is nearly impossible to do so, and the ambiguous ending leaves the reader to wonder if Bennet will allow him to bring his mind and heart into alignment. I thought that "Einstein's Dreams" was one of the best books I had ever read, but this work leaves me breathless every time I pick it up. By the way, does anyone know of where I can get my hands on the book mentioned in Good Benito, "Tactile Mountains," by Lucien?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book of all time
I first read this novel in college (about 15 years ago), and it's as moving now as it was then. Like a true physicist, Lightman describes something about the nature of the world... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Steve
2.0 out of 5 stars One of Lightman's lesser works
If you have read "Reunion" or "Einstein's Dreams", you'll be quite upset with this novel.

It seems rather limited in its scope, and is lacking metaphor like Lightman's... Read more
Published on March 29, 2006 by J. Barry
5.0 out of 5 stars Lightman is a marvelous writer
I would probably give this novel 4 stars, but I'm giving it 5 to boost up its average. Do ignore the other negative reviews. Read more
Published on July 1, 2005 by M. Le
1.0 out of 5 stars A collection of pointless unrelated short stories
This is not a novel but a collection of pointless, unrelated short stories. Good Will Hunting it ain't. To find out about physicists read Feyman's autobiographies or Radiance.
Published on November 10, 2002 by Phillip I. Good
4.0 out of 5 stars Are theoretical physicists that attractive to women?
While Lightman's depiction of the creative process
in theoretical physics is one of the best I've seen
in a work of fiction, too much about the protagonist
comes... Read more
Published on July 16, 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Great Benito
I loved the character descriptions and the constant thread running through the novel. Alan Lightman's style, written in the first person, is precise and void of overly descriptive... Read more
Published on April 29, 2002 by leron
4.0 out of 5 stars Short breezy novel. Enjoyably read, and quickly forgotten.
Although bery much different from the vignettes of Einstein's Dream, Alan Lightman's breezy and poetic voice is instantly recognizable. Read more
Published on June 11, 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Benito
Alan Lightman's Good Benito brilliantly tells the story of Bennett Lang; a story that is greatly augmented by Lightman's use of a non-linear storyline. Read more
Published on May 26, 2000 by Doug Tommasone
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to write home about
This is a somewhat engaging book with some nice stretches, but all-in-all a bit slight. Lightman's exposition on mathematics and physics and the lure of discovery in those areas... Read more
Published on February 15, 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine book. Worth reading
I don't agree with some of the reviewers below. I don't think this book was written with the intention of depicting the main character, Bennett ("Good Benito"), as a... Read more
Published on July 14, 1999
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More About the Author

Alan Lightman, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences since 1996, is adjunct professor of humanities at MIT. He is the author of several books on science, including "Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe" (1991) and "Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists" (with R. Brawer, 1990). His works of fiction include "Einstein's Dreams" (1993), "The Diagnosis" (2000), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and, most recently, "Reunion" (2003).

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