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Ghost: A Novel Hardcover – October 23, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this smartly paced novel from the author of Einstein's Dreams, a divorced, former banker witnesses a supernatural event, inspiring him to continue the search for something that has hovered in the back of his mind throughout his life. A promising, handsome student in his younger years, middle-aged David struggles to restore order to his life and relationships after being sacked from his middling bank job. The search leads him to the local funeral home, where he takes a job as an apprentice among a cast less hip than the Six Feet Under crew, but compelling in a quieter way—the director, Martin, is a fatherly figure whose allegiance to his inherited profession rules an existence otherwise restricted by severe agoraphobia. After David has a vision he can't describe in words in the home's slumber room, he gets agitated to the point where he is compelled to confess to a loose-lipped friend. Soon, David's vision becomes a local media event, with unwanted consequences. Familiar questions about the existence of God, life after death and the fluidity of time arise, and the cast doesn't get the detail it deserves. But the momentum that builds alongside David's ensuing psychological turmoil is enough to carry the story. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In straightforward prose, Lightman tells the story of a divorced and childless forty-two-year-old man whose primary ambition has been to "understand the world," rather than change it. Believing that logic holds life together, he struggles to be content with his limited lot, but also admits to "searching for something" beyond himself, "some totality, which can be glimpsed only between the cracks." When he is let go from a mid-level banking position, he finds work in a mortuary, where, one day, he sees something he can only describe as a "vapor" apparently emanating from, or getting sucked into, a corpse. In the ensuing frenzy—a local paper gets wind of the story—he is forced to wrestle with fundamental beliefs about human existence. Unfortunately, Lightman’s fine sense of the upheavals that can occur when an ordinary person confronts the inexplicable is marred by the hollowness of his central character.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421693
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Williams on March 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Review of: Ghost

By: Alan P Lightman

Published: 2007

The story is aptly named "Ghost" because it gives the reader a lot to think about while showing only a glimpse of its mystery.

Like all good ghosts this apparition gives us just a peek. The "Ghost" gives David (the protagonist and the witness) only one certainty, it exists. The "Ghost" is real. David is allowed only a few seconds to witness, but the apparition leaves no room for doubt. David saw a "Ghost"

Ironically, the protagonist says that the only science he remembers from school is the Pythagorean Theorem. He says:

"The Pythagorean Theorem I still know: The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of something or other. It has to do with the sides of triangles. Would a crazy person at age forty-two be able to remember anything about the Pythagorean Theorem?"

as proof that he has not gone crazy. Pythagoras was the founder of a religion as well as a mathematician. All that David recollects is the Pythagorean Theorem, not Pythagoreanism. Pythagoreanism (the Pythagorean religion) held the human soul is as real as the human body. David has accepted the concrete mechanical concept of Pythagoras, but is not even aware of Pythagorean concept of the soul.

David is reading Edward Gibbon's "The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" while searching for a job. David mentions this, to himself, and shows that he has time on his hands and that he is using it well (the penguin press edition is published in three volumes and is a total of 3,616 pages).
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kacey H. Kowars on November 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Alan Lightman is an author who trusts that his readers can deal with complex issues. The protagonist of the novel, David Kurtzweil, experiences an unexpected career change. He ends up working at a mortuary. One day, while working, he 'sees something' when sitting with a recently deceased corpse. The press finds out about his experience and writes about it. A paranormal society contacts David and he is tested to see if he has paranormal powers. GHOST is a fascinating look at the world of science versus the world of metaphysical experience. Only a writer like Mr. Lightman can pull off such a story. If you have not read Alan Lightman you should. EINSTEIN'S DREAMS remains one of the most creative works of fiction written in our generation. High praise.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Mary Chrapliwy VINE VOICE on March 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is written with lyrical prose reminiscent of Alice Hoffman's finest works. It isn't so much a suspense tale, or even a solid ghost story. It is about a man who experiences a phenomenon that he cannot fully define. He sees something that isn't thoroughly described - he isn't sure what he really saw.

When the story gets out that he saw something that may have been a spirit in the funeral home where he works, his life is thrown into complete upheaval. His mother, who is already a bit cold and self-centered, rejects his experience. His ex-wife, who is equally cold hearted, decided to show up, sending his life into further upheaval. I won't say more as I don't want to ruin the story.

This author has created a flawed character you come to care for. You agonize over the upheaval in his life. You hope, throughout the story, that he will end up with a happier life than the one he is leading. He becomes human in your mind. That is the mark of a story well told. I highly recommend this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on November 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
David Kurzweil is a middling man. He is middle-aged and a former middle manager who has lost his job at a large bank and soon finds himself working as an assistant at a family-owned funeral home. Although bright and intellectually curious (he reads Hume and Descartes and attended law school for one semester), he is content to live a tranquil life in a modest, all-male apartment building, sharing quiet evenings at home and walking around a lake with his librarian girlfriend. But what happens to him one afternoon in the funeral home's slumber room --- when he believes he sees "vapor [come] out of a dead body" --- changes his life irrevocably and serves as the springboard for this thoughtful and affecting novel.

At first David is reluctant to embrace the import of his experience: "He believes that something has happened to him, but he doesn't know what it is, and he wants to explore it slowly and gingerly, like an ambiguous but riveting smile in the distance." When reports of the sighting inevitably leak to the press, he is besieged by desperate people who believe he has supernatural powers and want him to communicate with their deceased relatives and friends.

Soon David is approached by an organization known as the Society for the Second World, whose leaders think they have found an appealing Everyman to popularize their beliefs. Eventually they persuade him to submit to testing by a Dr. Tettlebeim, using a Rube Goldberg-like contraption called an "R box" --- for random number generator --- to see if his mind can influence the distribution of those numbers.
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