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The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion Hardcover – April 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At age 94, Wouk embarks on an autobiographical journey through his monumental writings (The Caine Mutiny; The Winds of War; War and Remembrance), people he has met in his life, world events, and books he has read (including the Talmud) to weave a testament of faith. Throughout the book, he returns to his friendship with Nobel laureateRichard Feynman, whose work as a scientist on the atomic bomb and life as a humanist challenge the author's Orthodox Jewish beliefs. Along the way the reader meets other scientists and their accomplishments and also some of Wouk's fictional characters. What most impresses Wouk is the big bang (the first three minutes) and the small bang (the universe giving birth to the mind) so that humans could comprehend God. Ever so faithful to his Jewish heritage, he discusses how research in the scientific and secular world strengthened his faith. This book will interest any person of faith who has followed Wouk's storied career and read his fiction. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

The first half of Wouk’s third book on religion (after This Is My God, 1959, and The Will to Live On, 1999) is as engaging as his megaselling historical novels. It’s about his encounters with famous scientists, foremost among them physicist Richard Feynman, who suggested Wouk learn the “language God talks”—calculus. Wouk tried, unsuccessfully, but anyway kept on meeting and palavering with scientists, a habit acquired researching the atom bomb for The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978). His recounting of the science history he learned, predominantly about space exploration, is done so personably that stargazing laypersons ought to be tickled pink. He uses a little paleoanthropology and more WWII research to bridge from science to religion but then, unfortunately, bogs down abstracting the Battle of Leyte and Holocaust episodes in the war novels. He finishes well, though, with an imaginary dialogue with Feynman that winningly binds him and the physicist as Jews and affirms the continuing viability of questioning God. Hard not to like. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (April 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031607845X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316078450
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Herman Wouk earned his living as a scriptwriter for Fred Allen before serving in World War II. His career as a novelist spans nearly six decades and has brought him resounding international acclaim. He lives in Palm Springs, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By emmejay VINE VOICE on March 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
From the epigraph:
"It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe [...] can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil -- which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama." --Richard Feynman

In THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS, 94-year-old (!) Herman Wouk explores that cosmological stage and that human drama, and does it mostly through stories, including memoir.

He begins with science and the Big Bang, setting the enormity of the stage by recapping space exploration (including the race-for-space and the shuttle disasters) and the telescope's estimation/definition of the universe. He includes anecdotes about prominent scientists, including their theology (or not), particularly physicist Richard Feynman, who Wouk met while researching the Manhattan Project for his 1970s WWII novels (The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Then he moves to the Small Bang (the birth of the mind, exemplified best through art, he says) and explores dramas in his own life through prompts from Tevya, Confucius, Job, and characters in his novels.

It's a small book with an agile, imaginative voice that's easy to read. But it's not necessarily simple to understand -- vignette-ish and symbolic, with a whole-is-greater-than-its-parts feel that invites a re-read. I came to this book new to Wouk, and developed an admiration, even a fondness, for him, and an interest in his previous works. This book seems directed to pop-sci fans and religious believers, but I think philosophers and lovers of literature (especially those familiar with Wouk) will like it more.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By tmtrvlr on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Language God, Talks on Science and Religion by Herman Wouk is not so much about God, but the gentle philosophical musings of the author as he looks back on his life. He writes about his meeting with a theoretical physicist, Richard Phillips Feynman, which seemed to have quite an impact on his life. The author obviously has an interest in the heavens, but in a secular way, as he discusses space exploration. He describes his witness to the liftoff of Apollo 11 and what he believes is the future of space travel.

I was quite moved as I read his account of viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls in an underground wing of Jerusalem's Israel Museum. This was not an easy book for me to read and understand, but I will accept the blame as my own shortcoming. Herman Wouk is an intellectual - and I am not.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. Goldstein on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Chances are, this is the closest thing we are going to get to a Herman Wouk autobiography. Not that The Language God Talks sets out to be any such thing. Its intention is to explain why Wouk believes. Sure, Richard Feynman, with a father born in Minsk same as Wouk's father was born in Minsk, refused to have a bar mitzvah. Sure the popular science Wouk reads--and Wouk apparently reads a lot of it--mostly considers belief unnecessary, when it bothers to consider the matter at all. Sure modernity's arrow is in the direction of non-belief. Wouk believes, he revels in the complexity of the Talmud, he adores the Prophets and the Psalms, he actually goes to the synagogue on a regular basis. Those of us with a soft spot in our hearts for this tradition don't see that explanation is necessary or perhaps possible. But we're not the ones writing the book.

To be honest, if you are really interested in the arguments for belief or non-belief there are better places to go. What this book has that the others don't have are fascinating snippets of autobiography. Wouk's encounters with Richard Feynman. How Wouk conceived the novels on WWll, and how the conception changed as he was trying to put it together. How he met the man who showed up in the novels as Pug Henry. How Wouk researched the books for years and years, and how at one point he considered himself in a race to finish them in the time he had left. Even hints on who were the originals of the characters in The Caine Mutiny. And along the way, how Wouk sought out Raul Hilberg, and how the University of Vermont, where Hilberg taught, had no idea that a great historian resided in its midst.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Rolfe on August 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll echo the 4-star review of 3/31/10 by "litaddiction", with these additional comments.

I consider Wouk's The Winds of War / War and Remembrance and Inside, Outside among the greatest of books. Wouk, following the lead of Tolstoy's War and Peace, effectively conveys the history of the era as a side effect of telling the tales of his major characters. He is guided by the peculiar notion that good writing should be readable and accessible, even to readers lacking a PhD. (The funny thing about "War and Peace" is that, gosh, you can actually read and enjoy it, even though it's a big book and a classic. (Some translations are more readable than others; I linked the Rosemary Edmonds translation, which I liked.)) I think every American should pick up Wouk's WWII books at some point, and these books might be good candidates for high school reading.

When I saw the 94-year-old Wouk had written a book contemplating the relationship between Man and God, I was anxious to read what perspective and wisdom he had gathered during his long sojourn on this planet. This turns out to be a small book touching on big questions of science and philosophy and theology and history, interspersed with personal memoirs and connections to Wouk's literary canon.
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