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36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 1, 2011
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“Dazzling, and sparked by frequent flashes of nonchalant brilliance.”—The New York Times
“Brainy, compassionate, divinely witty.”—The Washington Post
“[A] literary miracle.”—Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air,” NPR
“Rebecca Goldstein is a rare find among contemporary novelists: she has intellectual muscle as well as a tender emotional reach.” —Ian McEwan
“Deeply moving and a joy to read.” —Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“Captivating, original, and at times riotously funny.” —Commentary
“Compelling, heady . . . and laced with a deliciously dark wit.” —Boston Globe
“Thoughtful, witty, and—I cannot stress enough—really entertaining.” —Christian Science Monitor
"Goldstein can make Spinoza sing and Gödel comprehensible, and in her cerebral fiction she dances across disciplines with delight….36 Arguments radiates all the humor and erudition we've come to expect from Goldstein, and despite the novel's attention to the oldest questions, it has arrived at exactly the right moment. ... One of the funniest [academic satires] ever written. ...Goldstein doesn't want to shake your faith or confirm it, but she'll make you a believer in the power of fiction."—The Washington Post
"When Rebecca Goldstein, the American philosopher-novelist who looks like Rapunzel but thinks like Wittgenstein, was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Award (commonly known as the “genius award”) in 1996, she was praised for her ability to “dramatise the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling”. That is putting her achievements lightly. Her most recent book, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, is a vast….which is nonetheless possessed of a steely intellectual coherence that is frighteningly impressive to behold."—The Times (London)
“36 Arguments for the Existence of God affirms Ms. Goldstein’s rare ability to explore the quotidian and the cosmological with equal ease. ...The novel’s bracing intellectual energy never flags. ... It affirms Ms. Goldstein’s position as a satirist and a seeker of real moral questions at a time when silly ones prevail."— The New York Times
“Hilariously irreverent. . . . The draw of transcendental longings, Seltzer discovers, is not to be found in logical proofs but in the accumulated wonder of all that can be encountered in this life: love, family, the sheer privilege of being alive.” —Financial Times (London)
“400 pages of smarts….[36 Arguments] lays out a great range of witticisms, echoes and allusions.” —London Review of Books
"Like an answer to a fevered prayer. ... Part academic farce, part metaphysical romance, all novel of ideas, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God may not settle the question of whether God exists but it does affirm the phenomenon of literary miracles."—Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air,” NPR
“A looping tale [with] affectionate irony about academic life, culture wars, and relationships in turn-of-the-millennium America….[With] the same engaging cocktail of philosophy, roman a clef fun, and scholarly soap opera that marked her earlier books….She shows off all her considerable smarts. . . . Playful, humane.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"The best Jewish woman writing in America today....Her latest, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is flat out the most gratifying novel—woman's, Jewish, American, whatever—this reviewer has read in many a long reading season. 36 triumphs in a whole bunch of literary subgenres….[It is] a novel whose manifold delights can only be hinted at in a review. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is brimming with richly realized characters, brimming with ideas, brimming with life."—The Jerusalem Report
“[Goldstein] has taken on some of the deepest, philosophical questions of human existence and shaped them into a page-turner at once funny and heartbreaking and challenging and—yes—proves that there’s no such thing as ‘too smart’ to write a terrifically engaging novel.” —Moment Magazine
"When a writer is as clever as Goldstein, it does not seem fair that she should also write with charm, humour, and emotional acuity. But that is the package on offer in this ingenious and heartwarming novel. ... A delightful novel, which could be one of the literary hits of the year."—The Mail on Sunday (London)
“A remarkable novel—as entertaining as it is illuminating—savagely funny in its characterizations, brilliant in its contemplation of the self and the sublime. This is a timely and timeless book, and definitive proof of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s protean intellect and engaging talent.”—Jess Walter, author of The Zero
"An enjoyable feast of ideas that also serves as a very funny satire on the politics of campus life."—Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Thoughtful, witty, and—I cannot stress enough—really entertaining, 36 Arguments is part campus comedy, part romantic farce, part philosophical treatise. It is also, without question, the smartest kid in class…. Not since The Tao of Pooh has philosophy been so much fun."—Christian Science Monitor
"Rebecca Newberger Goldstein does it all. She has written a hilarious novel about people’s existential agonies, a page-turner about the intellectual mysteries that obsess them. The characters in 36 Arguments For the Existence of God explore the great moral issues of our day in a novel that is deeply moving and a joy to read."—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated
"A tour de force showcasing Goldstein’s intent intellect and vast knowledge."—The Daily Beast
"Goldstein’s glorious novel celebrates the perils, pitfalls and profound joys of a life of the mind and spirit."—Jewish Chronicle (London)
“Goldstein is a brilliant exponent of her subject, and she has crafted a story that is caustically irreverent, yet provocative and informative without being completely didactic. And….by the end, 36 Arguments is also deeply touching.”—Boston Globe
"Satire with a soul."—Chronicle of Higher Education
“Triumphant….With wicked comic genius, the book masterfully manipulates philosophers and their principles, kabbalistic literature and its acolytes, and a whole series of paradoxical ideas that live, breathe, and take on lives of their own.” —The Jewish Week
“[36 Arguments] prove[s] that you can be both smart and funny, that Albert Einstein and Albert Brooks have a lot more in common than their first names. . . . The payoff is sublime.” —Chicago Tribune
“In elegant and often hysterical prose. . . . [Goldstein] leaves us with a way to think about what having a soul might actually mean.” —The American Prospect
“A charming story, deftly told, crackling with intelligence.” —Huffington Post
“Highly entertaining. . . . Clever and witty. . . . [With] delightful characters. . . . 36 Arguments for the Existence of God will give you lots to laugh about as well as lots to think about.” —Psychology Today
"Impressively succeeds in combining esoteric philosophical argument and laugh-out-loud humour. ... The cleverest and most entertaining novel I have read for a long time."—Robert Colbeck, Yorkshire Evening Post
"Goldstein is, as always, a lovely and thoughtful writer. Her respect and understanding for her characters might well earn her the epithet 'philosophical novelist with a soul’."— New Scientist
"[A] greatly entertaining novel."—Daily Mail (London)
"A high-energy caper in which religion, relativism, passion, and primitivism meet in the brainy collisions and collusions of a best-selling scholar, ex-lovers, rabbis, cosmologists, and one tiny math prodigy."—Elle, "Trust Us: This Month's Quick Picks,"
“A hilarious novel that will add fuel to the debate that Richard Dawkins has made a million-pound industry. Rebecca Goldstein has penned a great story that will steal some of Dawkins’ action….An intellectual delight.” –The Bookseller (UK)
“This novel brims with ideas about the nature of religion and how humans interact with it….It’s refreshing to read a novel so bursting with intellectual rigor.” –The Big Issue
“A bonbon for both intellect and funny bone, 36 Arguments is a delicious entertainment.” —Montreal Gazette
“Fascinating. . . . Funny. . . . Effervescent and knowing. . . . A lovely dream.” —Jane Smiley, Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University. Her award-winning books include the novels The Mind-Body Problem, Properties of Light, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and nonfiction studies of Kurt Gödel and Baruch Spinoza. Her most recent work, Plato at the Googleplex, was released from Pantheon in March of 2014. She has received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, has been designated a Humanist of the Year and a Freethought Heroine, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in Massachusetts.
Rebecca Goldstein is represented by Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau (www.prhspeakers.com).
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On another level, this book, indeed Rebecca Goldstein herself gives us an education in 528 pages. As you read, you will become a little more erudite than you were at the start. Thank God thinking is contagious.
Goldstein's genius is her hilarious command of words, names, Yiddish puns and a Joyce-like ability to use them as a backdrop to a serious and moving text. Together with a stiletto sense of character, she keeps us laughing and thinking almost to the end. Her book has that quality of greatness that induces us to open it at random after we have finished it to rejoin her fevered search for meaning -- or just to laugh! So God isn't like a rainbow!
I read it a few months ago. When I finished, though exhausted from late-night reading sessions I couldn't seem to cut short, my mind was on fire. Even now, much later, my assessment is the same: "36 Arguments" has earned a spot in my personal Top Five Novels of All Time.
I wish I had more time to write a more thorough rave. I'll just have to hope you'll find out for yourself. "36 Arguments" is worth buying, spreading, keeping, and cherishing.
The primary philosophical question the book addresses is whether God exists; the penultimate chapter of the book consists of a lengthy, staged debate on the issue at Harvard. But the book probes even further as it considers the psychology of religious belief and why the question of God's existence continues to excite mind and passion in contemporary life. The question of belief in God may be a misplaced issue in understanding religious life.
This lengthy novel moves in tone from satirical to serious. The scenes and characters shift frequently between chapters, making it difficult to keep up in places. Besides discussing God and religion, Goldstein's novel focuses on the question of finding a self, and finding love. The book also includes a lengthy satire on academia.
The primary character, Cass Seltzer, is a psychologist at a Massachusetts university who has just attained success with this book, "The Varieties of Religious Illusion". The book, of course, alludes to William James' study "The Variety of Religious Experience" (as well as to Freud's "The Future of an Illusion"). William James echoes throughout Goldstein's novel.
The book traces Seltzer's life beginning with his childhood. His parents were Othodox Jews who in adulthood abandoned Judaism. Seltzer's father, a physician, hoped Cass would follow his career path. His mother was raised in a small Hasidic town but she abandoned Hasidism and any form of Jewish practice. Seltzer had been pre-med but an encounter with a charismatic professor, Jonas Elijah Klapper, changed has path and resulted in his fascination with religion and ultimately in his book. The brilliant, verbose, dictatorical Klapper is satirized throughout this novel for his dogmatic rigidity, pompousness, criticism of science, and control over the lives of his graduate students. He is nevertheless a key influence on Seltzer.
Seltzer has had difficulty with women in his life, as the novel describes his past and continuing relationships with a series of women, all of whom are academics of various kinds. Goldstein describes the breadth and excitement of the life of the mind. Goldstein's book also illustrates the pettiness, competitiveness, quests for gender-issue related independence and space, and, frequently, the difficulty of finding love in intellectual life.
A substantial part of this novel is set in the small fictitious community of Hasidic Jews in New York State in which Seltzer's mother had grown up. Klapper and Seltzer become drawn to the community during Seltzer's days as a graduate student. He becomes fascinated with the way of life of the Hasidim, with the Rebbe, and with the Rebbe's son, a 6 year old mathematica prodigy, Azarya.
The author and her character, Cass Seltzer, are pulled in many different ways by religion and by its significance in human life. Raised herself in an Orthodox Jewish home, Goldstein feels the force of religion and considers it respectfully. The argumentative sections of the book display a well thought-through and articulated skepticism about God's existence. The book includes as well an Appendix, modeled on the Appendix of Seltzer's fictitious "The Varieties of Religious Illusion" considering and analyzing succinctly 36 proffered arguments for God's existence. The final scene of the book is set among the Hasidim who, mostly ignorant of life elsewhere in the contemporary United States and of academia, pursue their path with joy.
Goldstein's novel is both intellectually challenging and enjoyable and gripping to read. Readers of far differing views on God and religion have praised the book, and deservedly so. I found the novel insightful and liberating. Readers who have struggled with religious questions in their lives will benefit from exploring their questions with Rebecca Goldstein in "36 Arguments for the Existence of God."