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A Doubter's Almanac: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 16, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of February 2016: “If your father was never like other fathers, if he never tossed the ball with you, if he never talked with you about your day at school while you walked the dog together in the evenings, if he never brought you to a hockey game…was always late when he picked you up…if he swore when he tripped on curbs and stumbled when he got out of cars…” then you had a father like poor Hans Andret, the narrator of this sad but surprisingly buoyant novel about a family of brainiacs who are particularly good at math-- and self-destruction. The patriarch, Milo Andret, is a drinker with a nasty demeanor that gets him booted out of both Princeton and the arms of his one true love (who marries his rival); a generation later, his son Hans, a hedge-fund billionaire by the age of 20 (his field was “applied” mathematics which to his purist father “might as well have been Himalayan transcentalist studies”) seems headed down the same path. But Hans tries to understand history as well as math, and manages, sort of, to come to terms with his father, his legacy and himself. This novel is the kind of epic story we’ve read before--it’s almost Biblical--and yet Canin makes it all seem new. Maybe it’s the discussions about math, which are less off-putting than I at first feared they would be, and maybe it’s the way he makes these superbly flawed characters seem…well, if not likable, then at least recognizable. (Personally, I credit the female characters, the ex-girlfriend, the mother, the sister--helpmeets, all--who are nonetheless both the backbone and the heart of the book.) Canin will surely catch some flak for some overlong passages and some scenes of very obvious Freudianness, but they’re buffeted by beautiful writing and a story line that, for all its tragic familiarity, never gets old. --Sara Nelson
“551 pages of bliss . . . devastating and wonderful . . . dazzling . . . You come away from the book wanting to reevaluate your choices and your relationships. It’s a rare book that can do that, and it’s a rare joy to discover such a book.”—Esquire
“[Ethan Canin] is at the top of his form, fluent, immersive, confident. You might not know where he’s taking you, but the characters are so vivid, Hans’s voice rendered so precisely, that it’s impossible not to trust in the story. . . . ‘It was as though the numerals had been expressly fabricated, like more-perfect words, to elucidate the details of creation,’ Canin writes of Milo’s passion for math, though he might as well be referring to his novel, in which the delicate networks of emotion and connection that make up a family are illuminated, as if by magic, via his prose.”—Slate
“Alternately explosive and deeply interior.”—New York (“Eight Books You Need to Read”)
“A blazingly intelligent novel.”—Los Angeles Times
“[A] beautifully written novel.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“A book that raises the bar for novelists.”—Literary Hub
“No knowledge of proofs or theorems is required to enjoy Ethan Canin’s excellent eighth novel. He alternately treats math like elegant poetry or infuses it with crackling energy.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Math made beautiful . . . Canin writes with such luxuriant beauty and tender sympathy that even victims of Algebra II will follow his calculations of the heart with rapt comprehension.”—The Washington Post
“A masterful writer at his transcendent best.”—BBC
“Elegant and devastating . . . A Doubter’s Almanac is exquisitely crafted. Canin takes us readers deep into the strange world of his troubled characters without ever making us aware of the effort involved. . . . An odd and completely captivating novel.”—NPR’s Fresh Air
“Dazzlingly ambitious . . . one part intellectual thriller, one part domestic saga.”—The Huffington Post
“There is a shimmering loveliness to Canin’s glimpses of higher mathematics. . . . A Doubter’s Almanac is a novel whose achievement is fully equal to the . . . tragedy it portrays. Ethan Canin understands both the allure of great intellectual accomplishment and the price it exacts from those who pursue it. Unlike his protagonist, his own prodigious effort has produced a work of exquisite and enduring beauty.”—Bookreporter
“With A Doubter’s Almanac, Canin has soared to a new standard of achievement. What a story, and what a cast of characters. The protagonist, Milo Andret, is a mathematical genius and one of the most maddening, compelling, appalling, and unforgettable characters I’ve encountered in American fiction. This is the story of a family that falls to pieces under the pressure of living with an abundantly gifted tyrant. Ethan Canin writes about mathematics as brilliantly as T. S. Eliot writes about poetry. With this extraordinary novel, Ethan Canin now takes his place on the high wire with the best writers of his time.”—Pat Conroy
“Staggeringly ambitious . . . a story of majestic sweep.”—Paste
“I have never encountered prose that renders this world so beautifully: the field ceases to be a language and series of figures we don’t understand and becomes a subject for which we have a nearly physical understanding. . . . A Doubter’s Almanac makes clear that no matter how blind we are in some ways, we are still able, in other ways, to see.”—Fiction Writers Review
“The book is no apologia for bad behavior, a free pass for genius run amok. Canin has crafted a believable and indelible portrait of a frustrated master intellectual at work. . . . [There are] scenes that erupt with the explosive power of a Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller. . . . The life of the gentle, humane Albert Einstein, also once at Princeton, reminds us that not all giants of math and science are monsters. What Ethan Canin reminds us is that, despite everything, Milo Andret, isn’t either.”—Newsday
“Masterful . . . a work of impressive ambition, operating on a truly epic scale. Moving across seven decades, it is a tale that exquisitely details the zeniths and nadirs of true genius.”—The Maine Edge
“A tremendous literary achievement.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Epic . . . thoroughly absorbing . . . a nuanced, heartbreaking portrait of a tortured mathematician . . . Canin, in translucent prose, elucidates the way a mathematician sees the world and humanity’s own insignificance within it. A harrowing, poignant read about the blessing and curse of genius.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Cause for celebration! . . . A fantastic multigenerational novel about a family of geniuses who discover the sometimes painful costs of living with brilliance.”—Book Riot
“Extraordinary . . . a spellbinding novel about math.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This is big, serious, completely involving fiction of a kind rarely written today.”—The Guardian
“Canin’s fifth novel is brilliant—it’s the sort of book that used to be called “a major novel”. . . . This is fiction at its most ambitious and seductive—for all its length and intellectual complexity, A Doubter’s Almanac speeds by with effortless grace. On every page Canin’s humane, precise prose offers marvels. A Doubter’s Almanac is fiction as it should be—rich, compassionate, gripping, and true.”—Dublin Sunday Business Post
Top customer reviews
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When the second half of the book begins, the story abruptly changes to a narration by Milo's son Hans who has inherited his father's mathematical genius and the mental instability that goes with it.
Hans describes the tortuous relationship between himself and his father, including his own addiction to drugs as a parallel to Milo's alcoholism. The story continues through Hans' success as a Wall Street wunderkind , his own family and the gifts his children inherit, and finally a heartbreaking account of the decline and demise of Milo Andret and the effect on his family as they try to care for him but are powerless to save him from himself.
The book makes you reflect on the gift of mathematical insight and the. curse that can accompany it.
The characters are very well developed and the book, although long, held my interest until the end
Most recent customer reviews
Stunning. Brilliant. An expansive story that is simply and beautifully written.Read more