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GOOD BENITO: A Novel by [Lightman, Alan]
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GOOD BENITO: A Novel Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Length: 215 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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: 316 KB
  • Print Length: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (March 23, 2011)
  • Publication Date: March 23, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004J4XA6O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,621,413 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am not a literary guy, but a techie, and I have recently started reading novels for entertainment.

This one does not make it. Like other reviewers remarked, this seemed a string of vaguely connected vignettes. Each one was interesting, but they were isolated points, and never went anywhere. Getting to the end, I was wondering what this is about, and when something will happen that ties it all together. No such luck.

What is DOES seem to be is a technical guy dumping on the reader his brilliant expertise in his arcane specialty, with some vague thoughts (left unsaid) that there might be more to life than that. But he never quite grasps it, the humanity barely takes shape in the fog. The ending (spoiler alert) the fog is literally present and what he does not know could be crucial, but the author is focused only on the details that he can see, and seems to lose that he does not know what he does not know.
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