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The Philosopher's Apprentice: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – February 1, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a talking iguana, a tree with a heart and an army of clones created from aborted fetuses, Morrow's latest is a treat for readers willing to take an imaginative leap. Philosophy ABD (all but dissertation) Mason Ambrose takes a job tutoring 17-year-old Londa Sabacthani after withdrawing his Ph.D. candidacy during a heated dissertation defense. Londa lost her moral center after a head injury, according to her mother, Edwina, a molecular geneticist with a reputation for being as smart as God, and it's Mason's highly compensated duty to help Londa regain her conscience. Soon after arriving on Edwina's remote Florida Keys island home, Mason discovers a separate estate where five-year-old Donya lives with two tutors hired after she lost her rectitude in a bicycle accident. Donya claims Edwina as her mother and, like Londa, believes she is an only child. The three tutors, sensing something grossly amiss, begin snooping and uncover a fertility scheme akin to a Dr. Frankenstein experiment. Meanwhile, Londa ventures out into the world and seeks to apply her newfound morality to American capitalism through whatever means necessary. Morrow guides readers through preposterous plot points without sacrificing plausibility. Strong characters, shots of humor and an unpredictable narrative make this a winner. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Prolific and accomplished novelist Morrow (The Last Witchfinder, 2006) delivers an energetic if bent fable on the ethics of genetic engineering. When philosophy PhD candidate Mason Ambrose jettisons his dissertation defense after engaging in a boisterous argument with committe members, his job prospects look dismal. Then he’s offered an improbably lucrative gig tutoring 17-year-old Londa Sabacthani, whose mind is a blank slate after suffering a head injury. Her mother, Edwina, a famed molecular geneticist, wants Mason to give Londa a moral center. But all is not as it seems on the tropical paradise the Sabacthanis call home. In addition to a talking iguana, Mason encounters a 5-year-old girl who also claims Edwina as her mother. Mason soon learns he has stumbled into a narcissistic cloning scheme that has serious implications for the future of the country when Edwina’s “daughters” set out to take over the world. Morrow wraps his erudition in witty spurts of comedy, as likely to cite Socrates as Mister Rogers. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; Reprint edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061351458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061351457
  • ASIN: B0041T4NUE
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,953,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having never read any James Morrow, I wasn't sure what to expect. But having recently started reading philosophy texts again, I thought this book could be fun and also thought-provoking. It definitely was. The Philosopher's Apprentice is like Christopher Moore meets Herman Hesse. It definitely would help to have some knowledge of philosophy to get the most from this story, but it certainly is not required. Just observing the state of the world will be a good background to enjoy this book. If deep, ethical questions and paradoxes appeal to you, this book will too.

Mason Ambrose, materialist and philosophy student is at a crossroads. His future in philosophy is in jeopardy when he is offered a lucrative job. His task will be to tutor teenager Londa, and provide her with a conscience, for due to an accident, she has amnesia and doesn't know how to act ethically. Mason's acceptance of this role takes him and others on an "odyssey" that the reader doesn't know how or where it will end until the story's conclusion.

The Philosopher's Apprentice contains great philosophical/ethical and political issues and would really appeal to someone who has interest in cloning and genetics(hint, hint.) I don't want to say more and give away any of the twists and turns of this story. I really enjoyed this novel. Good stuff.
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Format: Hardcover
James Morrow is my favorite author. I was introduced to his brilliant verbosity through a University Prof of mine who had us read "This is the Way the World Ends" (a FANTASTIC, hilarious and haunting work) for our class on SF. I soon after read the Godhead Trilogy and a collection of Short Stories and I was hooked. "The Continent of Lies" is perhaps of his my favorite.

Onto the matter at hand. After the meandering, unfulfilling "Witchfinder" where ideas were too simple and plot twists too unnecessary, I was very eager to get my hands on a "The Philosopher's Apprentice". The title alone had me. I cracked it open and the brilliant Morrow of Old had returned and with a vengence! Beautiful sentences and consistently original metaphors continually sprung from the page, some of which made me laugh uproariously and all of which made me remember what a fine craftsman Morrow is with language.

And then. And then the second section of the book began and what was a finely crafted narrative suddenly came grinding to a halt. The plot was nearly non-existent. What was an interesting diegesis with characters I was empathetic towards almost immediately lost my interest. I had no inclination to continue reading. Though, of course, I did.

The final section of the book returns with a plot worthy of the ideas it is designed to convey. The characters, however, don't seem to do much changing and, as another reviewer mentioned, they tend to make decisions that don't align with who I think they are.

And though the final section is good, it is not enough to redeem the plodding, dull and poorly conceived middle section. To be honest, I was glad when the book was done. And though I may read it again in times far away, I am not really looking forward to doing so.
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Format: Hardcover
There are some great ideas in this book: it's amazingly creative at times and a delight to read. But at other times it seems to plod along almost aimlessly. Editing it down from 400+ pages to about 250 or so would have resulted in a sharper, tighter novel. The book has elements that might remind one of, say, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or some of Vonnegut's works: it's as if Morrow is somewhat spaced out on some illegal drug. There are long (some seem VERY long) sections of the book about philosophical theories: these may be of great interest to people who love philosophical reasoning, but I think some drastic pruning would be beneficial.

It's impossible to talk much about the plot without revealing major spoilers, but genetic engineering is a major theme. The book should probably be classified as science fiction, rather than general modern fiction: there are not any space aliens, but you'll need to be very generous with the author in terms of what you think is scientifically possible. The problem you'll have will be whether you find the actions of the main characters (or other characters) to be believable. There were times when I felt that the actions were reasonable and rational, but at other times I felt quite the opposite.

About halfway through, the novel begins to get rather political--perhaps a bit like 1984 or even more, perhaps, like the movie Brazil, which had a madcap surrealistic quality to it. So what you get is quite a mixed bag! I'll be starting Morrow's The Last Witchfinder soon--this sounds like it will provide an interesting contrast to The Philosopher's Apprentice. So with the latter book, don't begin with many preconceived ideas about what you'll be reading, be patient, and it should be rewarding.
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Format: Paperback
Having read and loved The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow, I was looking forward to more of the same madcap adventure and wildly inventive wordplay that he demonstrated in profusion in that book. There is madcap adventure galore in The Philosopher's Apprentice, and some brilliant wordplay, yet this story did not satisfy nearly as much as TLW. While not sorry I read it, I feel let down, perhaps due to my own expectations. The story held my interest about 60% of the time; Part One was brilliant, Part Two slightly less so and Part Three an absolute Theatre of the Absurd. Normally I'd forgive Morrow for that, for his great talent lies in lampooning societal injustices punctuated with absurd scenarios, but it just did not work for me this time. When Londa makes hostages of first-class citizens on a recently commandeered replica of the Titanic, intending to redirect their moral centers through terrorism, I got lost and ultimately bored.
Quetzie the feathered iguana was one bright spot in the book. His spontaneous utterances of "Quetzie is a handsome devil", "Love is all you need" and "Mason is a genius" had me laughing out loud many times. Just as funny but more disturbing were the repeated appearances of Mason and Natalie's aborted and revived (don't ask) son, who shouts out such things as "Tossed away like an orange peel!", "Booted into the abyss!" and other accusatory remarks, disrupting their personal and professional lives. I wish there had been more of these quirky (understatement) characters.
I never warmed up to Londa or Yolly and the Sabachthanites (blindly devoted, militant followers of Londa's peculiar brand of philosophy), who inhabited and defended Londa's palatial compound, were just too over-the-top. If you are a diehard Morrow fan, you may enjoy this more than I did. I won't stop reading Morrow's books, but will try to be more selective next time.
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