With a doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, Guggenheim and MacArthur (genius) awards, several novels, and non-fiction studies of Gödel and Spinoza under her belt, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is nobody's fool. But I can't decide whether her decision to populate her latest novel exclusively with people like herself is good or bad. Set in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, partly at Harvard but mainly at another elite university which might be a fictionalized Brandeis, the entire cast of characters seems to consist of academic philosophers, psychologists, mathematicians, or theologians, all determined to prove that they are smarter than anybody else. Readers who enjoyed the intellectual name-dropping of Muriel Barbery's THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG might well enjoy this, but it can be hard going. I soon began to wish for at least one...
Having taught a boy genius the fundamentals of musical composition, I found the descriptions of Azarya both accurate and inspiring. Goldstein's latest is one of the most enjoyable books I've read on the recent faith and reason discussions. It is also a splendid satire on academe, a fun novel with engaging characters (who are defined as much by the complexity of their ideas as by their personality traits), and a passionate defense of secular humanism, with excursions into such areas as Hasidic culture and the seductions of number theory (why 36? read the book!) The appendix alone is worth the price of the book: the clear deductive presentation of the 36 arguments allows theists, agnostics, and atheists many opportunities to clarify and organize their thought. (It should stimulate believers, especially, to seek "flaws in the flaws," assuming there are ones). These arguments are in splendid counterpoint to the more tumultuous "arguments" that constitute the main body of the...
First the good news: The appendix, which includes the actual arguments for the existence of a god, is everything that the rest of the book is not: pithy, direct, accessible, amusing. I would love for that section of the book to stand alone. Alone and far away from the laborious, pretentious mess that comprises the body of the work.
As an atheist--a New Atheist, even--I went in to this work of fiction with the highest of hopes. After battering my head against pages of vapid, indulgent narrative, practically unbroken by anything like dialog, plot, or characterization, I gave up. How, you ask, can I judge a book that I did not finish? That is my judgment--it is unreadable (again, except for the excellent appendix).
I feel like a traitor writing this, but if you to want to read a book set in similar environs, centering on a similar topic, try John Updike's "Roger's Version." With its vivid characters, lush descriptions and lively dialog, it is a far more...
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