Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction


Equally adept at fiction (a winner of the National Jewish Book Award) and philosophy (a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” prize), Rebecca Newberger Goldstein now gives us a novel that transforms the great debate between faith and reason into an exhilarating romance of both heart and mind.

At the center: Cass Seltzer, a professor of psychology whose book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion, has become a surprise best seller. He’s been dubbed “the atheist with a soul,” and his sudden celebrity has upended his life. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum–“the goddess of game theory”–and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. But he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his teacher Jonas Elijah Klapper, a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism, and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius, heir to the leadership of an exotic Hasidic sect. The rush of events in a single dramatic week plays out Cass’s conviction that the religious impulse spills out into life at large.

In 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein explores the rapture and torments of religious experience in all its variety. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and intellectually captivating, it is a luminous and intoxicating novel.

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Best Novel of 2010, Christian Science Monitor
Five Favorite Books of 2010, National Public Radio

"Rebecca Goldstein is a rare find among contemporary novelists: she has intellectual muscle as well as a tender emotional reach."
Ian McEwan

"A brainy, compassionate, divinely witty novel..Goldstein can make Spinoza sing and Gödel comprehensible, and in her cerebral fiction she dances across disciplines with delight, writing domestic comedy about Cartesian metaphysics and academic satire about photoelectric energy. "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."
—Ron Charles, Washington Post, January 27, 2010. 

“A big, ambitious novel ... Dazzling, [and] sparked by frequent flashes of nonchalant brilliance, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God affirms Ms. Goldstein’s rare ability to explore the quotidian and the cosmological with equal ease. ...There are a great many [pleasures to be found in 36 Arguments], and this 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."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times, January 21, 2010.

"A captivating, original, and at times riotously funny novel. ... Goldstein has fashioned a tale that does justice to the depth of the problem of reconciling a scientific worldview with the insistent yearning for transcendence, and has done so in a way that is philosophically sophisticated without being pedantic, and deeply moving without being weighed down by the burdensome dross of sentimentality." 
—Peter Lopatin, Commentary, January 2010. 

"A book of astonishing scope and beauty, one in which the brilliant Goldstein takes us on a journey that is as emotionally satisfying as it is intellectually expansive."
--David Eagleman, Barnes and Nobel Review, January 13, 2010. 

"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, NPR Fresh Air, January 20, 2010. 

"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, rambling fiction based on the traditional tenets of the good old university campus novel (eccentric professors, beautiful postgrads, lots of barely repressed sexual tension), but which is nonetheless possessed of a steely intellectual coherence that is frighteningly impressive to behold."
—Melissa Katsoulis, The Times (London), Feb. 27, 2010.

"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."
—Max Davidson, The Mail on Sunday, March 14, 2010.

"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."
—Matt Nesvisky, The Jerusalem Report, April 12, 2010

"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, March 14, 2010. 

"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. .... How many works of fiction can tackle thorny questions such as theodicy and still make you laugh? Not since The Tao of Pooh has philosophy been so much fun."
—Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor, Jan 22, 2010. 

"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 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

"A tour de force showcasing Goldstein’s intent intellect and vast knowledge."
—John Douglas Mashall, The Daily Beast

"Goldstein creates many laugh out loud moments of sparkling wit, and the vividness of her female characters is a particular strength. ... Playfully exposing both the self-deceptions of her characters, and the irrational basis of their most cherished rationalisations, Goldstein’s glorious novel celebrates the perils, pitfalls and profound joys of a life of the mind and spirit."
—Ariel Kahn, Jewish Chronicle

"Goldstein.. ramps up her gifts for radiant humor and the transmutation of metaphysics, mathematics, and Jewish mysticism into narrative gold. ... Goldstein is entrancing and unfailingly affectionate toward her brilliant yet bumbling seekers in this elegant yet uproarious novel about the darkness of isolation and the light of learning, the beauty of numbers and the chaos of emotions, the 'longing for spiritual purity' and love in all its wildness."
--Donna Seamon, Booklist (starred review)

“A freewheeling satirical tale that is compelling, heady …, and laced with a deliciously dark wit. 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.”
--Karen Campbell, Boston Globe

"Satire with a soul."
—Jennifer Howard, Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 24, 2010.

"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'."
—Amanda Geftner, New Scientist

"An enjoyable feast of ideas that also serves as a very funny satire on the politics of campus life."
—Edward McGown, Times Literary Supplement, April 2, 2010

"[A] greatly entertaining novel."
—Ross Gilfillan, Daily Mail, Mar 5, 2010

"[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…A terrifically engaging novel.”
--Dani Shapiro, Moment, Jan/Feb 2010

“Comic and supremely witty, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is both a satire of the academic world and a feast of philosophical and religious ideas.”
—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams

“You do not have to perpetrate an act of faith to confront the question of why there is something rather than nothing. It is faith itself that consists of nothing. Rebecca Goldstein, on the other hand, is quite something." 
—Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great

“Rollicking….Irreverent and witty, Goldstein seamlessly weaves philosophy into this lively and colorful chronicle of intellectual and emotional struggles.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review), 11/2/09

"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," January 2010

"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), picks for March 2010

"An ambitious novel about big ideas — love, sex, religion — that nevertheless faces these issues with irony and humor….A big-hearted novel, filled with energy and an encouraging zest for life."
--Gordon Haber, Forward, Jan. 8, 2010

"An immensely rewarding read."
--Jewish Book World, Spring 5770/2010

"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, March 23, 2010

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Review in The New York Times
Review in The Washington Post
Review in Commentary
Review in Barnes and Noble Review
Review on NPR's Fresh Air
Review in The Times (London)
Review in Salon
Review in the Los Angeles Times
Review in the Boston Globe
Review in New Scientist
Review in The American Prospect
Review in The New York Times Book Review
Review in The Globe and Mail
Review in The Jerusalem Report
Review in The Yorkshire Evening Post
Review in Moment
Review in Huffington Post
Review in Times Literary Supplement
Review in The Mail on Sunday
Review in Jewish Chronicle
Review (starred) in Booklist
Review (starred) in Publishers Weekely
Review in The Separationist
Review in Jewish Book World
Review in Skeptic
Interview & Feature in The Globe and Mail
Interview & Feature in The Times (London)
Interview & Feature in The Daily Beast
Interview & Feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Interview in New Statesman
Interview & Feature in HaAretz
Interview & Feature in Jewish Weekly
Interview & Feature in Jewish Renaissance (UK)
Interview & Feature in Jewish Chronicle (UK)
Discussion in The Atheist Conservative blog

Last updated on 02/05/2013