Excerpted from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Copyright © 2010 by Rebecca Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Dazzling, and sparked by frequent flashes of nonchalant brilliance.”—The New York Times
“Brainy, compassionate, divinely witty.”—The Washington Post
“[A] literary miracle.”—Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air,” NPR
“Rebecca Goldstein is a rare find among contemporary novelists: she has intellectual muscle as well as a tender emotional reach.” —Ian McEwan
“Deeply moving and a joy to read.” —Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“Captivating, original, and at times riotously funny.” —Commentary
“Compelling, heady . . . and laced with a deliciously dark wit.” —Boston Globe
“Thoughtful, witty, and—I cannot stress enough—really entertaining.” —Christian Science Monitor
"Goldstein can make Spinoza sing and Gödel comprehensible, and in her cerebral fiction she dances across disciplines with delight….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."—The Washington Post
"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….which is nonetheless possessed of a steely intellectual coherence that is frighteningly impressive to behold."—The Times (London)
“36 Arguments for the Existence of God affirms Ms. Goldstein’s rare ability to explore the quotidian and the cosmological with equal ease. ...The 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."— The New York Times
“Hilariously irreverent. . . . The draw of transcendental longings, Seltzer discovers, is not to be found in logical proofs but in the accumulated wonder of all that can be encountered in this life: love, family, the sheer privilege of being alive.” —Financial Times (London)
“400 pages of smarts….[36 Arguments] lays out a great range of witticisms, echoes and allusions.” —London Review of Books
"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, “Fresh Air,” NPR
“A looping tale [with] affectionate irony about academic life, culture wars, and relationships in turn-of-the-millennium America….[With] the same engaging cocktail of philosophy, roman a clef fun, and scholarly soap opera that marked her earlier books….She shows off all her considerable smarts. . . . Playful, humane.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"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."—The Jerusalem Report
“[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 and—yes—proves that there’s no such thing as ‘too smart’ to write a terrifically engaging novel.” —Moment Magazine
"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."—The Mail on Sunday (London)
“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
"An enjoyable feast of ideas that also serves as a very funny satire on the politics of campus life."—Times Literary Supplement (London)
"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…. Not since The Tao of Pooh has philosophy been so much fun."—Christian Science Monitor
"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 tour de force showcasing Goldstein’s intent intellect and vast knowledge."—The Daily Beast
"Goldstein’s glorious novel celebrates the perils, pitfalls and profound joys of a life of the mind and spirit."—Jewish Chronicle (London)
“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.”—Boston Globe
"Satire with a soul."—Chronicle of Higher Education
“Triumphant….With wicked comic genius, the book masterfully manipulates philosophers and their principles, kabbalistic literature and its acolytes, and a whole series of paradoxical ideas that live, breathe, and take on lives of their own.” —The Jewish Week
“[36 Arguments] prove[s] that you can be both smart and funny, that Albert Einstein and Albert Brooks have a lot more in common than their first names. . . . The payoff is sublime.” —Chicago Tribune
“In elegant and often hysterical prose. . . . [Goldstein] leaves us with a way to think about what having a soul might actually mean.” —The American Prospect
“A charming story, deftly told, crackling with intelligence.” —Huffington Post
“Highly entertaining. . . . Clever and witty. . . . [With] delightful characters. . . . 36 Arguments for the Existence of God will give you lots to laugh about as well as lots to think about.” —Psychology Today
"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
"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’."— New Scientist
"[A] greatly entertaining novel."—Daily Mail (London)
"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,"
“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)
“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
“A bonbon for both intellect and funny bone, 36 Arguments is a delicious entertainment.” —Montreal Gazette
“Fascinating. . . . Funny. . . . Effervescent and knowing. . . . A lovely dream.” —Jane Smiley, Los Angeles Times
1. This novel takes the reader straight to the heart of one of the major debates of the present day, the clash between faith and reason. Why do you think Goldstein decided to write about this topic in novel form rather than nonfiction?
2. A reviewer in Booklist described this novel as being about “love in all its wildness.” How is this novel about love? What kinds of love?
3. Do the events in the novel prove Cass right in his claim that the religious impulse spills over into nonreligious contexts? How do the various episodes bear out Cass’s belief?
4. Do you consider Cass to be, in some sense, a religious man? Is he a spiritual man? Is there a difference?
5. Does Azarya make the right decision, given that his father has died? Had his father not died, do you think his decision would have been different? Should it have been? Do you see Azarya as a hypocrite, a saint, or something in between?
6. Did you guess who was sending the e-mails?
7. Why do you think the author chose to make Azarya a mathematical prodigy?
8. In your opinion, who wins the debate, Cass Seltzer or Felix Fidley? Who has the better arguments? Why does the debate come to focus on the issue of morality?
9. Is Lucinda’s decision concerning Cass understandable? What kind of woman is she? Is she a sympathetic character?
10. Religion is an immensely serious topic and yet the author chose to write her novel in a mostly comic vein. Why do you think she did that? What role does humor play? Do you find her humor to be sometimes cruel?
11. There are various “tribes” in the novel: the Onuma that Roz studies, the tribe of students around Klapper, the Valdeners. How do these tribes compare with each other?
12. Why does Goldstein tell her tale in the third person, rather than Cass’s first-person voice? Are there times when she leaves his perspective and enters the minds of other characters?
13. Many of the characters are struggling to find meaning in their lives as they decide which paths to take. Do any of them succeed?
14. Which of the thirty-six arguments is the most convincing? Why do you think the author included the appendix?
15. Why does Thomas Nagel’s idea of the View from Nowhere resonate so deeply with Cass? Have you ever experienced anything like the ecstatic sense of getting outside of yourself that Cass describes throughout the novel? Did you know what Cass was talking about with his distinction Cass here/Jesse there?
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