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The Mind-Body Problem

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  725 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
When Renee Feuer goes to college, one of the first lessons she tries to learn is how to liberate herself from the restrictions of her orthodox Jewish background. As she discovers the pleasures of the body, Renee also learns about the excitements of the mind.

She enrolls as a philosophy graduate student, then marries Noam Himmel, the world-renowned mathematician. But Renee
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Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1983)
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Gregory's Lament
Mar 25, 2008 Gregory's Lament rated it really liked it
What I like most about this book is really a matter of personal preference. It's the inside look into the characters--the socially awkward, yet celebrated intellegensia. This is probably becuase I'm a socially awkward, wanna-be intellectual. I imagine most goodreads members fit the same profile, so likely as not, you can take this as an endorsemnt.
Sara
Nov 27, 2011 Sara added it
I really wanted to love this. I was dying for a high-brow piece of lady lit (by which I mean a book of literary fiction that happens to be by and about a woman.) The first fifty pages had so much going for them: funny, sexy, challenging. But oh Renee. I just couldn't stand you. After the brilliant opening sections, your continued insistence on denigrating your intelligence when every page of the book shined with it drove me absolutely bonkers. Not every female protagonist needs to be strong or b ...more
Holly
Aug 05, 2013 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: re-read, 2013-reads
I remain fond of the novel, and I probably even enjoyed it a little more than I did when I read it twenty years ago. (Why? Not sure) I liked the Princeton milieu, the description of the Institute for Advanced Study, and I enjoyed Goldstein's expository asides. But Noam, the "genius" husband, is unattractive enough to defy belief (Renee is a victim of verbal abuse, actually), and I didn't understand the protagonist's obsession with her looks and her aging - she's 28 years old or something like th ...more
Kressel Housman
Aug 25, 2009 Kressel Housman rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'd call this book anti-frum, except that the protagonist, a grown woman off the derech, has such an empty life, it's just as much an indictment of the secular world as it is the world she left behind. The title comes from the classic problem of philosophy: are humans just the sum of their biological processes or does the mind have a metaphysical existence? The protagonist, a graduate student in Philosophy, grapples with a derivative of the question in her own life and marriage: is it only about ...more
Joy
Apr 27, 2011 Joy rated it did not like it
Usually when a book is this bad, I'll just put it down after I lose interest. Which happened immediately. But I had so enjoyed 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, and this was so well reviewed (except by Katie, who was right), that I kept thinking something would happen to make me detest Renee less. Sadly, no. All I can say is that I guess people had a different expectation of feminist novels back in the day. Or just terrible taste.
Dee Andreas
May 30, 2016 Dee Andreas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is the best book I've read all year, but then again I'm very much the target audience as a 20 year old English/Philosophy major. To give an idea whether or not this book is your cup of tea, I have to give you a sampling of the musings this book has to offer:

"What do you think the self is? If it's not a body, but can change bodies, and it's not a collection of memories, but disposes of these from life to life, then what is it?"
"I think the identity of the self consists primarily in its moral
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Aryeh
Nov 08, 2015 Aryeh rated it it was amazing
Finished Rebecca Goldstein's 'The Mind-Body Problem' today. It's really one of the best novels I've read; unabashedly Jewish, philosophical, and sexy. Truly, this is a meta-study of the mind-body problem in a way I'd somewhat pondered but never seen put into words. Highly recommended.

One of the ideas the author brings is that of the 'mattering map'. At the most basic, it is as if we plot points on a grid of all the things that matter to us. As we mature, we notice clusters of points, some light
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Aaron Arnold
Apr 17, 2014 Aaron Arnold rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2014
Even without having known much about the author before I started reading this, it was clear that it was both a first novel and based heavily on her own personal life. Goldstein is often quite funny at describing all the nuances of her "unequally yoked" relationship with a genius mathematician, and her chosen metaphor of the infamous Cartesian mind-body problem of the title is well-used and thematically satisfying in how it represents both her chosen philosophical field of study, and her chronic ...more
Lena
Oct 06, 2007 Lena rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Renee Feuer is a spirited but floundering Princeton graduate student when she first catches the eye of living math legend Noam Himmel. Their courtship is an intellectual one, spiced with heady discussions on philosophy and math with an occasional dash of physics thrown in. Once the blush of new romance wears off, however, Renee finds intellectual theory wanting as she struggles to come to terms with orthodox Jewish upbringing, her own sexuality, and the husband who is physically present but ment ...more
Lisa
Mar 09, 2014 Lisa rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
120 pages into 306 and I can't finish it.

Goldstein has an annoying need to explain everything. She can’t not give parenthetical remarks defining some philosopher or philosophy or Yiddish word. She has no trust in the reader’s intelligence, no trust in the reader’s ability to understand undefined and possibly unknown things, or to look up information they’re interested in learning more about.

She includes so many details, like things about the main character’s parents. These things’ presence str
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Bob Lopez
Sep 23, 2013 Bob Lopez rated it really liked it
"There are two kinds of smokers, heroic and unheroic. Unheroic smokers are worried about the health hazards of smoking, which is weakness one, and would like to quit but can't, which is is weakness two.

"Heroic smokers don't worry...Fear for the body should never govern one's actions. Heroic smokers disdain death. They laugh at death with every inhaling breath."

"So you disdain death?"

"I disdain death."

"What else do you do besides smoke to thumb your nose at the way of all flesh?"

"I drive."
Peg
Nov 04, 2010 Peg rated it did not like it
Maybe I missed something (but i don't think so!) I found this (a book club recommendation) tedious, self-centered and self-referential, and - worst of all - overwhelmingly boring. Read the author's bio, imagine a protagonist, and you've got the book. Any time an author has to put half the book in parenthesis to explain a) philosophical concepts or b) aspects of Orthodox Jewish life, she's not writing a novel, for Pete's sake!
Laura
Mar 18, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it
Intellectual with a lot of fluff--I don't think I've ever read anything like it before. Presented some thought-provoking questions about identity. I really enjoyed this book and Goldstein's writing style; it probably doesn't hurt that the main character and I share the same ethnic background and religious history, so I got a real kick out of all the references I recognized and could relate to.
Jeffra Hays
Jan 21, 2012 Jeffra Hays rated it did not like it
Fiction that is autobiography (how much isn't?) can have the magic of story, or the plod of bio-plot. This author is superb at explaining what she knows, but this novel is filled with explaining, too many philosophical discussions between his & her geniuses, endless classroom lectures poorly disguised as dialog. Although some scenes were mildly amusing, most were worth skipping.
Kate
Nov 30, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
Half of it is a survey of the history of philsophy, but I related to the character so much, and I liked the writing so much, that I didn't mind all those references I didn't get and explanations I hadn't asked for.
Becky
May 22, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
I found this to be a bit creepy and weird, and I don't love the motif of woman as succubus. Or of finding your identity in someone else.

Also, I'm a little tender about the whole "Barnard women are sluts" thing, but it was definitely an interesting read.
Ellen Chamberlin
Jul 07, 2012 Ellen Chamberlin rated it it was amazing
So good (every page) then a deep twist and strong thought provoking ending. I read it once and I'll read it again. So good!
Natalie
May 20, 2011 Natalie rated it really liked it
Shelves: artsandcrafts
surprisingly disenchanting at first then the structure of it simply won me over.
Andy McKenzie
Oct 27, 2015 Andy McKenzie rated it really liked it
Shelves: rationality_lit
I read this book mostly because Scott Aaronson, one of the most interesting bloggers I read, called it his favorite contemporary novel.

Just a few notes:

1) Like all fiction that I enjoy, I found this book to be quite hilarious [1]. I have two explanations. First, the book was peppered with lovely lines such as "I urged him to take a course in formal logic so he could see the fallacy of his reasoning" (p 62), which were simply catnip for my nerdy side. Second, it had some really good comedy of m
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Anita
Jan 14, 2017 Anita rated it it was amazing
great academic novel. Funny.
Judy
May 25, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: philosophical fiction fans

I was so impressed by Rebecca Goldstein's recent 36 Arugments for the Existence of God, which I reviewed for BookBrowse, that I wanted to read her earlier novels. (She has five of them.) The Mind-Body Problem is her first and I found it great.

Goldstein has a PhD in philosophy and is a professor of the subject. In this novel, as in her latest, she uses a story to demonstrate various philosophical views, which might not please a majority of readers but makes me very happy. I tried to take philos
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James
Aug 11, 2009 James rated it really liked it
This was my introduction to the writing of Rebecca Goldstein. A very funny novel whose clever dialogue was appealing both to my intellect and my emotions. She asks what is the mind, and how does it relate to the physical body? This question has fascinated humans for ages, both before and after 17th-century philosopher René Descartes articulated mind-body dualism. In our time, our growing scientific understanding of the brain and its functions has only compounded the question. Philosopher, noveli ...more
Alexis
Nov 08, 2007 Alexis rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Okay this author also wrote a really cool biography of Goedel that I can recommend. You'll see a lot of the Princeton anecdotes from this book repeated.
If you don't mind first novels that contain copious autobiographical details, then I could recommend this book.
If you don't mind reading books where the female character subconsciously tries to establish herself in the larger world through romantic relationships with men, I could recommend this book. I'm not saying we simply shouldn't talk abou
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Peter Goodman
Jan 04, 2015 Peter Goodman rated it really liked it

“The Mind-Body Problem,” by Rebecca Goldstein (Random House, 1983). This is Goldstein’s first novel, and in it one can see much of the directions her later work involved: superb descriptions of significant philosophical problems made intelligible for dolts like me (and I don’t resent the fact that she is so much smarter than I). Some of it is clearly autobiographical: the Jewish apostate girl Renee Feuer, who flees her claustrophobic world for philosophy, Barnard and then Princeton, where she di
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Helen
Dec 27, 2014 Helen rated it really liked it
I knew I didn't have a mathematical mind but I thought that the field of philosophy was something I had a good handle on. This apparently isn't the case as reading Goldstein's book makes clear. However, and that said, I found the book hard to put down. The novel starts with the sentence that goes something like: "What is it like to be married to a genius?" and goes on to detail in both expected and surprising ways the answer to that question. The female protagonist must deal with the wounds infl ...more
Donna
May 14, 2010 Donna rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Excerpt from one of my favorite passages from this erudite writer:

"To matter. Not to be as naught. Is there any will deeper than that? It's not just unqualified will, as Schopenhauer would have it, that makes us what we are; nor is it the will to power, Nietzsche, but something deeper, of which the will to power is a manifestation. . . . We want power because we want to matter. Neither sex nor power lies at the level of fundamental facts. Beneath are the heaving thrusts of the will to matter. A
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Myrnagreenfield
Mar 21, 2014 Myrnagreenfield rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book so much that I didn't want it to end, even though I was eager to see how it turned out. Renee Feuer is a smart, funny, somewhat amoral young woman from an Orthodox Jewish family who is charmingly self-deprecating, despite her obvious beauty and brains. We experience the world through her eyes as she marries a math genius, Noam Himmel, a consistently surprising character. Both Renee and Noam are Jewish, with very different histories and perspectives, which leads to some very i ...more
Kimberly Scearce-levie
Had I read this book back when I was in my early twenties, I might have loved it. Reading it now, though, it struck me as tedious and hackneyed. It fits squarely within the 1970s/80s version of "chick lit": a smart woman, oppressed by her society and marriage, seeks sexual freedom and emotional independence. The twists in this book are that the smart woman was raised in an orthodox Jewish household, her oppressive husband is a genius mathematician, and she is a self-doubting philosophy student. ...more
Calvin
Sep 14, 2016 Calvin added it
Rebecca Goldstein is a fiction reader's philosopher, and a philosopher's fiction writer. I liked this novel a lot, with its deep drinks of both philosophy in itself and the academic world, as I suppose Ms. Goldstein has experienced it, of studying and making a life of philosophy. Her "mattering map" is an important concept, especially thrown up in the face of much modern deconstructivist thought about what philosophy is and can/can't do, and what metaphysical questions we've any business asking. ...more
Rachel
Jun 13, 2013 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, academia
Goldstein's first novel is a guilty pleasure as far as fiction goes, especially if you are familiar with the social life of Anglo-American academic philosophers and/or mathematicians. I wanted to read this book when I heard that many of the scenes with one of the main characters - the genius husband of the narrator - are, supposedly, based on the real life Saul Kripke, down to child prodigy, bodily mannerisms and general social/physical ineptitude. The novel is transparently pulled from Goldstei ...more
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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York, and graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy. While in graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship.

After e
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“I am beautiful for a brainy woman, brainy for a beautiful woman, but objectively speaking, neither beautiful nor brainy.” 3 likes
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