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The Mind-Body Problem

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  578 ratings  ·  72 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
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.
Holly
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added 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
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
Sara
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
Lena
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
Garrett Zecker
An interesting book; small, intricate, honest story that could honestly speak to anyone, anywhere, even though it is about a brilliant and an average. This small volume speaks a great deal about our inadequacies with our interpersonal sexual relationships and what it means to be a man and a woman and the dynamics that bleed from every word and action that we perform for one another. While most of us have no idea what it is like to marry and have a relationship with someone that is so tremendousl ...more
Peter Goodman

“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
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
Bob Lopez
"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."
Aaron Arnold
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
Myrnagreenfield
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
Joy
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.
Laura
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.
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
Becky
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.
Kate
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.
Ellen Chamberlin
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
surprisingly disenchanting at first then the structure of it simply won me over.
Judy
May 25, 2010 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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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Priscilla Oppenheimer
After reading "36 Arguments" and loving it, I decided to try more Rebecca Goldstein books. This is her first. It's excellent. Funny, intellectual, accurate, engaging. I love the main character, a philosophy PhD student who has a hard time studying due to her effect on men, their effect on her (especially genius mathematical types), and her need to come to terms with her strict orthodox Jewish upbringing.
Donna
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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Gary
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
Lisa
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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M
I really enjoyed this book - it was written so naturally I felt like I was at home. The conflict was intriguing though in some ways I felt it could have been explored more deeply, and the ending seemed a little too neat and tidy for my taste - but she was an enjoyable narrator and the philosophy stuff was interesting to contemplate. In some ways I felt like this book was a response to Lady Chatterly's Lover (though I know it was very autobiographical) and there were many parallels though this on ...more
Karen
Set in the late 1970s, the story is narrated by Renee Feuer, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew but has thrown off those boundaries once reaching college. While studying for her masters in philosophy at Princeton, she meets Noam Himmel, a mathematical genius 15 years her elder, and the two soon marry. Only then does she discover what it's really like to live with someone who is obviously brilliant but often dismissive of other points of view and completely clueless about surviving in the real wor ...more
Lachlan
This book is by a novelist with a background in philosophy. As the title suggests, it really does deal with the debate for and against dualism (the position that mind and body are distinct), but also is about how the narrator -- an attractive philosophy student -- tries to find a balance between the demands of her body and her mind. The book also has valuable things to say about the nature of genius (the narrator marries one) and about the struggle of the intellectual with her religious roots. I ...more
Jana
Although funny and at times light, the story is actually quite sad---or maybe it delves too deeply into her lonliness? I often had to remind myself of the actual youth of the protagonist. And getting a glimpse into her families' Jewish life was interesting. But as a professor, I also thorougly enjoyed reading a novel set in academia with all the issues that come with that. I was not bothered by the ending; it made sense, and the timing seemed to fit as if she was telling her story only a year or ...more
Sil
One really has to pay attention to this book, not only because the vocabulary is so extraordinary, but for the universal truths it reveals. It is as deep as you want it to be, while remaining identifiably fun. I marked many a passage for discussion with my reading group, having been the one to suggest it. I loved Renee's human frailty and bravado. Bravo!!!
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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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More about Rebecca Goldstein...
36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries) Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity Mazel

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“I am beautiful for a brainy woman, brainy for a beautiful woman, but objectively speaking, neither beautiful nor brainy.” 2 likes
“That's one of the compensations for being mediocre. One doesn't have to worry about becoming mediocre.” 1 likes
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