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A Doubter's Almanac

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  3,818 ratings  ·  631 reviews
Milo Andret is born with an unusual mind. A lonely child growing up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s, Milo gives little thought to his talent, and not until his acceptance at U.C. Berkeley does he realize the extent, and the risks, of his singular gifts. California in the seventies is an initiation and a seduction, opening Milo’s eyes to the allure of both am ...more
Hardcover, 558 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Random House (first published January 5th 2016)
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Blake Wilson Agree 100%. I'm finishing it up now, and I've repeated across a number of pages to admire Canin's prose...This is my first Canin read, and,…moreAgree 100%. I'm finishing it up now, and I've repeated across a number of pages to admire Canin's prose...This is my first Canin read, and, undoubtedly, not my last.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Diane I was surprised initially by the timing of their marriage too. But the more her "Saint Helena" character was developed. I think Milo trusted Helena…moreI was surprised initially by the timing of their marriage too. But the more her "Saint Helena" character was developed. I think Milo trusted Helena from the beginning of his Princeton days, he felt he had a deep connection with her (that wasn't explained in detail for us) to see him at his worst (Hans Borland passing, drunken evenings, etc) and felt she could navigate him through, without judgement. Her enabling nature would easily draw Milo to be himself (not always pleasant to be around) while she did all the work to raise their children and have the pretense of a happy family.

Do I think she loved him the entire time? No - but I can imagine that she hoped their marriage would change him and their future for the better. That she would get to have a family (which was alluded to previously, even though he said he didn't want kids). Their son comments on how she was always full of hope, was in awe/astonished by his mind, and highlights how she just knew what he needed. "She was still good at believing it was going to get better." (pg 422)(less)

Community Reviews

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3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,818 ratings  ·  631 reviews

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Melinda Borie
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Deliver me from art about troubled men whose genius is used as an excuse for them to be assholes.
Elyse Walters
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This novel is extraordinary- It could win the Pulitzer Prize --it's that good -
and that type of quality!!

I read a lot of books - I write a lot of reviews. I lost my first review for "The Doubter's
Almanac" during a new phone transfer.
I lost my notes and quotes.. ( I'm sad about it), but I haven't lost my memory of what's most important to share.

*Milo* is an incredible unforgettable fiction character. There are so many sides to him. He's brilliant -and deranged - arrogant and forcible -hopele
Angela M
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It's a sad story to begin with . Milo as a boy lives a lonely life . It's an odd family life , dysfunctional without a doubt where his parents hardly speak to him or to each. His mother sits in the kitchen with a drink in her hand and his father sits in his study or putters around the house . Milo spends a lot of his time alone in the woods near his home and it is then that we recognize his genius as he carves a chain from a fallen tree . Milo is a genius, a math genius and in this beautifully w
Taryn Pierson
Sep 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-release
I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this book. It’s one that is nearly impossible to rate because while the writing is high quality, there are characterization problems that make me want to turn the book on its side and launch it like a Frisbee. Preferably into a lake.

My first and biggest beef is with how the female characters are developed, or rather, not developed. Main character and math genius Milo Andret is smart. So smart, we are led to believe, that the women in his life are totally fine being
Ron Charles
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Doubter’s Almanac” is a long, complex novel about math, which sounds like the square root of tedium, but suspend your flight instinct for a moment. Ethan Canin writes with such luxuriant beauty and tender sympathy that even victims of Algebra II will follow his calculations of the heart with rapt comprehension. And to be fair, although the story manipulates complex equations, “The Doubter’s Almanac” really isn’t about mathematics so much as a family of mathematicians wrestling with the curs ...more
Seton Rae
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ethan Canin is one of the best writers of our time. He has a masterful command of both style and structure, and writes with keen, intimate observation that rarely gets in the way of the plot. These gifts are on full display in "A Doubters Almanac," a multi-generational saga about a family cursed and blessed with both genius and addiction.

At the center of the story is Milo Andret, whose unique, mathematical brain propels him to tackle nearly impossible problems. Yet Milo is the ultimate unsolvab
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon
Math is a wonderful thing
Math is a really cool thing
So get off your "ath"
Let's do some math

This novel is well-written and especially unique in its structure, having the Pythagorasian father narrate nearly half the book then his math whiz son narrate the remainder.

The book is touching with its themes of the unbearable pressures of being a demigod of mathematics, and the resulting self-destruction, alcoholism, mental illness and/or addiction, as well as
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I feel pretty certain this will be the most exquisite book I read in 2016. Ethan Canin's prose is stunning, and the scope of his knowledge here is really extraordinary. It's a long book, but worth every minute.
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I so loved this book. And oh how I covet Ethan Canin's mind!
Loring Wirbel
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Ethan Canin's novels have been concentrated and focused bits of historical fiction or naturalist studies, so hearing that he was inventing the life of a mathematician studying topography and non-Euclidian geometries left a feeling of trepidation - would he pull it off with grace? Many literate authors try science and math approaches that end up feeling like uncomfortable tourism. Only a deeply passionate author that is at the same time steeped in science can shake the rafters with a nerdy work, ...more
Jan Rice
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about a particular (fictional) mathematician and about the perils of being a mathematical genius.

"It happens." He turned again to the garden. "To the brain, I mean. It's the drink, naturally. And the hepatic function. But there is clearly something else occurring, too. Certainly in other men I've seen it. There is something in certain abilities that is never far from--far from--" He looked out at the lake. "I cannot really know."
"No, please go on."
"Far from terror, perhaps. It is
Barbara Hall
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Compelling, difficult, beautiful, heart wrenching: an epic novel of a father and son, both math geniuses, whose lives are driven and destroyed by their extraordinary gifts. Themes of love, family, and genius are explored. Though mathematical theorems are part of this novel, the reading experience is not lessened if the reader is not math oriented. At its core, this is a human story of deeply gifted and deeply troubled characters, who are realistically, yet sympathetically portrayed by the extrao ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Best literary novel I've read in a couple of years. Hate to reduce it to a simple comparison, but if you need one think: Goldfinch + Prince of Tides. Can't rank it in comparison to Prince of Tides since it's been so long since I read that, but Doubter's Almanac comes before Goldfinch in my book. PS I hope this cover looks better on the hardcopy because looking at it electronically, I don't know what they were thinking!
switterbug (Betsey)
Sep 21, 2015 rated it liked it
For seven years, ever since I read Canin’s AMERICA AMERICA, I’ve been waiting for the author’s next novel. The similarities of these two works are few, but stand out: the downward spiral of alcoholism, and the exploration of family through the generations. But, while AMERICA AMERICA examines the price of political aspirations and fatal flaws in a family (with some parallels to THE GREAT GATSBY), THE DOUBTER’S ALMANAC is more insular by virtue of its subject. The life of a brilliant mathematician ...more
David Lutes
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A parallax is a shift in perspective which reveals an object's relation to other objects. Canin employs the astronomical concept of parallax to the narrative structure of A Doubter's Almanac to bring us, surprisingly, a novel of family, love, and tenderness. The narrator does not change, but a mid-book perspective shift gives us a more intimate look at the relationships to Milo, a mathematician so brilliant he never bothers with things like kindness or empathy. The beginning of the book is a ple ...more
Book Riot Community
This is a fantastic multigenerational novel about a family of geniuses. Having big brains may help people solve math problems and understand science, but when it comes to love and compassion, the Andret family is lacking in that department. The patriarch is a mean s.o.b. and his son, Hans, is doomed to follow in his footsteps unless he turns his life around. I am a sucker for big, beautiful dysfunctional family sagas, and this one is just what I needed.

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
This is a great story with fabulous characters and character development. I have not read Ethan Canin for many years, maybe it's been years since he wrote a new book, but this huge novel, almost 600 pages or 19 hours of listening, is worth the time you'll invest.

It's the story of a mathematician and his family. Milo is a genius, or savant, or brilliant or whatever label you want to put on his gift for mathematics and that gift or curse is passed down in his family. To the reader he is a confusi
Lolly K Dandeneau
When I mentioned in a status update that this is like a heavy coat, I meant it.
"Something in his brain picked up disturbance acutely." In this case, the disturbance was his own genius. His research makes him legendary, his mind complicates every relationship in his life, collecting enemies, supporters, lovers and self-doubt along the way. Drowning in his own brilliance, fighting his own ambition and succumbing to failures we find a man so seeped in his own constantly churning mind that he destr
Anne Ross
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really tried (150 pages and a peek into Part 2) but just could not follow this protagonist any farther. Ron Charles wrote in his very positive review, "Milo isn’t an easy character to like or even to sympathize with, and Canin takes a considerable risk in plotting his slow demise to the millionth decimal point." And that's exactly why I put the book down.
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
In the Woods of Michigan It was serendipity; I was Up North in Michigan, a stone's throw from a spring fed pond, two hours away from Cheboygan--reading a book whose character's life took him from Cheboygan to a cabin on a small inland lake in Michigan. The character also lived in Lansing, where I lived for many years, in a small Ohio college town similar to where we lived when my husband was in seminary, a half hour's drive from OSU, and in Princeton, a half hour's drive from where we first live ...more
Mike W
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

Good fiction is about the business of being human. A Doubter's Almanac is in some sense about the business of being super-human. Milo Andret is a socially backward and mostly unremarkable youth but for an innate sense of direction and some visuo-spatial reasoning skills. It isn't until college that these skills and others manifest as mathematics genius and he's "recognized" by a UC Berkely professor who brings Milo into their math department as a PhD.student.

Young and mostly innocent,
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-fiction
If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things. ~Rene Descartes

“You make a decision, and you turn it into the right one” ~Helena Andret

This fine novel will most certainly be on “The Best of 2016” list in literature. That said, I don’t think it’s for the average reader. If you are a mathematician or a philosopher, you will find this even more amazing than I did. I have a rudimentary education in higher math, and it was enough f
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars.

This book was exactly what I had hoped it would be: the first sprawling, epic dysfunctional-family saga of 2016 (at least of what I've read!). I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be thinking about Canin's cast of characters for a long time.

The story first follows Milo Andret, a scarily-talented mathematician whose path through life is anything but a straight line, and then follows his son Hans, a man who is both blessed with similar talent and cursed with similar demons. Along the way, Ca
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I won an advanced reader's copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads program. What a wonderful, sprawling novel. It centers around the life of Milo Andret, a brilliant mathematician, from his childhood in the woods of Michigan throughout his life in academia and beyond. A significant portion of the plot relies on Andret's attempts to find proof for a certain mathematical formula (this, and several other mathematical theorems, as far as my limited research can tell, is a fictional creation). I ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
I finally finished 'A Doubter's Almanac', which is a character study of a genius family. Reader, we are supposed to be sad for this family, maybe, but I felt only disgust. The family, and most critics, had a higher toleration for the spoiled prima donna who begins the tale, who gradually spins out of control taking down the happiness of his wife and kids than I have. Plus, I was plain bored with the ordinary foibles (view spoiler) ...more
Becca Chopra
Nov 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The back cover copy on this book is totally accurate - I found Ethan Canin's latest novel "mesmerizing." I'm not a mathematician, not even interested in math, but the author made me interested. Surely Canin had to have background in this field because he takes us into the mind of a genius in the field of topology and his progeny that share this gift/curse. Indeed, when I looked up the author to learn more of his background, he had been an mechanical engineering major before switching to creative ...more
Allen Adams
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing

“Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.” – Bernard Williams

What is the true cost of genius? How does a single-minded fanatical brilliance impact the rest of one’s life? What effects does it have on interpersonal relationships and one’s sense of self? Great problems require great solutions, but those solutions can often prove to be obstacles in their own right.

Ethan Canin’s “A Doubter’s Almanac” tells the tale of the issues raised by the obsessive genius of o
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An incredible literary tour-de-force! This is one of those books you keep reading long after your bedtime, unwilling to put it down. Beautifully written, elegantly conceived, and brilliantly plotted . I highly recommend this family saga! From Amazon:In this mesmerizing novel, Ethan Canin, the New York Times bestselling author of America America and The Palace Thief, explores the nature of genius, rivalry, ambition, and love among multiple generations of a gifted family.

Milo Andret is born with a
Gary Branson
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Compulsively readable, excellent character and plot development. Wonderful storytelling. Highly recommend this family saga/drama for its flawed, yet wonderfully drawn, characters. The pacing of this big novel makes it seem much shorter than it is.
Nov 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quando leio um livro, estabeleço quase sempre uma relação com as suas personagens, como se se tratassem de meus amigos ou, pelo menos, de meus conhecidos. Deste modo, acabo também por viver o desenrolar da história, não como uma mera espectadora, mas talvez como uma figurante sempre presente, com vontade de intervir, não obstante não o poder fazer.

Ora, com esta obra estabeleci uma relação ambivalente, pois se às vezes gostava imenso das personagens e dos seus actos, outras vezes sentia-me zangad
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Around the Year i...: A Doubter's Almanac, by Ethan Canin 2 28 May 22, 2016 05:18AM  
Ethan Canin 3 13 May 10, 2016 07:53AM  
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Highly regarded as both a novelist and a short story writer, Ethan Canin has ranged in his career from the "breathtaking" short stories of Emperor of the Air to the "stunning" novellas of The Palace Thief, from the "wise and beautiful" short novel Carry Me Across the Water to the "epic" America America. His short stories, which have been the basis for four Hollywood movies, have appeared in a wide ...more
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