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The Mind-Body Problem

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  894 ratings  ·  109 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
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1983)
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 ·  894 ratings  ·  109 reviews

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All on its own, this book has forced me to reconsider the merits of the chicklit genre, as hilariously dislikable heroine Renee Feuer seduces and marries the intellectual prince, gets bored, sleeps around and badmouths everyone while alternating boasts about her firm tits and peachy ass with extended quotations from L'Être et le Néant and weird bits of Talmudic trivia. It's the best subversive rewriting of Cinderella ever; I couldn't put it down and finished it in a day. Please God, let me sit ...more
Gregory's Lament
Mar 25, 2008 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.
Nov 08, 2015 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
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
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: die-empfehlungen
I must admit that I hated the book when I first started to read it. It was an amazingly slow read but I think I can also blame the slowness of my reading on watching 7 seasons of Game of Thrones while doing it. So, yeah, I read a 290 page book in 1.5 months. And now I’m reading a 350 in less than a week. Anyway, enough with my ranting.

The book was interesting. There were parts that I absolutely hated because I could not understand them (too much philosophy for my taste) and I found them as a
Aug 05, 2013 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 ...more
Sara Batkie
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 ...more
Nov 04, 2010 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!
Apr 27, 2011 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.
Jeffra Hays
Jan 21, 2012 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.
Wendi Klaiber
Apr 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book was a part of my math book club with National Museum of Mathematics, and I have no idea why it was chosen. There is very little interesting mathematics, the math professors are portrayed as men with intelligence but with no personality, thoughtfulness, or consideration of others, and the main female character is an unlikable, weak woman who gathers value from relationships with men with acclaimed intelligence.

Not my cup of tea at all.
Aaron Arnold
Apr 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014, fiction
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
Oct 06, 2007 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 ...more
Mar 09, 2014 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
Bob Lopez
Sep 23, 2013 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."
Mar 18, 2009 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.
May 22, 2008 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.
Nov 30, 2008 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.
Ellen Chamberlin
Jul 07, 2012 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!
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: artsandcrafts
surprisingly disenchanting at first then the structure of it simply won me over.
Begüm Saçak
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
After I finished The Mind-Body Problem, I realized how I had enjoyed every single sentence of it. The reason was that every single sentence was a meditation on philosophy, life, and emotions that are so complex, yet so elegantly put forward by the author. I can say the theme of the book is "mattering" (at least through that perspective the author tries to philosophize about everyday emotions and decisions we make), and the things we do as humans to matter. But mattering itself is a complex ...more
Henry Sturcke
The narrator/protagonist of this novel is married to a genius. That’s her problem. Renée Feuer is a grad student in philosophy at Princeton when she meets and marries renowned mathematician Noam Himmel, thus uniting two of the ancient quartet of elements. I expected her to take lovers named Wasser and Erde, but this didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead her first, taken while she still feared it might in some way cause Himmel pain, is named Schmerz, and the second, who knows his way around her ...more
Chloe Noland
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I was drawn to Goldstein because of the way her books are described as "fictional philosophy," which sounded interesting, especially since she has a degree in the field and has spoken about morality through philosophical (as opposed to religious) lenses. This is her first novel, published in 1983, and although I could appreciate above all her ruminations on the mind-body problem (which I want to read more about now) the novel itself was a very basic, unhappy-marriage-leads-to-adultery plot, the ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
There was a thing I was hoping this would express and it basically didn't.

I read it at the same time as rereading Middlemarch, thinking that there would be connections but imagining them to be more subtle. As it was, I read of Renee's disappointing Roman honeymoon right after Dorothea's, and thought that reading the newer book might have been superfluous.

I can see my best qualities in Dorothea; I can see my worst ones in Renee, and that's what makes reading about her so excruciating--I hate her
Sharad Pandian
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, ethics
This is one of my favourite books because each page involves painful self-recognition: Renee Feuer (a stand-in for Goldstein herself) grows up in a conservative community but ends up being a sorta-secular grad student, she switches her major from physics to philosophy, and feels a great pull towards mathematical genius, a pull made up of insecurity and awe.

The first time I read it a few years ago, a lot of the philosophical references went over my head. Coming back to it now after a lot more
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored this book, as someone nearing 25, in the throws of a quarter life crisis, and very familiar with academia, this book could not have spoken to me more. Her notion of the mattering map rang so true and I think can be applied whenever there is a quest for greatness and notoriety, no matter your field. Her characters aren't likeable but they are human - they are deeply flawed, philosophically inconsistent, and begging to matter. This book looks at life, the choices we make, the ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the story of a woman, who is very smart and wants to be an intellectual. She marries a man from Princeton, who is a recognized genius, on the order of Einstein. She was raised orthodox Jew but has grown away from her religion.

She explores how the mind and body are connected in making a person. Her husband becomes like a robot, not showing human emotions and totally dedicated to his mathematical studies at Princeton. She considers leaving him all through the book.

In the end, she makes a
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Renee Feuer, a Graduate Philosophy student who is formerly Orthodox marries a genius mathematician at Princeton, Noam Himmel. The novel describes their dissatisfying marriage and her affairs, at the same time that it explores one of philosophy’s conundrums, viz., the Mind-Body problem. The question is how and whether the human mind and body interact or are distinct . For example, what happens to the mind when one dies- the body is clearly there but what of the mind? There are wonderful ...more
Paul Hackley
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I went from reading a pared down 'man' book to this garden of words 'woman' book in one day. But I liked it, this book. I liked it so much that I decided to see if the main character described by the narrator, 'Noam Himmel', was the same character as this funny boy I remember from elementary school. If anyone I ever knew was to become a prodigy mathematician it was this boy. But alas, Facebook is bereft of the right sort of 'Knop' (his last name, and the author likes to puts thoughts in ...more
Andy McKenzie
Oct 27, 2015 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
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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.

“That's one of the compensations for being mediocre. One doesn't have to worry about becoming mediocre.” 5 likes
“I am beautiful for a brainy woman, brainy for a beautiful woman, but objectively speaking, neither beautiful nor brainy.” 5 likes
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