Lisa's Reviews > 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
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Apr 02, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: philosophic-fiction, contemporary-writers, math, jewish-literature
Read from April 02 to 16, 2011 — I own a copy
BCID: 10003978


I began reading 36 Arguments without much hope of enjoying it. Of course, the same dread filled me as I purchased it since I am often lured by the marriage of fiction with philosophy, though the marriage almost always end up a Sophie's World sort of debacle. Yet, pulled to such book I always am. Another reason I began this book without much hope of enjoying it is that I read some reviews on this site & others like it. The reviews made it sound as the book was filled with "heavy" stuff that required more than the usual amount of concentration allotted novel reading to wend ones way through. I have failed to find anything that has taxed my brain, in fact, I find myself smiling, even grinning an awful lot. The term “pretentious” was lobbed about quite freely in some reviewa. As for that charge, the book is far too slyly good-natured to be anything like pretentious. Yes, the characters engage in philosophic, religious, and mathematic debate, but given the fact the most of the characters are part of academia, it would be odd for them not to discuss these things. I am happy to report that I am more the pleasantly surprised with the book as a whole.
The book’s plot follows the intellectual odyssey of Cass Seltzer, an atheist psychologist who has recently published a book in entitled The Illusions of Religious Experiences. The book has made him the newest celebrity of the intelligentsia, a role with which he is not entirely comfortable. Nor is he so sure of the tag with which the media has stuck him, “the atheist with a soul,” but then again when one is an non-believer who counts a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem as ones second favorite poem, one is liable to get stuck with an ironic nickname or two. For all his success, Cass has stayed
humble; considering he is romantically involved with the self-promoting, fanging “Goddess of Game Theory” who routinely lets him know he is intellectually small potatoes compared to her, he has had some help in this regard.
As Cass comes to terms with his new role as a star of the academic firmament, he reviews his past; his upbringing as the child of a woman who has fled her Hassidic upbringing, his friendship with an angelic Hassidic child with a gift for math, his short career as the protégé of a academic guru (one who bears more than a slight resemblance to Harold Bloom), his marriage to a French poet, and his love affair with an earthy anthropologist. One thing becomes remarkably clear as the story progresses; Cass has a near perfect track record for worshipping the perfectly loathsome. Sweet Cass is naïve and then some. It is his good fortune that his affability has drawn some good sorts to him as well.
The characters are all wonderfully drawn, it is hard not to adore Cass and his friend Roz. The philosophic and religious themes intriguing and well leavened with humor and gentle irony. It is also the sort of book that makes one want to find out more about other things; Hasidim, game theory…..
For the most part this book reads like a bottle of vinho verde, crisp with just enough effervescence to give it a bit of sparkle, but not seem clever, that is, clever in the worst sense of the word.
The book just got better and better as I read. Before I was even done, I had recommended it to at least five people.
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Reading Progress

04/02/2011 page 60
14.0%
04/03/2011 page 123
30.0% "I began reading 36 Arguments without much hope of enjoying it. Of course the same dread filled me as I purchased it since I am often lured by the marriage of fiction with philosophy, though they always end up a Sophie's World debacle. But pulled to them I always am. Happy to report that I am more the pleasantly surprised."
04/04/2011 page 123
30.0% "Another reason I began this book w/o much hope of enjoying it is that I read some reviews on this site & others like it. The reviews made it sound as the book was filled with "heavy" stuff that required more than the usual amount of concentration allotted novel reading to wend ones way through. I have failed to find anything that has taxed my brain, in fact, I find myself smiling an awful lot. It is delightful."
04/08/2011 page 282
68.0% "just gets better and better"
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