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Editorial Reviews

Narrator Oliver Wyman skillfully inhabits the robust, zany cast of characters that populate this novel, from a young, female, hippie anthropology grad student to the Rebbe, or leader, of a sect of fictional ultra-orthodox Jews known as the Valdeners.

His most nuanced performance comes with his sensitive portrayal of the Rebbe's son, Azarya. As the only son, he is in line to accept the mantle of Valdener leadership from his father. But Azarya's life becomes complicated when Roz Margolis — the grad student — after a chance meeting with Azarya as a 6-year-old, believes he possesses a genius that is too profound to remain trapped within the confines of his upstate New York community. Roz only meets Azarya because her boyfriend is also a grad student whose mentor, Jonas Elijah Klapper, is interested in the Valdeners.

Klapper’s existence gives Wyman a chance to have as much fun as any voice actor could hope to have portraying a character. Born Jonas Klepfish, Jonas Elijah Klapper (the book’s narrator always refers to him by his full name) grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, managed to graduate from Columbia University and become a professor there, and then jumped ship for Frankfurter University (a thinly disguised Brandeis) in Weedham, Mass., by the time the story begins. Along the way, Klapper has affected an English accent and the use of 75-cent words whenever a 5-cent word would do. And Klapper is not the only oddball. The book is populated with them — a bubbe with borderline personality disorder and a "lupine" French poet among them — making the novel a hugely entertaining listening experience.

But the story, which spans about 20 years, doesn’t neglect to develop main characters whose faults, foibles, and humanity deeply endear them to the listener. As the title suggests, the characters spend a great deal of time meditating on whether or how God manifests himself among them, as they come to realize that if they've only got each other, they're not in such bad shape. —Maggie Frank

Publisher's Summary

After Cass Seltzers book becomes a surprise best seller, he's dubbed the atheist with a soul and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, the goddess of game theory, and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation.Then a former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor - a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism - and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass's theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort.

Through the enchantment of fiction, award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety.

Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate ("Resolved: God Exists") and a stand-alone appendix with the 36 arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom.

©2010 Rebecca Goldstein (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Oliver Wyman’s narration contains just the right bit of mischief to deliver the polysyllabic academician’s jargon in this ambitious, humorous new novel…Wyman is wonderful as puffed-up conversations about the psychology of religion, Matthew Arnold’s poetry, and the Kabbalah rain down." (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • David
  • East Palo Alto, CA, United States
  • 07-03-10

Subtly Codifying Your Atheist Suspicions

Oliver Wyman reads perfectly, doing justice to the varied characters and the sometimes lofty or esoteric tone of the book. Hearing the Jewish phrasing (and other less vernacular words) aloud was a great treat and wonderful learning experience that I could not create when reading the book.

The book is a fascinating look at some of the "Varieties of Religious Illusion" through an engaging character story. Full of allegory that I'm sure I'm not fully grasping, but I very much enjoyed the presentation of what I did grasp. The plot and setting will be familiar to those in grad school, but only a few things in the book require much extrinsic knowledge for comprehension, thanks to the aside thinking of the main character(s).

Rather thorough in its assessment of faith, the ways in which we believe, and human nature. Not always an easy listen, but well worth the time and thought.

This narration from Oliver (and later the author) makes a stellar companion to the physical book.

14 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A bit over my head..........

Although I am thoroughly enjoying "36 Arguments for the Existence of God" the arguments are way over my head. Oh, I get a point here or there but for the most part my linear mind can't process the authors writing.

However, it is very well written and quite engaging.


8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Good for the agnostic layman

I enjoyed the story line of this book, even though I don't inhabit the same world the characters do. Parts of the story are enlightening and/or emotional, but I didn't really get into it. However, the appendix is fantastic. I didn't feel like the author attacked God or religion, but did attack some of the arguments put forward to claim his (hers?, its?) existence. This was eye opening to me and focused many scattered thoughts I have long had. The 36 arguments and thier refutations are all short and sweet (there will be plenty more to say by all parties), but the agnostic apologetics are good for the novice.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

I'm still trying to figure this book's purpose

Would you try another book from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and/or the narrators?

The narrator's performance was amazing. The book was quite boring and I kept waiting for the so what of the story, but never found it. The add-on at the end about the arguments for and against the existence of God were light on meaningful arguments, and didn't seem to connect to the story in any way.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

DENIAL

This is not the story one expects from its title. “36 Argument for the Existence of God” is about denial, not affirmation of God’s existence.

Rebecca Goldstein writes like Stephen Pinker on steroids. The subtitle of the book might be “The Science of Human Nature denies the existence of God”. Goldstein has done a masterful job of creating “fear and trembling” in believers; i.e. in the opposite sense of Kierkegaard’s meaning of the phrase.

If you are a believer, “36 Arguments…” is a clear explanation of your battleground; it reveals the manifesto, strategy, and tactics of a non-believer. Faith is always a refuge but is it enough? “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” is a fascinating piece of literature.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 07-02-10

wish I'd waited for the movie

I might "get" a film version -- it might be clever and manic-- but as a longish novel/appendix, this doesn't work for me.

As a "for dummies" guide to mathematics, philosophy and psychology (and I am one of the dummies), it's not so bad. As satire on academia, well, there are much better ones out there

Literature about a god-soaked or a god-absent universe usually doesn't announce itself in the title or frame itself in verbal debate, even if that debate adds an ironic layer. I supposed this is "inventive" fiction, but for me, in its bad moments (and there were many), it read like chic lit with Wikipedia links.

The novel didn't really entertain, divert or (as suggested by its clasification as literary fiction) capture my imagination-- I am left wondering if it was worth 15 hours of listening, not wondering at the universe.

5 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • Moorestown, NJ, United States
  • 10-14-10

Dissappointed

I enjoyed the book until I reached the Appendix. Argument number one, the Cosmological Argument, is the most famous of the many arguments for the existence of God, but is misstated by the author. Why does she do this? Either she is ignorant of the actual argument or she purposefully misstates it. Neither option is good. She then refutes the argument as she stated it, which is no surprise; straw man arguments are easy to refute. Of all the methods of attempting to deal with the Cosmological Argument, this is one of the more dishonest.

8 of 21 people found this review helpful