Goldstein, Rebecca 1950- (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein)
Goldstein, Rebecca 1950- (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein)
Born February 23, 1950, in White Plains, NY; daughter of Bezalel (a cantor) and Loretta (a homemaker) Newberger; married Sheldon Goldstein (a physicist); children: Yael Tamar, Danielle Elizabeth. Education: Barnard College, B.A. (summa sum laude), 1972; Princeton University, Ph.D., 1977. Religion: Jewish.
Writer, philosopher, and educator. Barnard College, New York, NY, assistant professor of philosophy, 1976-86; Rutgers University, Rutgers, NJ, visiting professor of philosophy, 1988-90; Columbia University, New York, NY, professor of creative writing, 1993-96; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, scholar-in-residence, 1999-2000; Trinity College, Hartford, CT, visiting professor of philosophy, 2001-06.
Montague Prize for excellence in philosophy, Barnard College, 1972; National Science Foundation Fellowship Award for philosophy of science, 1972-75; Whiting Foundation Fellowship Award, 1975-76; American Council for Learned Societies Fel- lowship, 1984; Whiting Foundation Writer's Award, 1993-94, for The Dark Sister; National Jewish Book Honor Award, 1994, for Strange Attractors; National Jewish Book Award, 1995, for Mazel; Edward Lewis Wallant Award, University of Hartford, 1996, for Mazel; MacArthur Foundation fellow, 1996-2001; Prairie Schooner Award, University of Nebraska Press, 1997, for Best Short Story; Bogliasco Foundation fellow, 1998; Honorary Doctorate, Spertus Institute, 2000; Honors in Fiction, Massachusetts Book Awards, 2001, for Properties of Light; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fellow 2005; Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought, 2006, for Betraying Spinoza, 2006; Radcliffe fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 2006-07; Guggenheim fellow, 2006-07.
The Mind-Body Problem, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1989.
The Dark Sister, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
Mazel, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
(Editor) Strange Attractors (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Goedel, Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (biography), Schocken (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to books and anthologies, including Out of the Garden: Women Writers on The Bible, edited by Christina Buchman and Celina Spiegel, Balantinem, 1994; The Oxford Book of Jewish Short Stories, edited by Ilan Stavins, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1998; The Prairie Schooner Anthology of Contemporary American Jewish Writing, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998; Method and Truth: The Search for Norms across the Disciplines, edited by Berel Lang, Trinity College Press (Hartford, CT), 2002; Face to Face: Women Writers on Faith, Mysticism, and Awakening, edited by Linda Hogan and Brenda Peterson, North Point Press/Farrar Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2004; and Who We Are, edited by Derek Rubin, Schocken (New York, NY), 2005. Contributor of short stories and essays to periodicals, including Tikkun, Prairie Schooner, Commentary, New York Times Book Review, Nature, Seed, and Shma.
Goldstein's short stories have been included in Chanuka Lights, an audiocassette produced by National Public Radio, 1995.
In response to a query from a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Rebecca Goldstein commented: "Writing my first novel recalled for me the pleasures of playing hooky in high school, the only extracurricular activity in which I participated. I was using the purloined time in a way agreeable to the strange kid that I was—at the public library, laboring over heavy tomes of philosophy."
Goldstein's early interest in philosophy has since led to a career as a professor and has also become a continuing theme of her novels. Goldstein's much-reviewed first book, The Mind-Body Problem, sets forth the dilemma that occupies protagonists in her subsequent works as well, how to incorporate the demands of the body into a life dominated by the concerns of the mind.
The Mind-Body Problem is a comic novel about Renee, a graduate student in philosophy whose insecurity about her own intellectual capabilities leads her to marry a man generally acknowledged to be a genius. Their troubled relationship is at the center of this academic satire, and inspired Caroline Seebohm, writing in the New York Times Book Review, to remark: "The first 50 or so pages of The Mind-Body Problem are so clever and funny that I had to put the book down and go to the fridge to cool off." Reviewers found that the academic backdrop of the book allowed Goldstein various plot possibilities. Ms. contributor Diane Cole wrote that "Goldstein succeeds brilliantly in smuggling into her novel short courses on everything from the history of mathematics to the trouble with Talmudic logic." London Times reviewer John Nicholson noted that Goldstein "assaults the pretensions and insensitivity of academe with a bludgeon." Despite her contention that "this is a terrific first novel. Also ultimately disappoint- ing," Los Angeles Times contributor Anne F. Wittels noted: "Goldstein is intelligent and perceptive, bawdy and witty—an articulate writer of great talent."
Goldstein followed The Mind-Body Problem with The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, the story of a forty-six-year-old professor whose personal experiences and training in philosophy have taught her to disdain emotional attachments of any kind. Through this character, reviewers noted, Goldstein surveys the academic milieu and forms extreme, and often funny, opinions on its behavior and morals. When one student manages to break through Professor Mueller's armor, setting free her repressed past, Goldstein's writing, according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, "takes on a pleasing emotional chiaroscuro, a deepening and darkening of ambition." New York Times Book Review critic Robert Cohen found that there was a certain "predictability" to the book that resulted from the "stereotypes that are applied to [Mueller's] profession." Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman also remarked on the predictable plot of the novel, but noted that "it is, in fact, testimony to Goldstein's talents that a reader isn't tempted to set the book down despite its foregone conclusion."
New York Times reviewer Kakutani wrote of Goldstein's third novel, The Dark Sister: "one has the exhilarating sense … of reading a writer who has just discovered the full possibilities of her talent." Other reviewers also remarked on the ambitious scope of The Dark Sister, which is not only a satire of heavy-handed feminist fiction and an examination of relationships between women, but contains a novel within the novel that explores psychological and philosophical themes through the personae of William and Henry James, the celebrated nineteenth-century philosopher and his novelist brother. The novel's complex structure found favor with some reviewers, while others were less enthusiastic. Ann Thwaite of the Washington Post Book World noted positively that "seeking the truth is of course never straightforward and The Dark Sister is not a book for lovers of the simple and straightforward." Kakutani also noted that Goldstein's "writing … is clever, observant and nimble. And while the alarming conclusion of The Dark Sister feels a bit truncated and abrupt, the schematism that bogged down her last novel is nowhere to be seen."
Mazel, while more straightforward than some of Goldstein's work, nevertheless explores philosophical questions. The central character is Sasha Saunders, whom Goldstein had introduced in the short story collection Strange Attractors. A rabbi's daughter from an Orthodox community in Poland, Sasha escaped the traditions of her upbringing by becoming an actress in a Yiddish theater group, and the horrors of the Holocaust by coming to the United States. She is an intelligent, sardonic woman who believes that "mazel"—Yiddish for "luck"—has been the driving force in her life. In her old age, she is contentedly retired in New York City, and her daughter, Chloe, and granddaughter, Phoebe, have both become college professors. But Sasha and Chloe are taken aback when Phoebe embraces Orthodoxy. The book includes a satiric portrait of modern Orthodox life in American suburbia and an affectionate one of Sasha's childhood community.
Lore Dickstein, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found the skewering of suburban life "full of flash and brilliance." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman praised Mazel as "ebullient" and "folktale-like," adding that it "celebrates the passion of the old Jewish ways, the resiliency of women, and our capacity for joy." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also had a positive reaction, calling the novel Goldstein's "most accessible and beguiling" and "one that discriminating readers won't want to miss."
Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics deals with the love affair of two brilliant physicists, Justin Childs and Dana Mallach, whose father, Samuel, is also an accomplished physicist but is angry with fellow scientists who fail to appreciate his work. While Justin and Dana develop a passionate romance, Samuel joins them in a scientific project aimed at reconciling quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. Complications and betrayals ensue, however, with destructive consequences. The story "gives Ms. Goldstein a chance to explore her perennial themes about the dichotomies between mind and body, intellect and passion, logos and eros," observed Kakutani in the New York Times. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Goldstein "gracefully deconstructs our contradictory impulses." The reviewer also noted: "Though the rarefied air the characters breathe can be stifling, at its best the novel is bewitchingly ethereal." Similarly, Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, appreciated Goldstein's writing style, calling the work a "thrillingly lucent tragedy."
Goldstein turns from fiction to biography and an examination of mathematics in her book Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Goedel. The author delves into the life and personality of Goedel, who was a logician and a contemporary and friend of Albert Einstein. She also explores Goedel's groundbreaking mathematical proofs in detail, including his Incompleteness Theorem, which established that every mathematical truth can not be demonstrated by a prescribed mathematical system. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author, who has a background in mathematics, "does a magnificent job of exploring [the Incompleteness Theorem's] rich philosophical implications." The reviewer added that the author "brings a novelistic depth of character and atmosphere to her account."
Referring to Incompleteness as an "intellectual love story" in the New York Times Book Review, Ihsan Taylor added that the story is "surprisingly accessible." Weekly Standard contributor David Guaspari, commented: "Goldstein … presents a moving picture of a passionate life devoted to ‘abstruse’ concerns and invokes, appropriately, the Platonic theme that a genuine philosopher hungers for truth with an intensity that is erotic." Ray Olson, writing in Booklist, noted: "Surely readers excited by the current revolt against materialism, positivism … and subjectivism will want to read … Goldstein." New York Times Book Review contributor Polly Shulman wrote: "A biography with two focuses—a man and an idea—Incompleteness unfolds its surprisingly accessible story with dignity, tenderness and awe."
In Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, Goldstein presents a biography of the seventeenth-century philosopher that focuses both on his life and his philosophy. The author specifically explores Spinoza's thinking concerning Jewish identity and his interest in metaphysics and his ultimate decision to essentially turn away from Judaism as well as Christianity or any other religion. Goldstein also writes of Spinoza's belief in both political and religious tolerance. In a review in Harper's John Leonard wrote: "By ‘betraying’ Spinoza, she means that she has dared to imagine him in a social context, reading his mind as well as his books." Harold Bloom, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented: "Rebecca Goldstein's poignant brief life of Spinoza seems free of any ambivalence toward him, perhaps because she studies him as a melancholy instance of the increasingly vexed question of Jewish identity."
Referring to Betraying Spinoza as a "graceful ode," in a review in Tikkun, Eric Elshtain went on to note that "Betraying Spinoza takes us through the harrowing and fascinating history of Sephardic Jewry from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries." Elshtain added: "Equally compelling is Goldstein's way with complex philosophical ideas." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "In this admirable biography, Goldstein shows that Spinoza is paradoxically Jewish."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September-October, 2005, Gregory H. Moore, review of Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Goedel, p. 464.
Biography, summer, 2006, Harold Bloom, review of Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, p. 541.
Booklist, September 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Mazel, p. 141; August, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics, p. 2112; February 15, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Incompleteness, p. 1045.
Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1989, Ron Grossman, review of The Mind-Body Problem.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 31, 1991, Margaret Cannon, review of The Dark Sister, p. C7.
Harper's, May, 2006, John Leonard, review of Betraying Spinoza, p. 79.
Library Journal, April 15, 2006, Scott Duimstra, review of Betraying Spinoza, p. 79.
Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1983, Anne F. Wittels, review of The Mind Body Problem.
Ms., January, 1984, Diane Cole, review of The Mind-Body Problem, pp. 14-15.
New York Times, April 18, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, p. B3; August 6, 1991, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Dark Sister, p. B2; August 29, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of Properties of Light, p. B6.
New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1983, Caroline Seebohm, review of The Mind-Body Problem, p. 14; March 17, 1985, "Writing the Second Novel—A Symposium," p. 1; May 7, 1989, Robert Cohen, review of The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, p. 28; October 29, 1995, Lore Dickstein, review of Mazel, p. 54; May 1, 2005, Polly Shulman, review of Incompleteness, p. 20; April 2, 2006, Ihsan Taylor, review of Incompleteness, p. 24; June 18, 2006, Harold Bloom, review of Betraying Spinoza, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, August 7, 1995, review of Mazel, p. 441; June 19, 2000, review of Properties of Light, p. 57; December 20, 2004, review of Incompleteness, p. 46; March 20, 2006, review of Betraying Spinoza, p. 47.
Sci-Tech Book News, June, 2005, review of Incompleteness, p. 15.
Tikkun, January, 2001, review of Properties of Light, p. 60; September-October, 2006, Eric Elshtain, review of Betraying Spinoza, p. 73.
Times (London, England), February 21, 1985, John Nicholson, review of The Mind-Body Problem.
Washington Post Book World, July 14, 1991, Ann Thwaite, review of The Dark Sister, p. 7.
Weekly Standard, June 19, 2006, David Guaspari, review of Incompleteness.
Wisconsin Bookwatch, July, 2006, review of Betraying Spinoza.
California Literary Review Web site,http://www.calitreview.com/ (August 8, 2007), "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein," interview with author.
Rebecca Goldstein Home Page,http://www.rebeccagoldstein.com (March 8, 2007).