Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher and the author of five novels, including Properties of Light (Houghton Mifflin, 2000); a collection of short stories, Strange Attractors (Viking, 1993); and two books of nonfiction, most recently Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (Schocken, 2006). Her work, both fiction and nonfiction, attempts to convey the aesthetic and emotional aspects of abstract intellectual pursuits, whether philosophy, mathematical logic, or quantum mechanics.
“Disenchantment of the World” is a novel woven around an unusual child, a mathematical prodigy born into a sect of Hungarian Hasidic Jews who were rescued during World War II by their charismatic rabbi and settled into a self-contained, xenophobic community up the Hudson from New York City. The story is told from the point of view of a young secular Jew, a disciple of Max Weber (who coined the famous phrase “disenchantment of the world” to describe the secularization of modern capitalist society). The book explores, among other ideas, the nature of mathematical genius, the competing claims of secularism and religion, and the fatal dimensions of both charisma and rationality.
Goldstein earned her PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. She has received the Whiting Writers’ Award for her fiction and two National Jewish Book Awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a MacArthur Fellow. She also holds a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2006–2007.