Rebecca Goldstein

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Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Goldstein.jpg
Born Rebecca Newberger
(1950-02-23) February 23, 1950 (age 65)
White Plains, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater City College of New York
Barnard College
Princeton University
Spouse(s) Sheldon Goldstein (divorced)
Steven Pinker
Institutions Columbia University
Rutgers University
Trinity College
Harvard University
New York University[1]

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (born February 23, 1950) is an American novelist and philosopher. She has written six novels, a number of short stories and essays, and studies of mathematician Kurt Gödel and philosophers Baruch Spinoza and Plato. She is a MacArthur Fellow and has received the National Humanities Medal,[2] the National Jewish Book Award, and numerous other honors.

Early life and education[edit]

Goldstein, born Rebecca Newberger, grew up in White Plains, New York, and did her undergraduate work at City College of New York, UCLA, and Barnard College, where she graduated as valedictorian in 1972. She was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. She has one older brother who is an Orthodox Rabbi, and she also has a younger sister, Sarah Stern. An older sister, Mynda Barenholtz, died in 2001.


After earning her Ph.D. from Princeton University, where she studied with Thomas Nagel and wrote a dissertation on "Reduction, Realism and the Mind," she returned to Barnard as a professor of philosophy. There she published her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem (1983), a serio-comic tale of the conflict between emotion and intelligence, combined with reflections on the nature of mathematical genius, the challenges faced by intellectual women, and Jewish tradition and identity. Goldstein said she wrote the book to "...insert 'real life' intimately into the intellectual struggle. In short I wanted to write a philosophically motivated novel."[3]

Her second novel, The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989), was also set in academia, though with a far darker tone. Her third novel, The Dark Sister (1993), was something of a departure: a postmodern fictionalization of family and professional issues in the life of William James. She followed it with a short-story collection Strange Attractors (1993), which was a National Jewish Honor Book and New York Times Notable Book of the Year.[4] A fictional mother, daughter, and granddaughter introduced in two of the stories in that collection became the main characters of [5] Goldstein's next novel, Mazel (1995), which won the National Jewish Book Award and 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award.

A "genius grant" from the MacArthur Fellows Program in 1996 led to the writing of Properties of Light (2000), a ghost story about love, betrayal, and quantum physics. Her most recent novel was 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010), which explores ongoing controversies over religion and reason through the tale of a professor of psychology who has written an atheist bestseller while his life is permeated with secular versions of religious themes such as messianism, divine genius, and the quest for immortality. The book contains a lengthy nonfiction appendix (attributed to the novel's protagonist) which details thirty-six traditional and modern arguments for the existence of God together with their refutations. The book was chosen as the best work of fiction of 2010 by The Christian Science Monitor.[6]

Goldstein has written two biographical studies: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005) and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006). Betraying Spinoza combined a continuing interest in Jewish ideas and history with an increasing concern with secularism, humanism, and atheism. Together with 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction it established her as a prominent figure in the humanist movement, part of a wave of "new new atheists" marked by less divisive rhetoric and a greater representation of women.[7] In 2011 she was named "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association and "Freethought Heroine" by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

In 2014, she published Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, an exploration of the historical roots and contemporary relevance of philosophy. The book alternates between expository chapters on the life and ideas of Plato in the context of ancient Greece with modern dialogues in which Plato is brought to life in the 21st century and demonstrates the relevance of philosophy by arguing with contemporary figures such as a software engineer at Google headquarters, a right-wing talk show host, an affective neuroscientist, and others.

In addition to Barnard, Goldstein has taught at Columbia, Rutgers, and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and she has been since 2014 [8] a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities in London. As of 2016, she will be a Visiting Professor in the Department of English at New York University.[9] She has held visiting fellowships at Brandeis University, the Santa Fe Institute, Yale University, and Dartmouth College. In 2011, she delivered the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Yale University, entitled "The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature." She serves on the Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.[10]

Goldstein's writing has been published not only in her books but also in[11] chapters in a number of edited books, as well as in journals including The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Tikkun (magazine), Commentary (magazine), and in blog format in the Washington Post "On Faith" section.[12] She has served on several book prize juries, including the National Book Award and the Sami Rohr Prize of the Jewish Book Council.

Personal life[edit]

Goldstein lives in Boston and Truro, Massachusetts.

She married her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein, when she was 19 (in 1969)[13] and they were divorced in 1999.[13] She and Sheldon Goldstein are the parents of the novelist Yael Goldstein Love and poet Danielle Blau. In a 2006 interview with Luke Ford, Goldstein said:

I lived Orthodox for a long time. My husband was Orthodox. Because I didn't want to be hypocritical with our kids, I kept everything. I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away and I was a happy little atheist.[13]

She married[14] Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker in December 2007.[15] They met after Pinker mentioned her in his book Words and Rules, where his example of an irregular verb form "familiar enough to block a regular version, but not quite familiar enough to sound natural"[16] is the participle "stridden" in Goldstein's novel The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of the Mind. Pinker recounts that Goldstein saw the book, contacted him, and they "had tea together."[17] Goldstein says: "When I first met Steve in the flesh, I said that the way he thinks had so completely changed the way I think — particularly what I had learned from him about cognitive psychology and evolutionary psychology — that I said, 'I don't think I've had my mind so shaken up by any thinker since [18th-century philosopher] David Hume.' And he very modestly said, 'That can't be the case.' But it was the case. So I can certainly say that Steve has profoundly influenced the way I think."[18]

In 2004, the online science magazine Seed asked Pinker to, he said, "engage in a dialogue with a novelist", and he chose Goldstein.[17] The conversation took place on May 19, 2004; Pinker said: "At the end of our marvelous four-hour dialogue, the editor of the magazine came in, looked at the tape, and said, 'Oh, I'm sorry but the tape recorder didn't work. Would you consider doing it again?' And the rest is history."[17] (They did then engage in a second dialogue, which was published by Seed.)[19]



  • Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010)
  • Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics (2000)
  • Mazel (1995)
  • The Dark Sister (1993)
  • The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989)
  • The Mind-Body Problem (1983)

Short stories[edit]

  • Strange Attractors: Stories (1993)


  • Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (2014)
  • Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006)
  • Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005)

Awards and fellowships[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein web site". Retrieved 2006-11-07. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Lore Dickstein, "World of Our Mothers," The New York Times, October 29, 1995 URL=
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Jacoby, Susan. "Atheists — naughty and nice — should define themselves". The Washington Post. 
  8. ^ Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, "Distinguished Fellows for 2013-2014"
  9. ^ New York University, "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient," Sept. 3, 2015 |URL=
  10. ^
  11. ^ List of linked articles, chapters and stories from author's official website |URL=
  12. ^ The Washington Post  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ a b c Luke Ford, "Interview with Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem", conducted by phone April 11, 2006, transcript posted at
  14. ^ Crace, John (June 17, 2008). "Interview: Harvard University's Steven Pinker". The Guardian (London). 
  15. ^ Greg Epstein, photograph taken December 2, 2007, "Greg Epstein, Rebecca Goldstein & Steve Pinker after Greg officiated at their wedding",
  16. ^ Steven Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language, New York, Basic Books, 1999, p. 139 |ISBN=0-06-095840-5
  17. ^ a b c Kirsty Young, "'Would you mind doing it again?' - Steven Pinker on meeting his wife for the first time", June 30, 2013, audio clip from Pinker's appearance on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio Four
  18. ^ Steve Paulson, "Proud atheists",, October 15, 2007
  19. ^ Seed Salon, "Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein"
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  23. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein bio". Retrieved 2007-09-12. 

External links[edit]