Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York. She graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy. While in graduate school, she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship.
After earning her Ph.D., she returned to her alma mater, where she taught courses in philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, the rationalists, the empiricists, and the ancient Greeks. It was some time during her tenure at Barnard that, quite to her own surprise, she used a summer vacation to write her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem. As she described it, "To me, the process is still mysterious. I had just come through a very emotional time, having not only become a mother but also lost my father, whom I adored.
In the course of grieving for my father and glorying in my daughter, I found that the very formal, very precise questions I had been trained to analyze weren’t gripping me the way they once had. Suddenly, I was asking the most `unprofessional’ sorts of questions (I would have snickered at them as a graduate student), such as how does all this philosophy I’ve studied help me to deal with the brute contingencies of life?
How does it relate to life as it’s really lived? I wanted to confront such questions in my writing, and I wanted to confront them in a way that would insert `real life’ intimately into the intellectual struggle. In short, I wanted to write a philosophically motivated novel."The Mind-Body Problem was published by Random House and went on to become a critical and popular success.
More novels followed: The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, which received the Whiting Writer’s Award, Mazel, which received the 1995 National Jewish Book Award and the 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award; and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories, Strange Attractors, received a National Jewish Book Honor Award. Her 2005 book Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel was featured in articles in The New Yorker and The New York Times, received numerous favorable reviews, and was named one of the best books of the year by Discover magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Sun.
Goldstein’s most recently published book is, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity, published in May 2006, and winner of the 2006 Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought. Her new novel, Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, will be published by Pantheon Books.
In 1996 Goldstein became a MacArthur Fellow, receiving the prize which is popularly known as the “Genius Award.” In awarding her the prize, the MacArthur Foundation described her work in the following words: "Rebecca Goldstein is a writer whose novels and short stories dramatize the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling.
Her books tell a compelling story as they describe with wit, compassion, and originality the interaction of mind and heart. In her fiction, her characters confront problems of faith: religious faith and faith in an ability to comprehend the mysteries of the physical world as complementary to moral and emotional states of being.
Goldstein’s writings emerge as brilliant arguments for the belief that fiction in our time may be the best vehicle for involving readers in questions of morality and existence."Goldstein is married to linguist and author Steven Pinker. She lives in Boston and in Truro, Massachusetts.