Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: The Language God Talks by Herman Wouk

This is a review for the  audiobook edition of The Language God Talks by Herman Wouk written by my husband Greg.

Wouk's thesis centers itself on a quote from the physicist Richard Feynman who said,

"It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama."

The balance of the book attempts to show that it is possible to believe otherwise. The book is also about how the author himself, who can best be described as one who has comfortably reconciled his secularism with his faith. He finds no contradiction in that, nor with the divide between tradition and western thinking. The account is a personal one and takes on greater significance considering that he was raised in an observant Jewish family, studied the Talmud, entered the Navy in WWII, later become a playwright, and finally a novelist. He also endured great personal tragedy. Wouk brings in material from many sources including the Bible, astrophysics, politics, tradition, Confucius, the Talmud, and from his own works. Much of his anecdotal accounts are based on his book War and Remembrance. In particular, his incorporation of the Holocaust into that work. The first half of The Language God Talks focuses on “the stage” based mostly on cosmology, the latter half “the drama” based on the human experience. It concludes with the sermon "Heroes of the Illiad" given by the fictional character "Aaron Jastrow". This, as the author admits, is the closest he comes to setting down his beliefs into words.

Another curious Feynmanism that is given weight is when he asks Wouk:
"Do you know calculus?" and he replies that he doesn't. "You had better learn it; it's the language God talks."

Wouk who admits he doesn't have a mathematical mind, spends unsuccessful years trying to learn calculus. Personally, I don’t believe you have to understand the nitty-gritty details of calculus to appreciate the essential purity and truth of it, or the fact that it was independently discovered by two different people (thus suggesting it was discovered, not "invented"). I wouldn’t limit the discussion to calculus either. Rather, I would broaden it to include all of mathematics. Case in point, I’m currently reading a book titled “God Created the Integers by Stephen Hawking. In addition to the absoluteness and purity of mathematics, I would also mention the great success that mathematics has had in describing the universe. Likely, this is the gist of what Feynman was getting at.
As you would expect from a book of this nature, there are no answers given. You are left to draw your own conclusions from the supply of brain fodder presented here. It's incredible that Wouk has been able to produce this work so late in his life. His stature shines through. After completing it, I've immediately begun listening to it a second time in order to form my own personal synthesis of the material. It is not yet done with me.

*Listen to an excerpt of The Language God Talks, here.

Disclosure: Thanks to Hachette for sending a copy of this audiobook for review. I am an Amazon associate and Indiebound associate.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post and listening to the audio excerpt! Thanks, Bonnie.

  2. You know that there is something powerful going on when you immediately start to listen to it again!!!!!!!!!!


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