Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy. By Susan Neiman. Princeton University Press, 358 pp., $29.95.

The puzzle is as old as belief in God: God is omnipotent. God is good. So why is there evil? But if you don't believe in God, doesn't "the problem of evil" go away? If no one created the world and no one is in charge of it, then the existence of evil is tragic, distressing, horrible—but not puzzling.

Susan Neiman's brilliant new book rejects this seemingly obvious conclusion. Neiman, a Harvard-trained philosopher who is now director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, doesn't believe in God, but she still finds evil a puzzle. The goal of philosophy, indeed of human inquiry generally, is to make some sense of the world. But evil—especially appalling evil like the horrors we gather under the name "Auschwitz"—seems so obviously not to make sense that it poses the puzzle of evil in a new, secular form.