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Anathem (Hardcover) Hardcover – September 1, 2007


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Hardcover, September 1, 2007
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: William Morrow; English Language edition (September 1, 2007)
  • ASIN: B002U1LUOM
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (577 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,801,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.
Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.
Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

It's the first book in a long time that I finished and wanted to start reading again as soon as it was over.
Elisheva Sterling
Nevertheless, this book like many other Stephenson novels has a lot of interesting ideas, very interesting language, solid characters and is very well written.
Francis F. Kilkenny
He is clearly a clever fellow, but this book is way too much uninteresting manual labor for way too little payoff.
Kenny of LA

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

517 of 554 people found the following review helpful By Gabriel Tarr on September 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
First off, I'll let slip that I am a big Neal Stephenson fan, although I did not enjoy the Baroque Cycle. Anathem is, in some respects, "difficult" to read. Yes, there is language here that Stephenson made up, although he didn't take it to the same level that Tolkein did in his Middle Earth works. (There is an glossary of terms at the back, and entries from a dictionary are spreckled throughout the book.) And Anathem may be "slow" in that it takes approximately 200 pages to get to the core of the plot. However, I never found myself bored with the writing.

It is a difficult book to describe to others. In some ways, I felt like I was reading a novelization of "Goedel, Escher, Bach". There are some complex ideas here, some of which are expanded upon in appendices, which contain dialogues (ie in the Socratic sense of a philosophical or mathematical discussion between two people of differing views). I find such discussions intriguing, so I never found the book dry or boring, though strictly speaking, much of the material could have been removed to focus strictly on the plot. (This would, however, have weakened the reader's understanding of the plot.) Such digressions are quite characteristic of Stephenson's work (ie the discussions of language theory present in Snow Crash), and for a certain audience, it is quite enjoyable. If you have a tolerance for (or perhaps even enjoy) side-discussions of interesting material, and enjoy speculative fiction, then none of this should put you off. If you read xkcd, or liked Snow Crash, or the Foundation series by Asimov, then Anathem is likely a good bet for you. If mathematical or philosophical concepts make you cringe in fear, then you would probably not enjoy Anathem (or anything else by Neal Stephenson for that matter).

This review is based on an advance copy.
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467 of 504 people found the following review helpful By Dmitry Portnoy VINE VOICE on September 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Is Neal Stephenson a science fiction author? His two earliest novels, "The Big U" and "Zodiac" are contemporary satire; his masterpieces, "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Trilogy" are historical romances. Take away the two Crichtonesque thrillers he collaborated on under the pseudonym "Stephen Bury," and what's left is a pair (could this be a pattern?) of books, "Snow Crash" and "The Diamond Age," that combine the near-future info-tech milieu of 80's cyberpunk with the irony and social consciousness of 60's sf. These two, and only two, indisputably science fiction novels came out back to back within a couple of years of each other in the early 90's.

Now, thirteen years later, we get a third: "Anathem." It is the first time Neal Stephenson returned to a genre. I think it's significant that genre is science fiction. I wanted to know, does he revive the tradition of those previous two works, or has he created something new?

Actually, he has reinvented the wheel. Shockingly, it is a bigger, better wheel. And it's about time.

"Anathem" is a work of Hard SF, meaning that everything that's weird or new in it is a rigorous extrapolation of science, mathematics and philosophy. It's the kind of book Arthur C. Clarke used to write in the 40's and 50's. He wrote about rockets and satellites because scientists were working on rockets and satellites.

Most (I would argue all) recent Hard SF, however, is about "rockets" and "satellites." Science Fiction has become an exclusively literary genre, with books inspired less by new scientific research than by previous science fiction books, and, regrettably, movies.
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235 of 252 people found the following review helpful By Peter J. Ward VINE VOICE on September 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anathem is another in a line of unique novels from Neal Stephenson. His earlier books like Snow Crash and the Diamond Age are excellent glimpses of the concept-driven novels that he has been writing for the last ten years. One weakness of his earlier books is that he didn't end stories particularly strongly (Snow Crash being a notable exception) but he has gotten progressively better at that, particularly with the System of the World, the last of the Baroque Cycle trilogy. Starting with Cryptonoicon, he started writing "long" fiction. One typical thing about these novels is that they have a slow build while you get introduced to the characters and situations. I know several very bright people who couldn't stomach the long lead-up in Quicksilver and never got to the fantastic 2nd and 3rd novels in the series, The Confusion and System of the World. Like the beginning of a rollercoaster where you need to climb to the crest of the first hill, the first sections of his novels pay off as the rest of the story becomes compulsive reading.

No spoilers to follow: Anathem finds him back in top form with a new cast of characters, a new world, and a new language. Not surprisingly, this means that the first chapters of the book are challenging and somewhat difficult, but as another review stated, nowhere near as convoluted and involved as The Lord of the Rings or (in my opinion), Dune. The more you know about history and ancient Greek thought the more you will be blown away by Anathem; and that is before the correlations to more recent philosophy and an extended meditation on zero-gravity navigation. A re-imagining of intellectual history, only Neal Stephenson can make the fine points of esoteric philosophical and intellectual minutia so much fun to read.
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