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Gold Bug Variations Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 1, 1900)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060975008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060975005
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powers ( Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance ; Prisoner's Dilemma ) is a recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant , and it seems appropriate: this strange, overwritten, often infuriating, manically intelligent and sometimes deeply moving novel could hardly have been produced by a writer of mere talent. Powers has woven an extraordinary knowledge of music, of science (particularly of the search for genetic coding, and of computer programming), of the mysteries of language and art history, into a saga that is dazzling and wearying in almost equal measure. The novel jumps back and forth between the late '50s, when brilliant scientist Stuart Ressler is involved with an Illinois research team trying to break the mysteries of DNA coding, and the '80s, when librarian Jan O'Deigh and computer programmer Franklin Todd get to know Ressler, now holding an insignificant night job at a massive computer database operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., and try to figure what derailed his promising career. Not a great deal happens, in a conventional narrative sense. Ressler has an affair with one married fellow scientist and learns music from another; his scientific career is, in fact, aborted by his resulting passion for music. O'Deigh leaves her glib Madison Avenue boyfriend, takes up with Todd and is then abandoned by him in his vain search for information about an obscure 16th-century Flemish artist. Toward the end the three principals are involved in a massive computer scam to help a stricken colleague. Despite occasional bewilderment at arid patches of scientific jargon and interminable displays of arcane knowledge for its own sake, a reader persists with The Gold Bug Variations (the title, obviously, is a play on Bach's Goldberg Variations , which have a key role in the book's intellectual structure, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug , about the solving of a puzzle). For there is a perpetual air of surprise about the book, of intellectual excitement, a passionate involvement with words that expands into delightfully witty dialogue and profoundly evocative description. Reading it is hard work, but it's also deeply enriching; the decade is not likely to bring another novel half as challenging and original.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

If you don't get the title's allusive pun (to Robbins's Goldberg Variations), you won't get far into this long, densely textured, multi-referential, and brilliant novel. It demands that a reader make connections between such diversities as the genetic code and musical notation, Flemish art and biological nomenclature, the logic of computer systems and the Dewey decimal classification, cartography and chemistry. Making such connections--deciphering the encrypted messages of our world--is the great single quest in this novel of multiple searches. There is a rudimentary plot: a pair of love stories, separated by 25 years, entwined one round the other, but the real story here, its great treasure hunt, is the search to break the code unlocking the secret of life. This won't be one of the summer's hottest best sellers, but it is one of the year's best books, a grand encyclopedic novel akin to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow or Joseph McElroy's Lookout Cartridge . A previous novel by Powers, Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance ( LJ 9/15/85), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award.
- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the very finest books I've ever read.
ted@crv.com
My toughest criticism of Richard is that through his books you can sense that he's capable of works even more brilliant than what he's written to date.
J. Keplinger
This is a big hefty book and, to my mind, only about half as long as I would have liked it to be.
sbissell3

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite novels, by one of my favorite authors. It reminded me of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which had a great deal of influence on me in my adolescence. Both were "about" so many different subjects that one was inspired to explore further afterwards. Powers consistently whets my appetite for new subjects. Gold Bug Variations is the perfect example. How extaordinary to read a novel that compells one to run off and gather research material quite joyfully. I dug out my collection of Edgar Allan Poe, for Tale of the Gold Bug and borrowed a friend's Gould version of the Goldberg Variations. I dug out an encyclopedia to read about the days of early DNA research. I didn't have time last year to do the Art History reseach, but hope to reread the novel soon with that material at hand. And, a thousand blessings on Powers' head for allowing his wonderful heroine librarian to be so sexy, headstrong and brilliant. In other words, for portraying us just as we are. "Gas station attendant of the mind" indeed.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By sbissell3 on July 1, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'd known about this book, but as a biologist, I had my doubts about a "mere" novelist being able to weave genetics, evolution, music, love, and who-knows-what-all into an interesting story. I bought it because it is "recommended" and I was going through one of those phases. I've never been more favorable impressed. I don't 'dog-ear' novels very often, but I did this one. Time and again Powers manages to make sense and beauty out of the dry matter of amino acids. If you want to know about the recent mapping of the human genome and what the personal and cultural implications of this leap forward are, I can do no better than to recommend this book.
Powers weaves two (at least) stories together in a manner which left me wanting more and more. This is a big hefty book and, to my mind, only about half as long as I would have liked it to be. I was caught up in both stories and spend hours looking up the references to make sure the author "had it right." He does, on all levels. Read this book!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on March 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book. It interleaves scientific and musical themes with parallel love stories, and it manages to make the various thematic elements comments back and forth on each other. It builds slowly to a bittersweet and very moving ending.
The main narrator is Jan O'Deigh, a research librarian in Brooklyn. The book opens with her receiving a postcard from her estranged boyfriend, Franklin Todd, telling her that their mutual friend, the mysterious ex-scientist Stuart Ressler, has just died of cancer. Frank leaves no forwarding address -- he seems to be wandering around Europe, still in pursuit of his long delayed dissertation on an obscure Flemish painter. Jan immediately quits her job, and spends the next year researching genetics (Dr. Ressler's specialty), and trying to find Franker, while telling us the story of her relationship with the two men. This is interleaved with the story of Dr. Ressler's year at the University of Illinois in the late '50s, a year spent as part of a team trying to unravel the genetic code.
The novel is a web of searches. Jan meets Todd when he asks her to research Dr. Ressler, who had been nearly famous once but had dropped completely out of sight. Dr. Ressler, of course, is decoding the most central code in life back in 1957. In the present day, Ressler and Todd work at a data processing facility, and they eventually need to search through the data they process to help a coworker. And Jan spends a year searching for Franklin, searching for meaning in her life, searching for what made Stuart Ressler tick.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
A difficult, challenging book, but far more enjoyable and farm more profound than the Pynchon you might read instead. To start with it, it has characters and plot that are very interesting, in addition to the intellectual architecture that makes it profound.
If you haven't read Powers before, don't start with this. It's too hard. Read Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance or Operation Wandering Soul to begin. Then, after you're totally addicted to Powers, move on to this, the best of the bunch, and the most rewarding.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Herbert G. Roselle on April 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
One of the joys of reading fiction is in the people you meet on the way. The truly great books have you almost grieving for the characters to whom you must say goodbye as you close the book. So it is with The Gold Bug Variations - I miss Ressler too.

You'll read the prose that approaches poetry, the virtuosity, the contrapuntal style (not contrapunctal, as one reviewer put it), and the breadth of subject material. All of these delight and dazzle, but with Ressler, Powers reaches the heart.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
A brilliant novel about love, science, music, and the complexity of the human condition. Powers explores our impulse to unravel the mysteries around us (whether cracking the genetic code or excavating the narrative of the enigmatic Dr. Ressler) and our unrelenting impulse towards expression: artistic, verbal, and yes, physical. I'm in full agreement with the reader from Ohio: this is a passionate book. The characters are full-bodied, complex, and driven by a wide spectrum of desires, including love for eachother and for their intellectual pursuits. The prose is amazing, so keep a pen handy while you read if you're in the habit of marking passages you like.
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