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The Cobweb Paperback – May 31, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


"Praise for Neal Stephenson: I have seldom felt such humble, intoxicated, euphoric and droolingly grateful awe as before Neal Stephenson's ... Baroque Cycle" -- Christopher Brookmyre, Glasgow Herald "The Confusion Ideas about currency and calculus become thrilling because of the way Stephenson incorporates them into his story ... Huge in scope ... rich in detail ... This weird, wonderful collision of scholarship and storytelling has no peer" Time Out "Quicksilver: A tour-de-force ... Dense, witty, erudite and gripping, Quicksilver is ... an indication that Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is shaping up to be a far more impressive literary endeavour than most so-called "serious" fiction. No scholarly, and intellectually provocative, historical novel has been this much fun since The Name of the Rose" -- Charles Shaar Murray The Independent "Cryptonomicon: The Gravity's Rainbow of the information age ... an astonishing, monumental performance; and if the rumours of a sequel are true, I can hardly wait" The Independent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Neal Stephenson is the author of The System Of The World, The Confusion, Quicksilver, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and other books and articles.

J. Frederick George is a historian and writer living in Paris.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra; Reissue edition (May 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553383442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553383447
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #777,673 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 152 people found the following review helpful By "Unnecessary" Quotes on October 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
In recent years, Stephenson's work has become increasingly complicated. The Baroque cycle is a study in intricate plots, characters that seem to number in the thousands, and difficult material that is not readily accessible to the average novel reader. The Cryptonomicon met that description as well, but to a lesser degree. While I enjoyed those books precisely for their complexity, many readers probably found them to be frustrating to read and difficult to follow.

The Stephen Bury novels do not present this problem for the casual reader. They are stripped of most of the technical lingo, and they tend to follow more in the footsteps of modern thrillers. The difference between these novels and the average Tom Clancy clone is that they revolve around powerful critiques of modern political cultures and bureacracies.

The Cobweb is the better of these two novels. The central critique of the intelligence community is that competence without political acumen is tantamount to career suicide. The book tracks the months between Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the start of Gulf War I and poses a terrifying question: what if the greatest enemies to our national security are the egomaniacs at the top of the security apparatus? Given the events that have transpired in between the writing of this novel and today, the question raised by this novel seems prescient.

The one thing that is lacking from the Stephen Bury novels is the decadence of Stephenson's other works. Stephenson is a novelist who has spent pages discussing the Captain Crunch-eating ritual of one of his characters (Cryptonomicon), the making of watered steel blades (the Baroque Cycle), and other incidental but vastly entertaining subjects too numerous to mention. These passages exquisitely sideline the plots of his books for an exercise in pure intellectual indulgence. Sadly, you will not find any such passages in this novel or in Interface.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By El Duderino on September 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book, despite its newer publication date, is a re-issue but is entertaining to read. Neal Stephenson and his uncle, George Jewsbury, under the name J. Frederick George, created a tale of intrigue set during the first Gulf War which is relatively fast-paced. Stephenson's talent for characters and entertaining narrative are evident. Like some of Stephenson's other books, especially Snow Crash, this book is easy to read and enjoyable. This book was originally published under the pseudonym Stephen Bury.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Penfist VINE VOICE on April 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. I'm a huge Neal Stephenson fan. His writing is wonderful. His characters are fascinating. This book, co-written with his uncle under the pen name Stephen Bury is, in my opinion, highly underrated.

First and foremost, if you've read Stephenson's recent work (Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle) then you'll probably find The Cobweb to be somewhat light reading. On the other hand, if you like thrillers, this is a very easy and palatable read.

What I enjoyed most about The Cobweb were the indictments of Washington bureaucrats, and of the way the U.S. Government works (or doesn't, as is more likely). The book's characters are people are I can relate to, whether we're talking about simple speaking but intelligent deputy sheriff Clyde Banks or the cynical career CIA agent Hennessy. The family of wrestlers named Dhont and the (fictional) migratory Vakhan Turks added a lot to the tale.

Since I have spent five years on active duty in both the Marine Corps and the Army, I particularly enjoyed the critiques of bloated bureaucracy and the central theme of the book "being cobwebbed" by bureaucrats. The detailed descriptions of government bloat and inefficiency are spot on.

The Cobweb manages to mock politics, politicians, bureaucrats and bureaucray and I found that aspect of the novel highly refreshing. The only scene I found unrealistic or unbelievable in the entire novel was the shootout in downtown D.C. in which one of the characters survives a pistol battle only to ask, "What was that all about?
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Shepherd VINE VOICE on May 15, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fans of Stephenson's Snow Crash and The Big U will probably like this for the simple reason that the same sense of gross exaggeration and pinpoint satire is quite prevalent. Quite simply, Stephenson has some fun with this, from his character's names (Desiree Dhont) to 400 pound wrestling freaks.

But amongst all the fun there is a more serious bulwark that Stephenson attempts to pierce with this satire cum thriller, that of just how the American intelligence agencies really work (or don't). Starting in 1990, the book covers the national and international events leading up to and through the beginning of the serious start of Gulf War I, with the major lynchpin of the plot revolving around just why there are so many Iraqi students working for their graduate degree at a small mid-west college.

For a satire to be effective, there needs to be at least a small kernel of truth buried under all the barbs - and the portrait painted here of just how the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the rest of the alphabet soup really work is frightening because events that have occurred since this book was written (long before 9/11 and WMD intelligence made headlines) show that this portrait, rather than being a gross exaggeration generated by one (or two, in this case) fevered author's mind, is painfully accurate. It is a sad commentary on our government agencies that shows that initiative and proper application of discerning, probing minds to the mass of raw data these agencies receive, rather than being appropriately acted upon and the initiator properly rewarded, is instead bound around by `study' groups, stonewallers, credit grabbers, disavowed by everyone who stands to lose a smidgen of status because they were not the originators, denigrated, have their careers short-circuited, and in short are `cobwebbed'.
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