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Anathem Hardcover – September 9, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 790 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Reading Anathem is a humbling experience.” (Washington Post on ANATHEM)

“A sprawling disquisition…[a] logophilic treat for those who like their alternate worlds big, parodic and ironic.” (Kirkus Reviews on ANATHEM)

“Stephenson’s expansive storytelling echoes Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, the space operas of Larry Niven and the cultural meditations of Douglas Hofstadter – a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment.” (Publishers Weekly on ANATHEM)

“A magnificent achievement. ” (Booklist (starred review) on ANATHEM)

“Clever and intricate...truly ingenious...it’s brilliance is undeniable.” (Locus, Gary K. Wolfe on ANATHEM)

“A masterpiece...mind-bogglingly ambitious...readers will delight in puzzling out the historical antecedents in philosophy, science, mathematics, and art that Stephenson riffs on with his customary quicklsilver genius...it’s one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read, and also one of the most engaging.” (Locus, Paul Witcover, on ANATHEM)

“The Seattle writer is kind of a cross between William Gibson and Richard Powers, hard-wired to tell stories, explore technology and riff on anything that catches his fancy.” (The Oregonian (Portland) on ANATHEM)

“[O]ne of Stephenson’s best novels…a captivating blend of culture clash, deductive reasoning and pure action.” (Columbus Dispatch on ANATHEM)

“What ever happened to the great novel of ideas? It has morphed into science fiction, and Stephenson is its foremost practitioner. A-” (Time magazine on ANATHEM)

“[R]iveting idea porn.” (Details on ANATHEM)

“The cult legend’s newest book, Anathem, [is] destined to be an instant sci-fi classic.” (Popular Mechanics on ANATHEM)

“He mashes up genres with the flair of Thomas Pynchon and the intellect of William Gibson.” (Winnipeg Free Press on ANATHEM)

“Blending quantum physics, phenomenological philosophy and various other fun hobbies...Stephenson’s enthusiasm to share his theories and explanations is infectious...think “The Name of the Rose” crossed with “Dune”...genuinely fascinating brain food.” (The Oregonian (Portland) on ANATHEM)

“Stephenson writes in twists and turns, double-backs and cul-de-sacs, winding tunnels and fast-moving tracks. It’s a Rube Goldberg sort of book: intricate, sometimes difficult to follow but always fascinating to read.” (Grand Rapids Press on ANATHEM)

“Anathem duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.” (Leicester Mercury on ANATHEM)

“Anathem is a challenge: Make yourself one of the avout. Make yourself a scholar, and try to understand the world a little differently.” (Eugene Weekly on ANATHEM)

“Stephenson displays his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure. Anathem marries extensive scientific and philosophical dialogues to cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.” (Sunday Sun (UK) on ANATHEM)

“It’s almost impossible to not be impressed by Anathem; there’s simply too much erudition, wit, craft and risk-taking.” (San Francisco Chronicle on ANATHEM)

“In Anathem, Stephenson creates a religion for skeptics and nerds.” (Austin American-Statesman on ANATHEM)

“Anathem is a brilliant, playful tour of the terrain where logic, mathematics, philosophy and quantum physics intersect, a novel of ideas par excellence, melding wordplay and mathematical theory with a gripping, human adventure.” (London Times on ANATHEM)

“Anyone who has read Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle will be familiar with his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure, and ANATHEM duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, high-tech warfare and general derring-do.” (The Examiner (Ireland) on ANATHEM)

“As with Stephenson’s previous work, plot and character are wrought to the highest standards of literary fiction but they’re scarcely as fascinating as the worlds he conjures up. If there’s anything more readable than ANATHEM it should probably be banned.” (Word (UK) on ANATHEM)

“Learned, witty, weirdly torqued, emotionally complex, politically astute, and often darkly comic…ANATHEM is an audacious work by a highly intelligent imagination, a delightfully learned text.” (Edmonton Journal (Alberta) on ANATHEM)

“A daring feat of speculative fiction…ANATHEM offers the reader a luscious arrangement of words, jokes, and speculations.” (Boston Globe)

“This is a book about science and philosophy which demands the full concentration of the reader -a worthwhile, smart, exciting read.” (Time Out London)

“A tour-de-force of world building and high-concept speculation, wrapped around a page-turning plot.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch on ANATHEM)

“[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…ANATHEM is thought-provoking fun, at turns a post-graduate seminar of philosophy and physics, and a rousing yarn with characters you care about.” (Orlando Sentinel on ANATHEM)

“Suddenly, novels of ideas are cool again.” (io9 on ANATHEM)

“The world Stephenson builds is richly visual, its complicated social politics are convincingly detailed, and its cool and conflicted heroes struggle with thrilling intellectual puzzles while they are tested in epic physical adventures.” (Slate, Best of 2008 List, on ANATHEM)

[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…Stephenson embarks on a mission of world-building, and he is thoroughly successful at it.” (South Florida Sun Sentinel on ANATHEM)

From AudioFile

In a sanctuary in another universe, scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians are protected from the outside world. The parallels to a cloister are accentuated by the music introducing each chapter, which is reminiscent of Gregorian chant--but different. Similarly, this world is like Earth, and the culture is like Western culture on Earth--but different. A lover of wordplay, Stephenson precedes each chapter with a definition, which he reads. This book is not for the faint of heart, but William Dufris and the rest of the cast make the audiobook a good option. Dufris is stalwart in his engagement with the characters, the plot, and the development of the cosmology. He brings out the characters' personalities and creates a sense of wonder as the complexities unfold. J.E.M. © AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061474096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061474095
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (790 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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