- Hardcover: 592 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 9, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812996917
- ISBN-13: 978-0812996913
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 70 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Book of Numbers: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 9, 2015
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“More impressive than all but a few novels published so far this decade . . . a wheeling meditation on the wired life, on privacy, on what being human in the age of binary code might mean . . . [Joshua] Cohen, all of thirty-four, emerges as a major American writer.”—The New York Times
“The Great American Internet Novel is here. . . . Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers is a fascinating look at the dark heart of the Web. . . . A page-turner about life under the veil of digital surveillance . . . one of the best novels ever written about the Internet . . . At its heart, Book of Numbers is an attempt to reclaim a sense of humanity in the digital age.”—Rolling Stone
“Joshua Cohen is a startlingly talented novelist. . . . [His] deeply rewarding novel is about an online religion gone wrong—and its importance lies in the fact that nearly all of us in the modernized world are members of that faith, whether we know it or not.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable . . . dazzling . . . Cohen’s literary gifts . . . suggest that something is possible, that something still might be done to safeguard whatever it is that makes us human.”—Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books
“A hugely ambitious novel set in the high-tech world of now. It is a verbal high-wire act, daring in its tones and textures: clever, poetic, fast-moving, deeply playful, filled with jokes, savvy about machines, wise about people, dazzling and engrossing.”—Colm Tóibín, The Guardian
“Joshua Cohen is the Great American Novelist. . . . Like Pynchon and Wallace, Cohen can write with tireless virtuosity about absolutely everything. . . . Cohen has turned the tables on the Internet: Instead of being reduced by its omniscience, he forces it to serve his imaginative purposes. . . . If John Henry is going to compete with the steam engine, he needs an almost superhuman energy and intelligence of his own—and if any writer has it, it is Joshua Cohen.”—Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“A digital-age Ulysses.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The next candidate for the Great American Novel . . . David Foster Wallace–level audacious.”—Details
“A brilliant book.”—The Boston Globe
“Frequently hilarious high satire of our digital world . . . a book after William Gaddis’s heart that will be around well after most summer reads have been recycled (or deleted).”—New York
“[A] monstrous talent and restive, roiling intellect . . . Other recent literary novels have treated the dot-com-mania reboot, its flagship companies, and their ‘disruptive’ technologies—Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, Dave Eggers’s The Circle—but Cohen’s is the best.”—Bookforum
“Reading Cohen’s magnum opus is a lot like falling down an Internet wormhole. In Numbers, you’ll find an international mystery, a fake memoir, a modern retelling of the biblical Book of Numbers, a sex romp, and a bunch of leaked documents. Think David Foster Wallace meets David Mitchell meets the search history that you just cleared. Beast.”—Esquire
“Book of Numbers has been called both ‘the Great Internet Novel’ and ‘the Great American Novel.’ The book, published by Cohen at the age of thirty-four, succeeds at doing to the Internet what David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest—also published when its author was thirty-four—attempted to do to television. It humanizes it.”—Flavorwire
“An urgent and necessary sign of life in U.S. literature.”—The Rumpus
“Book of Numbers is alive with humor and insight. Cohen has been compared to Philip Roth multiple times, but the similarities are perhaps most obvious in this book.”—The A.V. Club
“An ambitious and inspired attempt at the Great American Internet Novel . . . Cohen’s encyclopedic epic is about many things—language, art, divinity, narrative, desire, global politics, surveillance, consumerism, genealogy—but it is above all a standout novel about the Internet, humanity’s ‘first mutual culture,’ in which our identities are increasingly defined by a series of ones and zeroes.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An investigation of the technologies that mediate our collective fears and desires . . . [Book of Numbers] will appeal to readers with an appreciation for experimental fiction and the ever-expanding limits of language.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“[Cohen] recognizes the laughs and peril at this technologically challenging stage of the human comedy and its new questions about what people are searching for, how the results may affect them, and what it all may cost.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“This is an astounding undertaking. In Book of Numbers the wizardly Joshua Cohen relocates the line between tragedy and comedy. His lurid and high-achieving characters create and suffer the Internet—which is now tightening around us all. I don’t know of any other work like this one.”—Norman Rush
“Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers is a lot of things—a disquisition on and aping of the Internet, a dissection of friendship and romance in the Digital Age, and a doppelgänger tale—but for me it’s most poignant as an elegy for the written word, and as a rebuke to its decline.”—Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
“Joshua Cohen is one of the most intelligent, witty, and moving writers we have, and Book of Numbers is his most magnificent and ambitious book. This novel illuminates the mysterious and near-invisible landscape of right now.”—Rivka Galchen, author of American Innovations
“The single best novel yet written about what it means to remain human in the Internet Era.”—Adam Ross
About the Author
Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. He has written novels (Book of Numbers), short fiction (Four New Messages), and nonfiction for The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, London Review of Books, The Forward, n+1, and others. In 2017 he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. He lives in New York City.
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I have not given up hope, though. If this is truly a modern, digital novel, the writer will find this entry and others, replace the failed middle section with something that matches the brilliant first part of the novel, and publish it again.
But, that isn’t quite fair. The Book of Numbers isn’t — quite — a bad book. In fact, it’s a Pretty Good Book. Within the confines of the blurry, unreal, but nonetheless significant Maginot line that bounds the categories of contemporary American Literature, I predict that The Book of Numbers will occupy a hallowed place: that of a passable early work by someone who will be Canonical, like, Beckett's Murphy or Faulkner's Flags in the Dust.
The Book of Numbers has All That Will Be Great, but it fails to collect itself. It has an ambitious, topical theme: the internet. It has an ambitious, topical narrator: anguished Brooklynite. Yet it never seems to grasp beyond the surface of each — either the secrecy, greed that drives the effusive cyborgian world of Silicon Valley, or the anxiety and poverty that drives the hyper-literate contingent of Brooklyn (& upcoming queens).
In other words, The Book of Numbers, is ambitiously post-modern. But, unfortunately, to such an extent that the post-modern trope of submerging referents in favor of a tapestry of signifiers, becomes a kind of farce. The Book of Numbers takes Roland Barthe’s famous “The Death of the Author” as the premise for its plot. Joshua Cohen (the author) writes as Joshua Cohen (the narrator), who is ultimately, writing for Joshua Cohen (the internet mogul). Perhaps Cohen means to "problematize" the whole notion of the author by way of its most post-modern manifestation in "the death of the author". What unfortunately manifests though, feels more like lazy, gimmicky, writing.
Barthe’s declaration famously de-privileges the composition of the text (all of pre-mid-20th century literary criticism) in favor of the reading of the text. That presents an interesting problem for would-be critics of an archly post-modern text. Suppose the author is dead and you think the book sucks — is it you, or is it the author? As in any relationship, it’s probably the both of us. However much the interlocutor of the author or the narrator stands as a fantasy of my own construction, I do have to say, in the case of The Book of the Numbers, baby, it just isn’t working out for me.
-- edit --
(I feel guilty for writing a negative review, so let me qualify. When I wrote this review, I was unaware of this interview by the author (http://bombmagazine.org/article/608462/joshua-cohen -- an article from BOMB, not sure if amazon allows links). In this interview, Cohen describes the book as "a version, or a travesty of Joycean hope: to keep the academy busy for a while. I didn’t think I was being presumptuous, though. I think I was being preemptive. What I mean is that virtually any book that’s going to be paid serious literary—academic literary—attention nowadays is going to be run through a computer. Stanford, not coincidentally, is ground zero for this type of “criticism”—where scholars can tell you which American or British author misplaces the most modifiers, or when split infinitives were a thing, or not a thing. The study of literature is becoming, or has already become, the study of data. Every Dickens novel has been mined, every Nabokov character described as having phallically long toes has been tagged. Deconstruction—unconscious betrayal, or betrayal by the unconscious—is for the microchips now."
Unfortunately, I think that paragraph speaks much more than the criticism I had intended to write. Cohen refers to Franco Moretti's work with graphing literature as the future of criticism. He says he's writing to that method of criticism. He's not writing for our entertainment, he's not writing for our edification. He's writing so that guys with computers can count up the words, make directed graphs from the words, run graph algorithm on the words, and praise the hell out of the genius that dared to play their game.
A serious question: did a human being actually edit this book?
Read Dave Eggers - The Circle instead. Any insight into the current state of technology in our everyday lives was covered better there.