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Anathem by Neal Stephenson
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Anathem (original 2008; edition 2010)

by Neal Stephenson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,969None914 (4.21)1 / 280
Member:smallbrownbushbird
Title:Anathem
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2010), Paperback, 981 pages
Collections:Read 2013, Kindle
Rating:***
Tags:PR, SFF, fiction

Work details

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2008)

2008 (28) 21st century (22) aliens (33) alternate history (24) American (23) ebook (59) fantasy (118) fiction (543) first contact (29) first edition (20) hardcover (37) Kindle (37) mathematics (130) monasteries (24) monks (32) Neal Stephenson (18) novel (78) parallel universes (20) philosophy (132) read (65) religion (36) science (38) science fiction (798) sf (154) sff (48) signed (18) speculative fiction (65) to-read (121) unread (55) wishlist (20)
  1. 181
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Jesse_wiedinmyer, vnovak, szarka)
  2. 150
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (the_awesome_opossum)
    the_awesome_opossum: The plot and writing are really similar: a dense and complex mystery/thriller set in a monastery. The Name of the Rose is historical fiction, not sci fi, but if you enjoyed the complicated and weighty plot, Name of the Rose would also be good… (more)
  3. 110
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  4. 110
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Wova4)
  5. 60
    The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (bertilak)
  6. 62
    The City & the City by China Miéville (chmod007)
    chmod007: Both novels depict coexisting-but-dissociated societies — drastically foreign to the world we live in — but help us reflect on it.
  7. 51
    Embassytown by China Miéville (bertilak)
    bertilak: Miéville has written a philosophical science fiction novel that rocks and is not bloated: Stephenson please take note.
  8. 41
    Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (freddlerabbit)
    freddlerabbit: See the Name of the Rose recommendation above - I find Foucault's even more analogous here because Name of the Rose is a bit more plot-driven than the other two, where Foucault's and Anathem both have as much as 40% pure theory-disguised-as-dialogue.… (more)
  9. 30
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  10. 30
    Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
  11. 20
    Excession by Iain M. Banks (elenchus)
    elenchus: Banks also introduces the "out of context" problem central to Anathem, but in a wildly different plot, and universe. Banks is less ontology and more space opera, but I found both books very entertaining, and both Stephenson and Banks sensitive to political questions raised by their respective plots.… (more)
  12. 43
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (SiSarah)
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  16. 12
    Parallel Worlds : A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku (bertilak)
  17. 26
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (SiSarah)
    SiSarah: While Anathem is science fiction and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is historical fantasy, they share many themes in common (the nature and value of knowledge and study, the responsibilities of those who possess such knowledge, contact with a strange yet familiar "other" civilization). They both stretch the bounds of their genres and have deceptively simple plots that unfold slowly, and have great depth to the writing.… (more)
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English (182)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (186)
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
If you've read Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher & Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" (and if you haven't, you should!), then the themes of this novel will be familiar: the nature of the mind and its connection to the physical body; the nature of time, space and frames of reference -- all wrapped up in a science fiction novel where theoretical science plays the role that the monastery played during the Dark Ages. The author deliberately changes names and vocabulary: you will need the glossary in the back. I've wondered why he felt it necessary to use new words for old concepts. I guess it's because he wants the reader to doubt his own understanding of familiar concepts; to make us pay attention and look at these ideas with "new" eyes. Sharpen your imagination, if you plan to read this book. Much of this nearly 1,000 page novel is description, and I found myself having to slow way down and create images in my head. Otherwise, I got lost. Stephenson has once again produced a tour de force. A writer who doesn't dumb down narrative for the reader, and expects the reader to work as hard as he does. Worth many rereads. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
I loved Anathem, I really, really did. I love Stephenson's prose, the excessive number of ideas he jams into every scene and the adventure sections he executes with a deft touch. However, reader be warned, this is not his easiest book to get into; Stephenson could arguably be accused of being didactic in his other writing, but here there is no defense against such a charge. It seemed like a third or more of the book consisted of a group of scientist/philosophers discussing astronomy and physics problems or the nature of consciousness.

The icing on the cake, of course, is the extensive use of made-up words, practically a genre convention in sci-fi. Easily rivaling Dune or Lord of the Rings, the [b:saving grace|130916|The Saving Graces A Novel|Patricia Gaffney|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171995451s/130916.jpg|126092] of all these new words is their clear root in the tree of the English language, which helps immensely in getting a sense of their meaning. Happily he doesn't hide any of this, read just the first few pages and you'll immediately get a strong dose of his language.

I had a lot fun puzzling it all out and I'm a huge fan of Stephenson's work, but this is far from his most approachable book. See Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon for a friendlier introduction. ( )
  thermopyle | Dec 13, 2013 |


This isn't my favorite Stephenson book. In fact, it is my least favorite. However, that isn't saying a lot since I generally have loved his writing quite a bit. This particular outing is still very enjoyable and well written. However, the concepts that he looks into required more detailed philosophical efforts than I felt that putting in for 900 pages. That being said, I still read it and enjoyed it. It will not slow me down on his next book - but while there are more than a few of his books that I will eventually re-read - I will probably give this one a miss the 2nd time around. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
This book is a beast. It is not a simple read. One should plan to commit to this book and expect to expend effort to complete it. There is so much going on. The story reflects the genius of Stephenson to create rich worlds in detail and his ability to express this detail. ( )
  colinsegovis | Sep 8, 2013 |
I have a huge stack of business books I’m slogging through related to what I do. I periodically insert a “brain candy” book in there to keep myself from going nuts and feeling like I’m doing homework.

The most recent “brain candy” book has turned out not to be brain candy at all. I bought it while I was on my way to DC a while back and have been reading it ever since, off and on. For someone who usually chews up these little throw away paperbacks from the airport in a matter of hours, that’s a long time to still be slogging through a book!

What is it? It is called Anathem by Neal Stephenson. What’s it about? A planet similar to Earth, but where avout “monks” live in “maths” and study and philosophize based on equations and such, and well, a lot more stuff than that but it’s so long and slow to read it’s hard to sum up, even for this voracious reader. It’s what I’d consider speculative fiction, which is why I picked it up, but there are a number of things about it which annoy me and which are throwing me off the thread (by the way, if you love math, you may actually love this book’s premise).

First of all, it’s wicked long. Normally, this doesn’t bother me a bit. I’m a fan of a good story, no mater how long it takes to tell. In this case, it’s driving me nuts. I’m only half done and it is only just NOW starting to pick up a little in pace. That’s a problem in a 970 page book.

Second, it inserts definitions every other page for the “new language” the book uses. That is so distracting! The words are based in latin roots and used in context. It brings me out of your “world” you are trying to create to keep giving me the definitions. Let me immerse myself in it, already. It wouldn’t be so bad if the author had footnoted these in an index – I could ignore the numeric tags in the text and ignore the separate index and just let myself “be” in the world. But no, we get these chunked up pages that are driving me batty.

Lastly, a key component of these different orders of monks and secular people in the book is that the monks, no matter which order they are in, like to debate points with the goal of learning. Fantastic, I loved that idea! However, I don’t think the author was in a debate class. Ever. The debates don’t ring true as being the type of debate that would stem from greater intelligence or study. They feel more like the Teacher’s Assistant in college trying to debate a high schooler most of the time, and two middle schoolers having a pseudo-intellectual “brawl” after an advanced philosophy class the rest of the time.

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I will. I’m like that – too stubborn to put a book down once I start to read it. I’ve only abandoned a couple of books in my lifetime (trust me, they were really bad). If you’ve read it, weigh in – would love to hear your thoughts. ( )
2 vote LesliePoston | Aug 13, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
Seen through the eyes of a young ascetic named Erasmas, the universe of “Anathem” and its properties are revealed methodically over hundreds of pages, and at first, there is much joy to be found in watching this plausible other reality assemble itself and in observing how it parallels our own.

Too much of the book is dominated by lengthy dialectical debates, whose conclusions are hardly earth-shattering (if you are reading this review, I suspect you already know how to divide a rectangular cake into eight equal servings) and which do little to promote a reader’s engagement with the characters of ­“Anathem,” any more than one cares about the interior lives of Pausanias or Eryximachus while reading “The Symposium.” What’s worse, the book’s fixation on dialogue leads Erasmas (and Stephenson) to simply tell us what is happening or has happened in pivotal scenes, instead of allowing us to see the events for ourselves through descriptive action.
added by SimoneA | editNew York Times, Dave Itzkoff (Oct 17, 2008)
 
The only catch to reading a novel as imposingly magnificent as this is that for the next few months, everything else seems small and obvious by comparison.
 
Stephenson's world-building skills, honed by the exacting work he did on his recent Baroque Cycle trilogy, are at their best here. Anathem is that rarest of things: A stately novel of ideas packed with cool tech, terrific fight scenes, aliens, and even a little ESP.
added by PhoenixTerran | editio9, Annalee Newitz (Sep 4, 2008)
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, TaviaMinor Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrano, ErvinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stutz, DavidComposersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyman, OliverMinor Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061474096, Hardcover)

For ten years Fraa Erasmas, a young avout, has lived in a cloistered sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside world. But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change—and Erasmas will become a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world, as he follows his destiny to the most inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:58 -0400)

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Raz, a mathematician, is among a cohort of secluded scientists and philosophers who are called upon to save the world from impending catastrophe.

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