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Anathem [Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2009
This is the latest magnificent creation from the award-winning author of "Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle" trilogy. Erasmas, 'Raz', is a young avout living in the Concent, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. Three times during history's darkest epochs, violence has invaded and devastated the cloistered community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe. But they now prepare to open the Concent's gates to the outside world, in celebration of a once-a-decade rite. Suddenly, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet...and beyond.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Oct 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1843549174
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843549178
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 5.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,324 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.

Product Description


"'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.' Christopher Brookmyre, Guardian '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.' The Times 'I think this novel is wonderful... Anathem is a call to move into the world.' Andrew McKie, Daily Telegraph 'Neal Stephenson's vertiginous new novel [holds], for me, a boundlessly engaging fascination that comes at the price of being made to feel infinitesimally small: not merely as a human being, but as a writer, too... 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.' Christopher Brookmyre, Guardian 'You find yourself enveloped in the atmosphere of a good library, one populated by a cast of characters whose talking is anything but annoying - and often illuminating. Fabulous.' Jonathan Wright, SFX Magazine"

About the Author

Neal Stephenson is the author of eight novels, including the cult successes Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon. He has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award five times, winning with Quicksilver. Three of his last four novels have been New York Times bestsellers. He lives in Seattle.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding reading if you persevere with it 12 Oct 2008
By wedge
Anathem was a complete surprise to me. I had deliberately avoided reading anything about the book before I bought it, willing to trust the author to come up with another excellent novel comparable to Snow Crash, The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

After reading the first 50 or 60 pages, I was wondering if I'd wasted my money. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The many invented words peppered throughout the text didn't help either - you can immediately decipher many of them from context they're used in, but it is annoying to do it as often as Anathem requires.

However, I kept going, and by the time I'd gotten through the first 100 pages or so I found myself quite enjoying it. After another couple of hundred pages I was reluctant to put it down, and eventually ended up reading the last third of the book in a single session.

What I would say is that once you become familiar with the dialect used by the characters and get past the relatively slow opening chapters, Anathem becomes a far more engaging and interesting book. Sci-fi action sequences are interspersed with frequent philosophical or metaphysical discussions between various characters, which may of course not be to the liking of every reader, but I found it both interesting and entertaining.

Now that I've finished the book I am planning to wait a few weeks and then read it again, as I suspect that reading the opening chapters will be a far better experience the second time around.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Polycosmic Genius 18 Nov 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Neal Stephenson's house-brick size novels are always constructed in meticulous detail, and 'Anathem' is no exception. Unfortunately, his painstaking (laborious?) attention to detail can, for some, make his novels impenetrable, but if you enjoyed Cryptonomicon or The Baroque Cycle, then you will almost certainly like 'Anathem' too. If you are new to Stephenson, then I wouldn't start here - he seems to be becoming increasingly less accessible. Go back at least as far as Cryptonomicon and begin there.

In addition to his usual information-overload, 'Anathem' sees Stephenson add yet another layer of confusion. Set in the far future, in a parallel world, much of the language used by the novel's characters, has been invented by the author. These new words are logical and consistent, deriving from Greek and Latin, but they take a little while to bed in, and I found 'Anathem's' opening fragmented and hard to follow. But like subtitles to a good film, I soon stopped noticing, and became wholly immersed in this magnificent novel.

The novel's central character is Erasmas, a member of intellectual brethren, cut off from normal secular society. The brothers (and sisters) remain exiled from the real world, for one, ten, a hundred or even a thousand years depending how committed they are to their calling. As the novel opens, Erasmas is about to complete the first decade of his seclusion. Considering much of the early parts of the novel revolve around the philosophical discussions between members of this cloistered community, 'Anathem' is surprisingly readable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apert, auts and theorics 26 Dec 2008
By S. Bentley VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The opening to this book is an odd way of doing things. Stephenson overwhelms the reader with neologisms and ceremonial details that could be off-putting. It's worth fighting your way through though because after 50 or so pages, the talk of auts, apert, theorics and itas, dies into the background and the real story begins.

Erasmas is part of a concent, a place that holds scientists and mathematicians known as the avout in perfect isolation from the Saecular world, until Apert, when the two worlds can intermingle. The intermingling does not always go well but ends after ten days allowing the avout to go back to their reputedly better world. But something else is happening, there's a rogue star in the sky that may represent the need for a massive paradigm shift in how the universe is seen and soon Erasmas has to leave the concent, perhaps forever, in order to save his world.

Along the way ideas are discussed that you'll probably recognise if you've read any Plato, Kant or Philip K. Dick. If you already have an interest in the nature of reality you probably won't find anything new, but that's okay, because Erasmas is a fine protagonist to travel with and there are enough ambiguities and incidental ideas to keep you interested. As ever with Stephenson the kitchen sink is in there, too, but he does it all with a light touch and a sense of humour that allows you to get comfortable.

At the end is where it all goes a little wonky. I can't give away too much but there is an application of thought experiment to reality that undercuts the story rather than illustrating its points. I think it was an effort to create a bigger pay-off, but in the end it feels a tad too mystical in the face of all that has gone before. Had it been brought in a little earlier in the narrative it might have felt less forced.

Despite this flaw, I still think it a fine book, but those new to Stephenson should try his earlier works first.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is a universe where... 24 July 2009
.. this book gets started a lot more quickly than it does in our universe.

I'm an unashamed Stephenson fan, but he tried my patience at the start of this book, and you can see from other reviewers that this is a common experience.

I did get to the point where I was thinking 'ok Neal, where is this going' but I had faith, and that faith was rewarded. The slow part at the start is exposition that I feel is ultimately necessary and a part of his literary creation. He describes a world with some similarities and many differences to our own; the exposition serves as backdrop and 'control' for the reader (and main character) on a journey through adventures and concepts that are startlingly at odds with what went before. In the end this made sense to me, like the chaotic writing in the London part of Gravity's Rainbow made sense as a representation of how the city was for people. In the end, there is a point to having an alternate world to compare with, too. Not just 'I made this stuff up for a laugh'.

I don't want to get all high-falutin though - if you liked the pirate story part of the Baroque Cycle like I did, the first part will test you a bit.

Like Stephenson's other works, this has some serious underpinnings, in this case really based around the collision of maths, philosophy and physics. Stephenson presents these topics in a coherent way with his story, without snapping the reader out of the world (well not too much, sometimes you stop to say 'ok what is the equivalent of this in my world').

I disagree that this book is some kind of exercise in snobbery because it tackles difficult subjects and it's a lengthy book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected from this author
Starts slow, interesting enough basis for the story, not exactly what I was hoping for from this author though.
Published 3 days ago by Steve
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A little hard to get into, but well worth the effort in the end. Another Neal Stephenson masterpiece.
Published 8 days ago by D. Murphy
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
no commeny
Published 1 month ago by S. Gunner
2.0 out of 5 stars It might be worth it, I will probably never find out...
I am posting this review having just reached the 10% mark (ebook) and I am really struggling to muster the energy to pick it up again. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Monastic quantum mechanics in space!
Excellent mixture of space adventure, monastic living, quantum physics and the nature of consciousness and reality. Gripping stuff!
Published 1 month ago by Eden Hutchins
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious and pompous
I have previously read and enjoyed other books by the author but I just couldn't get past the start of this novel. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Rotaxus
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but dense.
Interesting narrative and concepts some what hampered by the tolkenesque tracks of environmental description. Plow through the first few chapters and it settles down.
Published 3 months ago by Jason Poley
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Just finished Anathem and I loved it. For the average reader it is a heavily maths/logic/philosophy based future-set novel which a little surprisingly veers into sci-fi. Read more
Published 3 months ago by ChrisKnight
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely slow moving & overly verbose story line which seems to be...
Plagiaristic story line nicked from Lord of the Rings & the chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. Sylvia Mellersh
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good and remarkable value.
I was a bit put off by the initial strange verbal exchanges but having read other reviews I bought it anyway and was amply rewarded. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr D J Cann
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