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Anathem [Mass Market Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 11 2009

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Anathem is perhaps the most brilliant literary invention to date from the incomparable Neal Stephenson, who rocked the world with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and The Baroque Cycle. Now he imagines an alternate universe where scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind ancient monastery walls until they are called back into the world to deal with a crisis of astronomical proportions.


Anathem won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the reviews for have been dazzling: “Brilliant” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), “Daring” (Boston Globe), “Immensely entertaining” (New York Times Book Review), “A tour de force” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), while Time magazine proclaims, “The great novel of ideas…has morphed into science fiction, and Neal Stephenson is its foremost practitioner.”

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From Publishers Weekly

In this follow-up to his historical Baroque Cycle trilogy, which fictionalized the early-18th century scientific revolution, Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world. Stephenson's expansive storytelling echoes Walter Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, the space operas of Larry Niven and the cultural meditations Douglas Hofstadter—a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy. An accompanying CD of music composed by David Stutz is suitably ethereal. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“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’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’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)

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson Dazzles Again! Sept. 30 2008
There is something really wonderful about picking up a new book
that's over 900 pages long and every one of them is worth reading slowly
- no skimming ahead - really reading and enjoying every word. Neal
Stephenson's new book is a masterpiece-and boy can I see a movie in this!

It has great writing, a fantastic creation of a world like ours yet not,
set in a future that is not very pretty - the secular world is a
post apocalyptic landscape wasted by years and years of war,
pollution, and rise and fall of societies, resulting in a general population
that lives to consume the latest in gadgets, fast food and entertainment.
Sound familiar?

There is another society, behind concent (or convent/monastic)
walls where the inhabitants are devoted to knowledge - to slowly and
carefully thinking through the big philosophical, mathematical and
scientific ideas, for both the preservation of their own society, but also
for the good of the outside world. In fact their society is allowed to
exist for this purpose. Yet they are viewed with suspicion by the world
outside their walls. What are they doing in there? They dress funny, they
speak funny and they just must be up to something. But enter an alien
threat to the secular world and these scholars are drafted into whatever
fight may come.

Our protagonist Fra Erasmus is 19 years old, and the story is
told from his point of view - which is truly wonderful. He's a teenager,
but he's also part of that scholarly world of ideas and these combine to
make a smart, older than his years,witty, engaging character whose
heroic journey makes a riveting read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new favorite Sept. 26 2008
This magnificent novel is now my favorite book of all time. Stephenson's storytelling is superb, with wonderful thought and attention to detail and many humorous touches. The world that he builds in this book is complex and imaginative, with its own vocabulary and some really staggering ideas as part of its lore. Some people might be put off by some of the philosophical dialogues, but to me this book is a masterpiece.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Plot Worth Sticking With Feb. 16 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
1. There is a complex and vibrant story being told between the covers of this book. It involves well-developed characters operating in a futuristic society that has encountered some internal threats - technology destroying the environment - to its continued existence and must undergo some drastic transformations in order to survive. The problem is that it is the government or Saecular Power that orders the changes that virtually shut down all intellectual activity on the planet Arbre, assigning the intellects to become monks. Their leader, Orolo, is exiled, in an anathem, to the farthest part of the planet in the hope that it will quash any further rebellion. It is against this tyrannical force that Erasmus and his band of monastics fight back in an effort to restore reason, creativity, and goodwill. The story moves from there at a break-neck speed.
2. Stephenson introduces, as usual, a lot of heavy language into this plot. Every scientific, political, and social action has its own special word. Don't feel shy about turning to the glossary at the back to consult the definition of a word.
3. The monks, led by the efforts of Erasmus, are attempting to break with this old regime by investigating scientific theories that open up the planet to some incredible possibilities like making contact with life from another planet or constellation. Stephenson has that ability to take old theories such as how the human mind works and turn them into some very imaginative inventions.
4. This book is meant to be read with a certain sense of reflection and anticipation. It is always wise with Stephenson to invest some time thinking about where you've come from and where you might be going with this fantastic intergalatical journey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight Jan. 11 2009
Up there, with Dune and the Foundation or Rama series.

I made the unfortunate move to read some reviews of the book before being able to make my own opinion. A regretable breach of an ancient rule I always respected.

I try to remember when I read something as enthraling and captivating as Stephenson's last jem. And I always end up thinking of Dune.

What I like most about the Arbre world and its depictions is how much is rooted in one's personal phylosophic, mathematic and overall scientific culture.

Then there is the difficult to imagine exploit of depicting in exhilarrating narratives, a cosmological theory that just makes sense. This book is as much a work of scientific vulgarisation as it is a fascinating space opera.

Yes, there are some editing errors (like repeated words, wrong accords and tenses), yes, there is even a small but flagrant inconsistency (a character popping up in the middle of a space-walk with no reason of it to beeing elswhere than the planet's surface). Yes, the ending could be (perhaps too harshly) be viewed as cheesy, if one checks out her own imagination before reading the last chapter.

But on the whole, the author manages to capture the imagination, the thinking, the problem-solving skills of the reader in ways not often seen in today's literature.

Thanks, M. Stephenson, for this exceptional work.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read great stories. It's imaginative, and the reader is immersed in a rich and very different world.

Mr. Read more
Published 2 months ago by JAMES R SYKES
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic
Neal Stephenson is brilliant - how does he come up with these ideas ...? This is a good, long read.
Published 3 months ago by Alex Fischer
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Sci-Fi
Well written and complex at times. Fascinating story and one Mr Stephensons great books. I loved it and recommend it.
Published 12 months ago by Bootsy Bass
1.0 out of 5 stars Anathem
The book depends on the use of invented terms and phrases, explained throughout by dictionary references that detract from any hope of a plot developing that one could follow. Read more
Published 18 months ago by MRMLEM
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Experience
This book was guaranteed to get mixed reviews. For me, at the onset, it was a slow start and I had to keep flipping to the glossary. Which I don't mind but it can be frustrating. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Louis Vroomen
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
I finished reading this yesterday, and it's so good I immediately felt like reading it again. Even at 981 pages, it seems too short a time spent immersed in this world Stephenson... Read more
Published on April 23 2012 by Da 1 Like Damaja
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story but physically bad
I loved the story. But the book was very poorly bound. Most of the pages fell out as I read it. And it has many pages so was a pain to hold since all pages kept sliding out. Read more
Published on April 23 2012 by iwonder
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson at his most brilliant
This book is wonderful. Not his best IMO but yet another standout in the genre. This was the first book of his that I read and it let me to read all his others. Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2010 by Marc
3.0 out of 5 stars Vulcans discuss the connection between classical and quantum mechanics
The first impression i got when about 100 or so pages in was that the fictional culture developed in this book is similar to the way fictional cultures are developed in the various... Read more
Published on July 9 2010 by T. E. McIntosh
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring, slow moving;scholarship become pedantic
The concept is good, the characters are poorly developed, the issues talked about by these rather boring characters have almost nothing to do with the overall plot. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2010 by Joseph Potts
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