Thursday, March 25, 2010

A datum from Neal Stephenson

A few days ago I finished reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying books that I've ever read. As I told a friend when I was only a quarter of the way through it, reading Anathem felt like drinking a very rich, full-bodied wine (thinkAmorone or Barolo). It's an incredibly complex book that is still delightfully accessible. It's got layers upon layers of physic, philosophy, cosmology, culture and humor all tied up in a damn fine story. The book to which I'd be most likely to compare it is Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. The above mentioned friend, George, who is something of an expert on many of the topics covered by the book—a professional, in fact (he's a professor of philosophy)—wrote a review of Anathem that I encourage you all to read (don't worry -- it won't ruin the story if you read the review first!). George's review does more justice to the book than I ever could, so I'll conclude by saying that if you don't read Anathem you're denying yourself one of the finest literary treats to be had, and although the 1000-ish-pagedness of the tome turned me off for almost a year, by the time I'd read 100 pages, I was wishing the book was at least 3000!


Seth said...

Received my copy of Anathem from Amazon a couple days ago, and just started reading it last night. I'll let you know if I like it.

If I recall correctly, I would have enjoyed The Name of the Rose more if Umberto Echo had told the story in about a half or third the length (that goes for The Island of the Day Before even more so).

M. Huw Evans said...

Yeah, tNotR was certainly long-winded. I enjoyed it immensely, but I pretty much did nothing but read for 2 days straight when I was reading it, so even all the wandering historical asides didn't bother me much. As for tIotDB, there were parts of that book that I absolutely loved, but I felt that the overall narrative was weaker than some of the others. Have you read Baudolino yet? I think it may be his best novel.

In any case, I don't think you'll find Anathem in any way slow or tedious. It flows splendidly, and I thought that all of the scientific and philosophical discussions along the way drove the story forward rather than detracting (or distracting) from it.

Seth said...

Finished Anathem last night (more like this morning), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another top notch recommendation, Ilorien. You are right, the scientific and philosophical discussions were an integral part of the whole experience and made the book what it was. I've not read anything else by Neal Stephenson. Have you, and if so, anything that you recommend?

Haven't read Baudolino yet, but since you recommend it, I've added to my list of possible reads.

M. Huw Evans said...

No, I haven't read anything else by NS yet, but Cryptonomicon is very close to the top of my to-read stack. It's been highly recommended to me by many people, and given your interest in computer/information science, I think you'd probably enjoy it greatly.