Sunday, January 23, 2011


Anathem by Neal Stephenson: Stephenson, a favorite author among geeky types, creates an alternate world where intellectuals live in “concents,” monasteries completely secluded from the rest of society except for specific occasions. Fraa Erasmus is excited to see the outside world for the first time in ten years, but he never could have predicted what would begin. Math, science, and philosophy are all key to solving a mystery that will change the concents--and the rest of the world--forever.

Overall Quality: Personally, I quite enjoyed this book. There are some amazing ideas and concepts explored and the last third or so of the book has a riveting plotline. I would love to discuss this book with someone, but I can’t because no one else I know has finished it. This 935 page beast starts off soooooo slooooooow. Really, someone should just write a summary of the first 150 pages and tell people to start there. He also makes up a lot of words, even inspiring an xkcd comic, though that didn’t bother me as much as it did others. And there is a legitimate story-telling reason for the invented vocabulary. (Which doesn’t really help you if you’re so annoyed by “Suur” and “Saunt” and whatnot that you can’t finish the book.) However, if you’re interested in math, philosophy, and alternate universes, I promise it’s worth slugging through the beginning and the made-up words. Despite the slow and somewhat confusing start, this is a great book.

Bus Readability: Pretty bad. In addition to being physically huge, this book does not hold up well to being read in short sections. Sometimes you can’t even finish one conversation before your stop is called. Wait for a vacation to tackle this tome.

Cocktail Party Conversation Starter: Can you cut eight equal servings from a square of cake without using a ruler? There’s a fun geometry proof as the first appendix.

TL;DR: Great book for geeks, but not for the bus.


  1. Least appetizing description of French Onion Soup ever.

  2. Is that what Zh'vaern was eating? I couldn't figure it out.