Book Review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem 2008


Have you ever read Neal Stephenson? Can you tell when someone is way smarter than you and that compels you to listen? Do you enjoy when you’re confronted with ideas that are so fascinating that you struggle to believe an individual mind came up with them? Does all of that compel you to actually *work* through reading a book to completion? Then this book is for you!

So far, I’ve only read Seveneves and Anathem by Stephenson. I also picked up Snow Crash but put it down for the same reasons I almost put down Anathem. I walk away from these experiences in awe of the mind that can articulate such complex ideas.

Diax said something that is still very important to us, which is that you should not believe a thing only because you like to believe it. We call that ‘Diax’s Rake’ and sometimes we repeat it to ourselves as a reminder not to let subjective emotions cloud our judgment.

Anathem is the story of a monk in a slightly different world than Earth. He lives in a monastery exactly as you would picture it, except it’s full of (mostly) non-religious scientists and mathematicians. There is a lot of history as to why they live this way. There is also a very compelling purpose to the plot of the story as well. The slow revelation of that is what makes this book so enjoyable.

I have to be honest though, this book was work. It’s a thousand pages. Not only that, its full of made up words. Full of them! I think I understand why Neal did this, but it still kills me. Saecular instead of Secular. Fraa instead of Monk. Concent instead of Monastery. There are HUNDREDS of these words. It takes about 200 pages to make the translation in your head without much work. (Here is a glossary you should use).

I’m a complete sci-fi nerd. I love big mind-bendy ideas, lots of details, lengthy explanations, long dialogs, and complete histories. This book would be an easy 5 stars in my mind if it wasn’t for the words. THE WORDS. If you have a tolerance for that, lean in and read the book. It’s awesome. If not, it’s ok. I’ll enjoy the book for you.