Book Review: Anathem

Anathem book cover
Neal Stephenson


In Anathem, Stephen­son imag­ines a world where sci­en­tists and philoso­phers live in monas­ter­ies like me­dieval monks. I’ll avoid spoil­ers here be­cause a lot of the fun of the book is dis­cov­ery, but the world-build­ing is top-notch.

The story it­self is bril­liant. Within the plot, a large por­tion is mind-stretch­ing phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence, and math dis­cus­sions be­tween the char­ac­ters. I can un­der­stand why some­one would think this bor­ing, but I was fas­ci­nated.

I can’t re­mem­ber the last book I de­voured so quickly or en­joyed so thor­oughly. A def­i­nite fu­ture re-read, which is the high­est com­pli­ment I can pay in a world filled with so many books I’ve yet to read.

Expand for spoilery thoughts
  • My fa­vorite parts of the book took place at Ed­har and Tre­de­garh, more so than the more ac­tion-ori­ented se­quences of Eras­mus trav­el­ling the world and in space.
  • The space­ship it­self is­n’t hard to grasp, but I had a hard time vi­su­al­iz­ing every­thing as the char­ac­ters moved around in­side.
  • Ar­bre is so sim­i­lar to our world not for lit­er­ary rea­sons, but be­cause it is “fur­ther up the Wick” and so in­flu­ences our re­al­ity. Earth is a less “true” ver­sion of Ar­bre. Amaz­ing.
  • In­can­ters like Fraa Jad can ap­par­ently “travel” be­tween world­tracks, in ef­fect con­trol­ling which pos­si­ble fu­ture ac­tu­ally hap­pens. In this way they’re like au­thors who look ahead and choose the di­rec­tion of their sto­ry’s nar­ra­tive. Meta.
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