Ben Smithgall

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Software and data at Spotify. Previously with U.S. Digital Service and Code for America.






By Neal Stephenson

Finished reading on December 29, 2018

I love Anathem; I think it’s a wonderful example of what I love about Stephenson’s books. He takes a Big Idea™ and constructs an entire world around it. The Ideas in this book are Platonic epistemology and forms, and the many-worlds view of the cosmos, which I think Stephenson is somewhat obsessed with (it turns out to be an important part of the other Stephenson book I read on vacation, Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.).

Like many of Stephenson’s books, it’s a lot of work and takes some time to get going. A number of interesting diversions don’t help with the pacing. Many pages are spent on a number of largely meaningless distractions that might alternatively madden or interest a reader. This is, though, part of what makes reading Stephenson so unlike reading almost anyone else: who else would dedicate a long aside to an aperiodic tiling problem or include three fictional Socratic dialogues as appendices? Where else do you find a first-contact story to be an excuse for a quantum exploration of Platonic forms?

This was the third or fourth time I’ve read Anathem, and I look forward to getting more out of it for years to come.