ANATHEM, by Neal Stephenson.
In some ways, I'm surprised this book exists. Surprised that it was written, surprised it was published, and surprised that it apparently has an audience. I mean, who is the audience for this? Philosophers who like science fiction?
I tried to get into this book at least three time, and twice I was put off by the made up words, the heavy subject matter, and the archaic phrasing. But I've loved Neal Stephenson's books, even the Baroque Cycle, which seemed to put off many readers for ... well... the above stated reasons.
Sure -- Quicksilver might have been about Isaac Newton and his scientific discoveries -- but it was also about pirates and sultans and harems and magical gold.
So I was determined to get far enough into the book the third time to get hooked, and I'm glad I did.
The trick with Stephenson for those of us who aren't as smart as he, is to read the books for the story and try to pick up as much as you can of the complex themes.
I'd describe this book as a Adventure in Philosophy -- or a Philosophic Adventure. Add to the mix, science and religion, and he's tackling some mighty big subjects. If you were to lay out all the philosophers he mentions, I'm pretty sure you'd find a chronologically correct historical philosopher and or philosophical movement -- and religious, and scientific -- in the real world. If I wanted to work at it, I'm sure I could go back and read the original thoughts.
And yet, at the same time, it's a page turner once you absorb the terminology and understand what he's getting at. He writes beautiful prose, fully fleshed out and sympathetic characters, rousing adventure, intricate plots, and imaginatively described settings.
A typical passage might be about an adventure through a crevasse filled mountain pass, and dodgy companions, and -- at the same time -- almost every page will also contain an illuminating philosophical discussion.
4 days ago