A Dickens for Our Time

I was given a copy of Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, Anathem for Christmas, and I was immediately hooked. I read Cryptonomicon next, and that novel is one of my top 5 favorite books of all time. It’s a perfect blend of action, humor, math, history, and computer science. I’ve given away several copies to friends, I like it so much.

After that, I delved into Neal’s massive Baroque Cycle, which is set in the turbulent times of the late 17th – early 18th century. Isaac Newton is a major character, as well as Gottfried Liebniz. It rambles on for close to 3,000 pages, goes around the world (literally), and ends up with the birth of modern science and capitalism. One of the most fun aspects of the cycle is seeing the ancestors of characters in Cryptonomicon play major roles in the plot.

The common thread throughout all of Neal’s books is the role currency plays in societies. In the Baroque Cycle, the British and the Dutch come out winners despite their relatively small sizes, because they embrace the new flow of money and trade. France, in contrast, is so locked into hierarchical social structures that they cannot conceive of an entrepreneurial class.

Visit Neal’s website to watch video interviews and readings. His attention to detail in his writing, and his ever-present sense of humor remind me of Charles Dickens, another favorite author of mine.

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