Odious and Peculiar

Philology and esoterica: scribblings, ravings and mutterings.

O&P's Current Pick:

Forging the Sampo

Odious' Links:

The Little Bookroom
The Pumpkin King
Larissa Archer
Inverted Iambs
Eve Tushnet
Pamela Dean
Kambodia Hotel
Pen and Paper

Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary
Deep-Sea News
NASA's Mars Website
Classics Online
Perseus Digital Library

Nine Scorpions
The Blithe Kitchen
Letter from Hardscrabble Creek
Arts & Letters Daily
About Last Night



Chas Clifton's Nature Blog
Rock Art Photo Blog
Girl on a Whaleship
Nature Lyrics Languagehat
Jabal al-Lughat
Laputan Logic
Strange Maps
Vladimir Dinets: Polymath Russian Adventurer
Virtual Tour of Almaty, Kazakhstan
Aerial Landscape Photography
USGS Earth As Art
Panoramic Aerial Maps of the American West

The Internet Bird Collection
Bird Families of the World
Ancient Scripts
The Aberdeen Bestiary Project
The Cephalopod Page
The Ultimate Ungulate
The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire
USGS Streamflow Data

Worthy Miscellany
Finno-Ugrian Music
Boojum Expeditions
American River Touring Association

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Monday, November 10, 2008
Goodness, I've been gone long. I've been immersed in the winding path of modern tax law, et il y a une anguille sous toutes roches, as they say. Possibly.

Peculiar and jack were good enough to remember me with Stephenson's Anathem, and since I have yet to comment on the last book they gave me (Sayings of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Short version: I find your concern for the relations between goats and men disturbing), I thought I would jot down a few thoughts on this latest.

It's not his best. At the center of all his better books is a giant idea--often an idea in the Kantian sense, as something too big really to get a hold of. At this center of this book is a lot of philosophastering. To be fair, the main character and most of the others are all the sort of people who do have conversations about deep philosophical issues and then try to answer their questions with explosives, but there's only so many paraphrases of the Meno you can read before you want to shake the author and say, "I get it."

This is true. Unkind, but true.

And the science is... not good. The basics are acceptable, but his grasp of larger issues in physics seems comfused.

In its favor is the fact that even Stephenson's lesser stuff is more intelligent and engaging than just about anyone else out there. The book also offers the only convincing portrait of an active Temple of Reason I've read.

Anathem also drives home just how rare the ability to follow an argument is, and how much training it requires. The sense of when a point has been proven is a rare one, and needs much cultivation before a taste for truth (which is above all an acquired taste) is identifiable.

Finally: worth one's time, absolutely, but no Diamond Age. Which is praising with faint damns, of course.

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