On a planet somehow more polarized than our own, civilization has divided itself into two castes: The Saeculars--people as we know them, more or less--and the Avout--bookish misfits unwanted by lay society. The Avout are content to advance their knowledge under imposed asceticism, segregated into monastic communities centered around giant clocks, surrounded by stone walls as the outside world spins its wheels in a never-ending cycle of apocalypse and rebirth. Our narrator is witness to a monumental discovery that will go through the millennia-old status quo into upheaval. Equal parts rollicking sci-fi action comedy and philosophical treatise, Stephenson's novel uses a fantastic setting to relate a message of cooperation across political, religious, and intellectual boundaries that grows ever more relevant with each passing year. A substantial attention span is required, as the epic tale unfolds over the course of 900 pages filled with imagined vocabulary and history, but the effort is well worth it.
A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Anathem is perhaps the most brilliant literary invention to date from the incomparable Neal Stephenson, who rocked the world with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and The Baroque Cycle. Now he imagines an alternate universe where scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind ancient monastery walls until they are called back into the world to deal with a crisis of astronomical proportions.  Anathem won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the reviews for have been dazzling: “Brilliant” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), “Daring” (Boston Globe), “Immensely entertaining” (New York Times Book Review), “A tour de force” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), while Time magazine proclaims, “The great novel of ideas…has morphed into science fiction, and Neal Stephenson is its foremost practitioner.”