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  • Quote of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on September 28th, 2011 (All posts by )

    Now there was a time when we believed that what a human mind could accomplish was determined by genetic factors. Piffle, of course, but it looked convincing for many years, because distinctions between tribes were so evident. Now we understand that it’s all cultural. That, after all, is what a culture is – a group of people who share in common certain acquired traits.
    Information technology has freed cultures from the necessity of owning particular bits of land in order to propagate; now we can live anywhere. …
    Some cultures are prosperous; some are not. Some value rational discourse and the scientific method; some do not. Some encourage freedom of expression, and some discourage it. The only thing they have in common is that if they do not propagate, they will be swallowed up by others. All they have built will be torn down; all they have accomplished will be forgotten; all they have learned and written will be scattered to the wind. In the old days it was easy to remember this because of the constant necessity of border defense. Nowadays, it is all too easily forgotten.

    Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

    (Previously quoted by me here)

    The Diamond Age one of my all time favorite books. Among many other brilliant things in it, he invented the word “Anglosphere”:

    After a simple dinner of beer and pasties in a pub on the fringes of the City, they rode south across the Tower Bridge, pierced a shallow layer of posh development along the right bank of the river, and entered into Southwark. As in other Atlantan districts of London, Feed lines had been worked into the sinews of the place, coursing through utility tunnels, clinging to the clammy undersides of bridges, and sneaking into buildings through small holes bored in the foundations. The tiny old houses and flats of this once impoverished quarter had mostly been refurbished into toeholds for young Atlantans from all around the Anglosphere, poor in equity but rich in expectations, who had come to the great city to incubate their careers.

    I just re-read it for the third time. It is the only book I have read three times since I was in high school.

    Here is a selection of quotes from The Diamond Age.

    Stephenson is speaking tonight in Oak Park about his new book, Reamde. I will be there. And I will get my copy of The Diamond Age autographed, and I will buy the new one and get it autographed too.

    UPDATE: It was pretty good. Stephenson read some passages from his new book and answered some questions. He said the science fiction writer who influenced him the most was Robert A. Heinlein. This not surprising, I see a lot of Heinlein in his writing. He also said that in terms of style, the “holy trinity of English prose” is “Gibbon, Dickens and Churchill.” (I need to read Gibbon. I need to read more Dickens. Churchill: Yes, absolutely. Churchill himself claimed the two writers who influenced him were Gibbon and Macaulay. But who now reads Macaualy?) It was a large and appreciative audience. A dweeby crowd, not surprising, given the author. I fit right in. My kind of people. The wife and I got ice cream afterwards. For us, that’s a big date.

    UPDATE II: Interview with Neal Stephenson in the local paper.


    8 Responses to “Quote of the Day”

    1. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      I remember reading Cryptonomicon a few years back and really enjoying it, though it kinda petered out towards the end. Interesting mixture of the recent history of code decryption, social commentary posing as plot lines, and laugh out loud humor. Good book.

      I may give The Diamond Age a read.

    2. setbit Says:

      Cryptonomicon…kinda petered out towards the end.

      Well then you may be frustrated by The Diamond Age, Michael. It doesn’t end so much as it just stops at a certain point.

      I’ve read three of Stephenson’s books, and they all had that property to certain extent. I suppose it’s a matter of taste whether you consider that a flaw or part of his genius.

      And I do think “genius” is the correct term. Although I was a little let down by the anticlimax, I consider Diamond Age a must-read.

      Among many other brilliant things in it, he invented the word “Anglosphere”

      I was completely unaware of that, Lex. Fascinating. I had always assumed Anglosphere was a much older word.

    3. Lexington Green Says:

      I don’t agree that Diamond Age really left anything hanging, since you’d need a whole other book to go any farther. Most of the major threads are resolved, or at least temporarily resolved — no spoilers — at least in terms of reaching milestones, but life will go on, and there are lots of moving parts. That is realistic. It reminds me of the way Philip K. Dick would end his books, with all the characters still alive and active and you just have to take leave of them, with some things resolved but, like life, some things still open ended. I did not see this as a defect. It works for the book.

    4. Dan from Madison Says:

      “For us, that’s a big date.” I know of what you speak.

    5. Cris Says:

      Nice stuff. William Boyd turns a good phrase. I like his ‘Any Human Heart’. W.S. Maugham recomended William Hazlitt for style, but I find him bearable only in small doses. He’s good on Coleridge, though.

    6. Peter Saint-Andre Says:

      Lex, did you get a chance to ask Mr. Stephenson about his coining of ‘Anglosphere’, and do you know if he has at all tracked the subsequent career of the term?

    7. Lexington Green Says:

      Peter — Nope, I did not get to ask that question.

    8. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Yes, Gibbon.

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