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Books–The Diamond Age, or a young lady’s illustrated primer October 3, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Memory, Other.

Another by Neal Stephenson.  And I actually finished this one Sunday, October 1. 

This is also a re-read.  The first time, though, I was doing something like three books a week, minimum, for graduate school.  And it came out in paperback in 1995-6, which was a time when I was still attempting to impress my professors and maintain a 4.0 average.  So I guess I didn’t pay that much attention.  Stephenson writes lucidly and it is possible to enjoy his books without getting too wound up in the plots.  Indeed, this work is so rich in themes that interested me at the time (social thought and possible future societal structures, nanotechnology, education, etc.) that I completely missed some of those that I find more interesting today (social thinking, nanotechnology, parallel processing, intuition, the wisdom of the crowds, and something that didn’t exist in the mid-1990s, Web 2.0).

I try to avoid plot summaries, but will try to construct one here that doesn’t give away much.  Society has continued to fragment.  Many successful people react to the breakdown by forming their own societies and adopting stringent moral codes.  Relationships between these disparate groups are mediated by a worldwide economic protocol.  A very powerful member of one of the most powerful of these, the Victorians, is disgusted by the way his kids turned out.  They don’t think subversively, they were beaten down by their strict Victorian upbringing.  They will never be the kind of entrepeneurial pirate that he respects.  So he has someone create a powerful book (the primer in the title) to lead his granddaughter along a more subversive path.  The designer of the book makes a copy for his daughter (stealing), and it is, in turn, stolen.

Traditional Chinese society at this time is suffering under the yoke of economic hierarchies maintained by others, and the cultural system that comes with it (cultural, technological and economic imperialism).  They use the theft of the book to gain leverage on its designer and attempt to secure his help subverting the existing order. 

So that’s the idea, but the whole thing is bound up with the story of a waif whose brother stole the book and her surrogate mother, an actress who interacts with her through the book.  The result is an engaging meditation on the power of narrative and a good read. 



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