Anathem is a big book with big ideas. My Dad gave me this book and tells me he's a fan of Neal Stephenson's novels. (That's him on the left. Stephenson, not my Dad.) I guess I'll have to check out some others. Stephenson hasn't just invented a world for this SF story to take place, but politics, topography, society, history, technology and vocabulary to go along with it. No small feat, and certainly others have done it as well, but I think what makes Anathem stand apart from some of the others I've read, is the way that all of these things are woven together with philosophy and quantum mechanics.
And its not just some single philosophy that Stephenson wants to foist onto the rest of us--although there are some ideas which are presented as having a stronger case than others--there are a lot of them. Whole philosophical movements (and religions), along with their individual histories, faiths, doctrines, theories, and tenets. Oftentimes conflicting, and with well-thought-out arguments and counter arguments, each with their own histories.
The protagonist, and many of the people around him, live according to these various modes of thought, and the thought processes they go through figure large in the story. Just how they arrive at the decisions they make, and solve scientific and technological problems, and the care that goes into being thoughtful, for its own sake, is a way of life for these people. And it sets them apart from the people in their world who don't practice the same discipline; those video watching, sugar-water swilling, sæcular masses.
I really enjoyed this one. It was smart, expansive, and carefully written. The characters think with clarity and open mindedness, they weigh things carefully, and then they act without animosity or prejudice, which was refreshing to read.
Read this book.