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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  3,709 ratings  ·  461 reviews
Are you happy?

Alice Butler has been receiving some pretty odd messages—all anonymous, all written in simple code, all eerily vague but pointed enough to show that the sender has been watching her closely.

Are the messages from someone at PopCo—the slightly sinister, profit-hungry toy company that has herded Alice and its other top creatives out to a secluded Thought Camp? A
Paperback, 512 pages
Published October 3rd 2005 by Mariner Books (first published December 31st 2004)
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My earlier review of this book was unduly vicious. I've revised it slightly below and taken Popco off the "utter dreck" shelf. Unfortunately, for this book at least, she still gets stuck with the 'intellectual con artist' label.

Scarlett Thomas is the author of "The End of Mr Y", an impressive book which was highly original and quite entertaining. So I had high hopes for "Popco". Unfortunately, this time it seems that Ms Thomas may have bitten off more than she could chew. The discipline that was
This is the third book I've read by Scarlett Thomas, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite modern authors. I was introduced to her books by The End of Mr. Y (very, very good) and recently read her latest novel Our Tragic Universe (absolutely brilliant). PopCo came before both, originally published in 2004 and repackaged after the success of Mr. Y. I have to confess that I knew of the author before her most recent books, and I think I'd even looked at an earlier version of PopCo and rejecte ...more
Anita Dalton
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas is one of those books that is a revelation. Every now and then, I come across a book wherein I know the author’s ideas and beliefs line up so well with mine that it is very nearly eerie. PopCo encapsulated so many of my own thoughts that I likely annoyed everyone around me as I recommended this book to one and all, even going so far as to purchase several copies at a book clearance store so I could give copies away.

PopCo is hard to categorize. While the heroine, a certai
I did enjoy this book. I thought I should make that clear now, because I mostly want to rant about it.

Thomas used homoeopathy as a plot device in The End of Mister Y. Okay, that's fine, you get one magical freebie. However, when it showed up here in PopCo, I realised; really believe this, don't you?

There are also severe problems with Thomas' representations of veganism and activism. At one point, a character destroys a PopCo product in a toy store, as a passive-aggressive way of punish
PopCo kind of wants to be Cryptonomicon, but shorter and with less discussion of math, types of economies, and anything else more complex than marketing. It makes me want never to work at any company larger or more corporate than a shoebox. That's kind of the point of the book; it ends up literally saying so. The end was really annoying, due to aforementioned flat moralization plus a boring/not particularly believable solution to the main mystery. The rest of the story was all right, though not ...more
Eli Brooke
I read this after reading Thomas' more recent novel "The End of Mr. Y", which I adored. I actually think that PopCo works better as a cohesive whole, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it didn't have quite the same resonance with me in terms of having a specific set of ideas I was excited to read about as Mr. Y did. I definitely reccomend this one to others, though. It's got a very strong anti-commericalist, anti-herd-mentality, anti-fashion-in-all-aspects-of-life bent, and that's very good. P ...more
Disclaimer: questo libro fa emergere la cretina che c'è in me, per qualche strana ragione; la recensione sarà dunque viziata da ciò. Il che è solo un modo elegante per dire che sarò lievemente (e simpaticamente) polemica, e visto che la polemica ce l'ho nel sangue, sarò anche prolissa. Mi scuso.

Prendete una puntata tipo della Signora in giallo. Va bene anche qualsiasi telefilm del genere, ma io sono una fan di Jessica, Jessica über alles! Nella mia mente una puntata tipo della signora in giallo
This book is about a girl, a necklace and some buried treasure.

But it is also about a worldwide toy company, cryptoanalysis and the creation of ideas. It's about the factorisation of prime numbers, the mass production of milk and the obsessions of teenage girls. It's about rubbish parents and loving grandparents. It's about the Voynich manuscript, paradoxes, crossword puzzles, corporate bullshit, cricket, World War 2, games of logic, Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness, virtual worlds, miso soup,
Wow! Ok, sì, non è un capolavoro di alta letteratura, e sicuramente le 5 stelle sono più emotive che oggettive, però c'è da dire che mi ha tenuto incollata dall'inizio alla fine (con un breve momento di allentamento verso la metà, ma che si riprende col finale), contiene praticamente tutte (no beh...quasi, và) le cose che più mi piacciono: c'è matematica, ci sono paradossi, numeri, giochi di pensiero laterale e logica, strategie di marketing e giochi psicologici sul gruppo e affini...insomma, è ...more
Aug 12, 2009 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: geeky chicks, mathletes, hippies, anti-corporation, etc
I loved this book. It got a little heavy handed at times, toward the end especially, but it sort of had to and it was still just fun and exciting and all around a great read. Someone said it was chicklit for geeky chicks. I don't see the chicklit part, but it was definitely geeky and totally awesome for it. It's packed full of weird cryptanalyst stuff and lectures on math and history (an entire chapter is dedicated to the life story of some presumably made up dude from the 1600's), but it's all ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
This is a love it or hate it book. Because of the significant social issues contained in this story, such as the mistreatment of animals, corporate misdeeds, and guerilla marketing, this will appeal more to socially conscious individuals and those whose principles stand in opposition to the current CEO-type establishment. But, even then, counterculture types may still not like it if they don't want to see these issues advanced in a novel. That said, I applaud Scarlett Thomas for weaving these co ...more
Aimee C.
Honestly, I picked this book up because the cover looked cool. I'm not above it. And the book turned out to be *dope*! It's nice to see a female protagonist who is really smart, kind of geeky, and a bit of a loner, but who still manages to do things that most people do, like smoke cigarettes, get laid, and be, you know, not socially retarded. Theme-wise, 'PopCo' reminded me a bit of 'Fight Club,' if 'Fight Club' was geared towards British librarians. That sounds really pejorative, but it may, in ...more
Harry McKinley
PopCo is simply the best kind of book; Absorbing, thought provoking and ultimately enriching.

Charting the almost fantastical experiences of Alice, a social opt-out in the last vestiges of youth, as she plunders the inner depths of her own conscience and character to find her place in the world, it is a story so rich with spirit that one can't help but be totally drawn in.

The plot is straightforward but always engaging as Thomas weaves the narrative in a non-linear way, dishing out just enough ti
Dan S
On the good side, there are several interesting plot strands to this - Alice's childhood, the Francis Stevenson story, the map. On the other hand, these are all subplots - the main plot meanders around until the last fifty pages, where pretty much everything we've already read in that part of the book is turned on it's head. And these last fifty pages are, sadly, a disappointment.

Alice, the main character, annoyed me from the start - too self consciously anti-trends. By all means don't follow fa
PopCo was the novel Scarlett Thomas wrote before The End Of Mr Y, though it's now being re-marketed after the success of the former. I found it as compelling as Mr Y but not as satisfying, particularly the ending.

It's the story of Alice, a twenty-something working for a global manufacturer of kid's toys. At a Thought Camp for creatives in Dartmoor, intended to help the company devise a new hugely successful product to be aimed at teenage girls, Alice wakes up to the immorality of the organisatio
This is a pretty terrible book, somewhere between the DaVinci Code and a Babysitter's Club Camp Mohawk Super Special. It's not entirely unreadable and in 571 pages has maybe 4 to 5 good lines. Plot lines never line up together, gratuitous dialogue which is only meant to give exposition, and an unhealthy obsession with the amount of fantastic food the heroine can get are wearying. I only finished the book because I've been trying to finish every book I start this year.

The writing is almost unforg
Mary McCoy
The first time I read this, I thought it was just about the best thing I'd ever read. However, after a second time through, I find a lot of the stuff set in the present to be annoyingly didactic, especially when the protagonist goes off on a tear about homeopathy, veganism, or corporate evil.

However, the backstory, which involves pirates, cryptanalysis, thought exercises, goonishly cool math, mean girls, and the best grandparents in the world makes it still, a worthwhile and satisfying read.

I don't tend to read two books by the same author in a row (Harry Potter is a collossal exception) because I get bored with the style. However, PopCo was different enough from Mr. Y. and it had a CROSSWORD PUZZLE in the back. Unfortunately, it's a British crossword, and I stink at those. Way too cryptic! But if you like wordgames and buried treasure, OR if you're skeptical of the motives of the toy industry, you'll find this one enjoyable.
Victor Сонькин)
Oh God. It all went so well all the way to the midline, when it abruptly turned south. I should have heeded the warning signs: present-tense narration, homeopathy. They were there for everyone to see. On the other hand, there were nice cryptographic novellas here and there (most of them quite familiar to me from Singh's Code Book, but enjoyable nonetheless). The plot also seemed enjoyable: a young woman, somewhat antisocial and on the spectrum but not too much (at least less than she thinks), an ...more
Jackie "the Librarian"
Sep 29, 2007 Jackie "the Librarian" rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: smart girls
I guess this is a book for brainy girls who like puzzles. I loved this book, with all the background information about codes and prime numbers, and all the marketing information, too. I had recently read The Tipping Point, and it led nicely into all the discussion of setting trends. Fun!
Kelly McCoy
I knew I was going to love PopCo by the first few pages. The main character, Alice Butler, is full of energy and clever ideas. She works at PopCo, a toy corporation. At a weekend work conference Alice and a select few are chosen to come up with toy ideas for teenage girls. Later that night when Alice returns to her room there is an encrypted message left on her bed. As a child, Alice’s grandfather taught her all kinds of skills for breaking codes. She easily cracks the message but who would send ...more
Well I didn't finish it, but I got through 60%, so I will count it as read. So there.

A strange thing. I like this bit on pp 243-244:
'What do you do when you're not, well, doing PopCo?'
'Ah you want to know my hobbies,' I say. ... 'I like crosswords,' I offer.
'What's in your DVD collection?'
'DVD collection?'
'You can tell a lot about someone from their DVD collection. It used to be books, of course. And maybe videos. You'd go round someone's house and decide whether to have sex with them on the ba
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas - published 2004
contains spoiler

Let's be honest, Thomas is an english lit geek who writes for other english lit geeks. I have no problems with this as I neatly fall into that niche. PopCo is not the first book I read, The End of Mr Y was my introduction to Thomas and it was quite something.
I felt dubious about reading another book by Thomas, was it going to be equally inventive, rich and unputdownable? Or was it going to be more of the same, but less so...

PopCo's blurb
sto barando perchè non l'ho proprio finito... la soluzione me la leggo stasera..insomma lei ha aspettato tutti quegli anni io potrò aspettare qualche ora *-*
decisamente il migliore dei tre che ho letto, senza alcun dubbio... e poi tutte queste cose di crittoanalisi sono troppo interessanti anche se la mia mente limitata a volte doveva fermarsi a rileggere per capire.. e poi rileggere ancora.. insomma non pretendiamo troppo da me *-* mia sorella sarà una matematica prima o poi.. già lo è ora anch
Having greatly enjoyed Ms. Thomas' "The End of Mr. Y", I picked this up with high (probably too high for my own good) expectations.

After a "painful" month (which should, by itself, say something), trying to stick with it, I finally read the long-awaited conclusion a few minutes ago -and, frankly, feel it was hardly worth the hassle :(

Despite the fact that the characters were interesting (if with loads of unexplored potential) and the criticism of today's society thought provoking (if a bit prea
I'd already read "The End of Mr Y" by Scarlett Thomas, and quite enjoyed it. When I picked up "PopCo" I left it on my shelves for a while, but once I started it my family didn't see much of me. In fact, if I'd thought I'd get away with it, I would have called in sick to keep reading. It probably helps that in many ways I really related to the main character - like Alice, I was raised by academics and was too geeky to fit in well with the popular girls at school. When the novel opens Alice has be ...more
"PopCo" was frustrating for me. I was really interested in the story of young Alice, growing up with her grandparents after her father disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and adult Alice, received coded messages at an equally mysterious corporate retreat. That could have been a really interesting story. Instead, Thomas became more invested in lecturing us about math/history/cryptanalysis (interesting to a point, but I really am not going to understand or care about prime factorization no ...more
This book is probably something I would never normally pick up. I found it at a garage sale and got fascinated by the blue pages and since it was only 1 pund I decided to buy it. almost regretting it when I found out how weird it looked on my bookshelves.

Well Popco surprised me in a good way. It's much different from what I usually read ( a lot of YA) and the math often became too complicated for me considering the fact that English is not my first language and I've never done math in English be
I recently reread this and downgraded my rating my one star. It's definitely a much weaker novel that Mr Y and Our Tragic Universe. I enjoy book with a puzzle element, and along with the rather intriguing character of Alice, this absorbed my attention the first time round.

On a rereading however, the shortcomings of this book made it virtually unreadable in some places. Unfortunately, it now also seems incredibly dated, with the 'cultural rebellion' of some of the main characters now just seeming
Kelly V
Jun 15, 2008 Kelly V rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with enquiring minds who have at least a little patience
Recommended to Kelly by: Gwen
This was really an awesome and exciting book. I couldn't really name what kind of book this is, as it interweaves so many topics (and well) that it's unbelievable. Foundational themes include cryptanalysis and marketing, but the author also touches on several other interesting areas, including 17th-century pirates, artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, virtual worlds, gaming, mathematics in general, and British schoolgirl life in the 80s. I loved the nod that Bletchley Park got, as I wor ...more
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Scarlett Thomas has taught English Literature at the University of Kent since 2004, and has previously taught at Dartmouth Community College, South East Essex College and the University of East London. She reviews books for the Literary Review, the Independent on Sunday, and Scotland on Sunday. She has written seven novels, including The End of Mr. Y and PopCo.

In 2001 she was named by The Independ
More about Scarlett Thomas...
The End of Mr. Y Our Tragic Universe Bright Young Things Going Out Dead Clever (Lily Pascale, #1)

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“Routine kills creative thought.” 48 likes
“War thoughts again. I think back to the business cards from that health shop earlier on. I think about miniature wars that individuals fight all the time. They fight against cellulite, or negative emotions, or addictions, or stress. I think about how we can now hire all different sorts of mercenaries to help us fight against ourselves…Therapists, manicurists, hairdressers, personal trainers, life coaches. But what’s it all for? What do all these little wars achieve? Although it is a part of my life too, and I want to be thin and pretty and not laughed at in the street and not so stressed and mad that I start screaming on the tube, it suddenly seems a little bit ridiculous. All the time we do these things we are trying to enlist ourselves into a bigger war. We are trying to join up, constantly, with the enemy.
Hitler tried to impose his shiny, blonde, neat, sparkling world on us all and we resisted. So how is it that when McDonald’s and Disney and The Gap and L’Oreal and all the others try to do the same thing we all just say, ‘OK’? Hitler needed marketing, that’s all. His propaganda was, of course, brilliant for its time, everyone knows that. What a great idea, to make people feel that they belong to something, that their identity makes them special. If Hilter had bee able to enlist a twenty-first-century marketing department, would he have been able to sell Nazism to everyone? Why not? You can just see a beautiful, thin woman with her long blonde hair moving softly in the breezes, and the tagline ‘Because I’m worth it’.”
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