Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Working Theory of Love” as Want to Read:
A Working Theory of Love
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
read excerpt* *Different edition

A Working Theory of Love

3.35 of 5 stars 3.35  ·  rating details  ·  1,625 ratings  ·  319 reviews
Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going through the motions. His carefully modulated routine, however, is soon disrupted in ways he can’t dismiss with his usual nonchalance.

When Neill’s father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by The Penguin Press
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Working Theory of Love, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Working Theory of Love

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Narrative drive is a mysterious thing. Fiction with narrative drive is supposed to be all about cliff-hanger plots that reveal, in a step-by-step fashion, the set-up for a gristly murder, saving the crucial piece of information -- the identity of the killer -- for the final page. The function of this kind of storytelling is supposed to be merely to provide a few hours of vacuous escape. The rest of us are supposed to be reading primarily to enjoy the resplendent sentence structure of the literar...more
The New Yorker had cited this novel in a short list of notable books released this month. I liked the sound of the plot, and liked even more the praise it was given by the reviewers. I downloaded the first couple pages and was intrigued. The writing style was snappy, detailed, and hinted at bigger things.

In short, the novel's plot follows a young man who is working on an artificial intelligence program based on his deceased father's copious journals. (So, in a sense, the AI program has his fath...more
I took a gamble on this book, and unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the book very much at all. Its premise certainly sounded promising - a thirty-something divorced man joined a computer company, with the extensive journals of his deceased father in hand, in their goal in creating the first A.I. system to pass the Turing test. The manner of Neill’s father’s death further complicated matters for Neill and drove most of the plot along as Neill reconciled himself with the actions of his father. But thi...more
Cheryl McNeil
What an original story! It’s a romance, but my techie-scifi husband is even saying it’s on his list to read. It should definitely appeal to men and women equally. The main character is a man in his thirties, floundering in many ways after his divorce and his father’s suicide. He’s got daddy issues (join the club!), and he ends up working on them not with a shrink, but with the incarnation of his dead father in an artificially intelligent computer that has all his dad’s diaries inputted. It’s a w...more
I tried, oh Lord did I try. I got to page 111, but then the self-absorption and passivity of the narrator became too much for me. At times the narrative drew me in, when Neill was talking about the past: his relationship with his father, his honeymoon, but Neill in the present destroyed it.

Sometimes I think it's me. This tends to happen when I read books that I'm told are deep and intimate portraits of humanity. I just want to smack the main character over the head. And, wow, did I want to smac...more
I found this to be a unique reading experience. I vascillated between thinking, "this is fantastic" to "I don't know if I can finish this book." What I found is that I really liked certain themes and threads, and really disliked others. I loved the conversations between Neill and the computer, and loved the family themes, particularly the main theme about coming to terms with the suicide of a loved one. I thought the relationship between Neill and his mother was the most interesting aspect of th...more
Aug 12, 2012 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book clubs
I liked this book, but I didn't love it.

I think that has a lot to do with the main character's apathy. That being said, I did love the evolving computer, the way Neill perceived his co-workers, and how those perceptions changed, and the flashbacks to his childhood.

I wasn't as crazy about his jumbled love life, or the tangents he used to go on with his ex-wife.

It seems that this novel attempted to connect present love life with former family life, and while all the of the pieces were there, the c...more
Bennett Gavrish
Grade: A-

L/C Ratio: 80/20
(This means I estimate the author devoted 80% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 20% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)

Thematic Breakdown:
35% - Love
25% - Artificial intelligence
20% - Family
10% - San Francisco
10% - Divorce

The emphasis on computer science in the plot of Scott Hutchins's debut novel will probably scare some readers away, afraid that the book is geeky sci-fi masquerading as literary fiction. And that's a shame, because A Wo...more
I don't read a lot of fiction set in the Bay Area. So I was struck by the descriptions of the Mission and the people hanging out at Dolores Park. Or the feeling of driving through Menlo Park. Or the way the light feels at the end of the day. Clearly Scott Hutchins benefitted from his time at Stanford. Hutchins' ability to convey the emotions and atmosphere of a place ground this story very specifically in this time and place. As a result, they give the protagonist of this novel a framework, as h...more
Larry Hoffer
Relationships can be complicated. Neill Bassett knows this well. His marriage imploded nearly as soon as it started, despite the fact he and his wife dated for a long time before getting married. And his relationship with his father, a strict, traditionally Southern doctor, was definitely fractious until his father committed suicide while Neill was in college.

Yet Neill's father isn't quite out of his life. When he died, he left behind thousands of pages of journals chronicling daily occurrences,...more
Jul 01, 2012 Peter rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Light readers, Teen upwards, Deep-thinkers
I won this book in Goodreads First Reads Program, but that in itself in now way prejudices my opinion of it.

In this book I suspected something quite... well I suppose the best word that comes to mind is dry. However, I was pleasantly surprised. "A Working Theory of Love" blends Romance (with a capital r), mid-life crisis and just a hint of sci-fi. Truly an unexpected combination and an even better follow through. I would recommend this for light readers, and also those looking for something deep...more
This book grabbed me right away. I liked Neill Bassett's character. He's 36 years old, divorced, lives in San'd think he's old enough to figure out his life by now, except that he doesn't. He starts working for a tech company that wants to create an artificial intelligence that is able to reason and interact as if it's human. The program is using Neill's dead father's massive journals as the framework for its intelligence. As Neill continues testing the program, he gets to know m...more
Margit Sage
Aug 24, 2014 Margit Sage rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who has lived and loved, and/or lost a parent.
I've never read a book like this before. What do I mean by that? Well, for one, this book is honest about the messiness of relationships, and all of the questions and self-doubt that occurs for most of us. Hutchins sprinkles hilarity throughout to lighten the seriousness of Neill's journey through relationships. I laughed, hard. I shed a few tears. Many times, I came across a sentence or paragraph that caused me to stop and think for a while. This is the type of book that causes the reader to dr...more
Bei "Eine vorläufige Theorie der Liebe" habe ich zunächst eine schöne, humorvolle Geschichte erwartet. Meine Erwartungen wurden dabei nicht wirklich erfüllt, allerdings habe ich dafür eine recht melancholische und nachdenklich stimmende Geschichte erhalten, mit der ich ebenfalls gut leben konnte. Die Ereignisse rund um das Computerprogramm, Neill, Rachel und den anderen Figuren hat mir ganz gut gefallen, allerdings wurde hier auch stellenweise zu sehr der Fokus auf Neills Midlife-Crisis gelegt,...more
I have no idea, people. I think I liked it but I do not know why. I skimmed some parts because it got a bit dull. I went along for the ride but wish we had taken a different route.

My favorite parts, the thing that brought me back after I set the book down for days, were the conversations with the Doctor/computer.
This book nearly got a three star review, but it fell just short.....A little better than ok, but not by much, which sucks because I really wanted it to be more than it was.

Let me start with positives. I liked the narrator. The setting was San Francisco, and I believe that the author NAILED the perspective of a person coming from the South to live in an urban enviornment. The things that Neill says throughout that mention his childhood and Arkansas let me know that the author had to be raised in...more
Pretty solid story from cover to cover. I could see where Hutchins was coming from, in terms of self discovery, self loathing, living up to the expectations of family, etc. I felt that at times Hutchins was little too self loathing, but in this day and age, a 36 year old, divorced, and having a father who committed suicide, a little self doubt and loathing will creep up, but Hutchins took it a little too far. I really didn't know if I liked Neill or not. I liked Rachel. I liked Livorno. I liked...more
Neill Bassett talks to his father every day. The only problem is that Neill’s father (drbas – computer speak for Dr. Bassett) is dead. He committed suicide and all that Neill is left with are his father’s mostly mundane journals written on yellow legal pads. By a twist of fate, Neill ends up working for Amiante Systems, an artificial intelligence company in San Francisco determined to create the first successful ‘intelligent’ computer and Neill’s father’s journals become the data. It’s a clever...more
Natalie E. Ramm
Neill's father, Dr. Basset, kept fastidious journals before he committed suicide. And when Amiante Systems uses these journals to create an intelligent computer, they hire Neill to humanize the computer. Daily conversations with his computer-father send Neill's life into turmoil. And when the computer starts to think rather than just relay information, Neill is faced with a bit of an existential crisis. Did he ever really love his father? Could he have prevented his suicide?

While all this crazin...more
Katie Kenig
Neill has been chatting with his father. They talk about the old days, when Neill was a boy growing up in the south. They talk about Neill's mom and brother, about the neighbour down the road, and about his dad's medical practice.

The only catch is, Neill's dad killed himself in 1995, when Neill was still in college, before Neill was married and divorced, before he moved to California, before he took up permanent bachelorhood. Neill's dad now resides inside of a computer, an attempt at creating A...more
Sean Kottke
Philip K. Dick wrote in "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" that his two central concerns were the questions "What is reality?" and "What constitutes the authentic human being?" This novel takes up the second of those questions in a fictional account of entrepreneurs trying to beat the Turing Test by building an artificial intelligence in a manner similar to the real-life programmers who attempted to resurrect Philip K. Dick robotically in How to Build an Android. As...more
Orland Outland
Copy/paste from my blog,, where I'm chronicling the development of my own book about AI, "Less Than a Person and More than a Dog."

So I finished Scott Hutchins’ “A Working Theory of Love,” the book that had me panicked into thinking that it was too late for “Less Than” and Alex. And I’m relieved, as I no longer feel beat to the punch. Its AI and more importantly that AI’s place in the world, is a prequel of sorts to Alex, I’d say, but it’s definitely not the sam...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book comes out in October, but I got to read a copy early because of the Penguin First Flights program.

I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart*. It isn't exactly the same setting, but the main character and his much younger lover felt like they had been picked up and dropped into this book, with a few little tweaks. It was the most bizarre sense of déjà vu I've had as a reader. I get a little tired of middle aged male protagon...more
Andrea Mullarkey
Neill has carefully arranged his small post-divorce life to be completely unexceptional. It appears that his set routine, unremarkable apartment, and the job he isn’t particularly passionate about will mark his time through life. But when he becomes involved with a free-spirited younger woman and his work on a family project come to a head at the same time, he is forced to consider that his life may not be very settled after all. The crux of the story is that Neill is paid to run simulations wit...more
Greg Zimmerman
(Review first appeared at:

I picked up Scott Hutchins' debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, because it sounded like a good facsimile of a Jonathan Tropper novel. And it is, to some degree, but it's more a like a Tropper on downers.

The novel's about mid-30s dude named Neill Bassett, recently divorced and living in San Francisco, and working for a start-up company attempting to bring consciousness to a computer. Neill's a self-deprecating, semi-depressed...more
This is a really brilliant book. Think Jonathan Tropper and Jess Walter, but smarter. Neill is newly divorced and works as a software developer creating a computer with feelings. The catch is they’re using his dead father’s thousands of journal pages to create this program. (Cue conversations with computer he could not have with his dad). There is a very computing/engineer side to this (which I loved, working in the industry, though it does get a tad tedious at times) yet a ton of heart. This bo...more
M. Meyer
It was interesting over all. Lots of different elements, but I did not care that much about the protagonist. He seemed far too tentative in his own life. I suppose that echoes his father in the book, but it didn't make me like him.
Malena Watrous
I loved so many things about this book, from the deft and seemingly effortless characterization (yes, it felt like a character) of my beloved home city, SF, to the clever but also extremely moving "relationship" between the narrator and his father as embodied by the computer program that has digested his journals. The author is a friend, and I often find it distracting to read friends' books, because I can't stop thinking about that person rather than getting immersed in the story, but this char...more
Oh I give up. It's wierd because some parts were interesting and good and I was happy to be reading and then other parts made me want to shoot myself. Those parts won out and I'm done. too many other good books to read. I guess If I didn't have anything else on the back burner to read I'd finish it but as it stands I am going DNF it at page 133.
it's sad. I hate doing it. It's like a little book cemetary. where the book itself is the tombstone. Here lies A Working Theory of Love: It tried. It tr...more
I woke up this morning and thought I would walk to breakfast and start reading this book on the walk there and back - perhaps during too. What I didn't plan on was getting sucked in, nor could I have guessed what I was in for...

Far from my typical read, most of the suspense in this book has to do with subtleties of evolving relationships - romantic and father/son - especially as driven by learning about each other and oneself and the associated growth/change that occurs. This is probably not my...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
  • The Heart Broke In
  • Magnificence: A Novel
  • The Lost Prince
  • Accelerated
  • American Appetites
  • Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles
  • Heaven Should Fall
  • Panorama City
  • A is for Angelica
  • Kind One
  • Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey: A Parody of Downton Abbey
  • We Sinners
  • Ten Things I've Learnt About Love
  • Familiar
  • xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths
  • The Dead Do Not Improve
  • Wheat that Springeth Green
Scott Hutchins is a former Truman Capote fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, where he currently teaches. His work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Five Chapters, The Owls, The Rumpus, The New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and Esquire. It has also been--strangely--set to music. He's the recipient of two Hopwood awards and the Andrea Beauchamp prize in short fiction. I...more
More about Scott Hutchins...
Buzz Books 2012 From Busan to San Francisco

Share This Book

“When you spend significant amounts of time with someone they offer constant feedback, becoming part of the patterning of your brain. In other words, part of you. But I take your point -- constant feedback is not always deep feedback. A good measure of how much of you they've become is your level of distress when they're gone. If they form a large measure of your patterning, then you'll experience a major culling of the self. That's what's known as grief.” 13 likes
“Not everyone's life will be a great love story.” 8 likes
More quotes…