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The Big U

3.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,067 Ratings  ·  190 Reviews
The New York Times Book Review called Neal Stephenson's most recent novel "electrifying" and "hilarious". but if you want to know Stephenson was doing twenty years before he wrote the epic Cryptonomicon, it's back-to-school time. Back to The Big U, that is, a hilarious send-up of American college life starring after years out of print, The Big U is required reading for any ...more
Paperback, 308 pages
Published February 6th 2001 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1984)
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Duffy Pratt
Mar 25, 2012 Duffy Pratt rated it liked it
At first I thought: "Cool, it's Yossarian Goes to College." And for a while, that's what this book felt like. Then, it either derailed or got on track, depending on how you look at it. Ultimately, the whole thing becomes a giant, but always fun, mess. There are alot of great parts here, and they are all jammed together in ways that might or might not make sense. From a pure plot standpoint, the various parts actually fit together pretty nicely -- but the way they fit, it feels like Stephenson ha ...more
May 08, 2008 SR rated it it was amazing
This book.

This BOOK.

Holy shit.

It's complete and utter crack of the absolute best kind. It is fantastic and ridiculous and terrifying and beautiful and WHAT THE HELL, THIS BOOK.

I love it. I love it so much. Holy god.

Aug 13, 2007 Dan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Neal Stephenson Fans
This is the story of a very serious student trying to navigate the bureaucracy of the ridiculous hyperbole of higher education that is American Mega-university, a sort of parody of every large American university.

This book is very entertaining, despite some very disturbing parts. This book is not nearly as good as Neal Stephenson's subsequent works but it is still entertaining and it really shows his promise. As his first work it is very reminiscent of Hunter S Thompson's first book The Rum Diar
Max Nemtsov
Jul 10, 2015 Max Nemtsov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Первый роман Стивенсона — чуваку было сколько, 29, когда он вышел? — и совсем непонятно, почему он обойден вниманием руссоидателей, так обильно на Стивенсона фапающих (уважительная причина может быть только в том, что сам Стивенсон не дает его на русский переводить, оберегая нервную систему своих фанов, но переиздавать же дал, так что все равно непонятно).
Т.е. это конечно, не фонтастега для умных, где литературным мальчикам там приятно опознавать знакомые буквы, это натурально грубо сляпанный б
Sep 01, 2013 Marina rated it it was amazing
This book is brilliant. It's beautifully disturbing. It flows like a mad river. It's amazing.

Admittedly, I have not read much of Stephenson. I read bits and pieces of 'Snowcrash' but found it a bit boring. I have had 'Anathem' highly reccomended to me but found the thickness a bit intimidating. Therefore I am a novice, untainted by Stephenson's apparent brilliance.

This book is a little gem. A rough, uncut, blinding gem. I love the smooth transitioning into madness. Until pretty much the end, whe
Apr 30, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
Stephenson's very first book, from 1984, which he has since disowned, is much better and more entertaining than he gives it credit for! A campus satire and a bit of a mess, it hasn't dated that much and is great fun to read. It's also amusing to see early examples of Stephenson's later themes. The nest of computer hackers prefigures Cryptonomicon, the university sealed off from the outside world prefigures Anathem, and the wild action sequences prefigure REAMDE. And at 300 pages, it has the virt ...more
Mar 15, 2008 Cain rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the funniest things I have ever read. It gets a little outrageous, especially in the second half, but a lot of this is just expanding on real-life ridiculousness which already borders on hyperbole. Anyone who enjoys satire and/or attended Boston University (on which it seems to be based, though BU is never named) should give it a look.
Sep 13, 2008 Tony rated it liked it
I’d fallen out of the habit of reading….

The street outside my restaurant pulsates with life. Fad-adorned hipsters walk up and down the main drag likes it’s a track ducking into local bakeries, cafes, music stores, bars, and eateries. The sidewalks narrow as random guys hold signs offering free advice. Tables are strewn with trinkets for sale. A French hippie carves one-hitters and juggles badly. A wannabe thesbian dresses in crazy outfits and sings and jumps around without rhyme, reason, or tal
Jun 21, 2009 Evan rated it it was ok
There is one vivid character in this novel: Fred Fine, an excruciating portrait of a live-action gamer with severe delusions. He's the only one that Stephenson provides with sufficient narrative to generate something resembling empathy. Otherwise, the book doesn't really have "characters" so much as stereotypical ciphers for denouncing a wide range of unsurprising categorical college "types." Or maybe just social types. As Sarah aptly comments towards the end of the book, there's not much about ...more
Lissa Notreallywolf
Apr 10, 2011 Lissa Notreallywolf rated it it was ok
Shelves: goned
The Big U is a good indication of how much Neal Stephenson has grown in his writing. It's an early novel and in some ways it reminds me of Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett, because it is fun reading. He makes some insightful pokes at the the corporate model of the university, and institution whose face is undergoing remarkable changes since the GI bill went through in the US. Strange because I have been reading Neuman's The Idea of the University, a rather long and ponderous essay written in the mi ...more
Oct 25, 2014 Becca rated it it was ok
Recommended to Becca by: Jon
In the future, when an author thinks that his book isn't worth reading, I'm going to take his word for it. The Big U is too over the top to be an enjoyable, subtle satire of the large university life, although it had that potential in the beginning. On the other hand, the melodrama and large scale events are too trivial for the novel to be epic. The overall effect is pretty "meh."
The detail and fact finding that Stephenson is known for is all but absent in this book. The only signature Stephens
Michael Murdoch
Jul 12, 2015 Michael Murdoch rated it liked it

The New York Times Book Review called Neal Stephenson's most recent novel "electrifying" and "hilarious". but if you want to know Stephenson was doing twenty years before he wrote the epic Cryptonomicon, it's back-to-school time. Back to The Big U, that is, a hilarious send-up of American college life starring after years our of print, The Big U is required reading for anyone interested in the early work of this singular writer.



"An entertaining and sometimes murderous satire on campus

Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Nov 10, 2014 Allan Dyen-Shapiro rated it liked it
Neal Stephenson's first novel. He tried to keep it from being re-issued, as from what I've read, he regards it as juvenilia. And yes, I can confirm Stephenson had yet to discover things like plot or character development.

However, If you really like Neal Stephenson's books (I do), this one is fun. He has the manic vignettes that truly go off the deep end that characterized his writing in the 90s, but a whole novel full of them, only loosely connected.

This is a satire of a major flagship state uni
Jan 06, 2014 T rated it liked it
When I first read this book 20 years ago, I was amused but didn't take in much to carry with me through the decades. There was D & D and some computery stuff. It was cool but disorganized. I also know that Neal Stephenson would later have disowned this book if he could have. That was the sum total of my thoughts regarding the first novel of one of my favorite authors on picking it up again. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by this re-read. Far fetched and exaggerated, ridiculous and over ...more
Aaron White
Oct 22, 2015 Aaron White rated it really liked it
This is no Snow Crash, but it is clearly it's predecessor. I really liked this book. It really took me back to my college days, sort of. The first half feels like a send up of college life, albeit in a futuristic sky-srapered campus. I am not one to laugh out loud at books, even funny ones, but I often found myself chuckling along with the absurdities. The second half seemed to take a drastic that involved students real life larping with their trans dimensional selves. Awesome. (Not to mention t ...more
Jason Cole
Sep 08, 2014 Jason Cole rated it liked it
You can tell that this is an early book. The writing is rough in spots, the plot is spotty, and the characters are more like caricatures. That said, it's satire, so it doesn't necessarily need to draw deep character portraits. It still made me laugh out loud several times, and the escalating chaos toward the end of the story is classic, door-slamming farce. It's easily Stephenson's silliest book, and if it reads like it was written by a BU student, well that's probably because it was. Good for t ...more
Oct 27, 2014 Jeff rated it did not like it
This is one of those books that makes me wonder how books are published, as in, what is the criteria? The level of frustration generated from having to read garbage closely condensed into quasi-narrative form exceeds what one person should have to endure.

That's not to say Stephenson isn't intelligent in his satire or poignant once or twice in 300 pages, but it's just such a bad bad read. Superfluous beyond regard, boring beyond belief, one would rather sit on transatlantic flights next to unchan
Gareth Rowlands
Jan 18, 2015 Gareth Rowlands rated it liked it
No spoilers here, just a comment on the rating system...

Another example of why Goodreads needs to add half stars to the ratings system. The Big U is better than average (3), especially as a 1st novel, but definitely not worth a 4 if I'm going to be consistent with my self-imposed grading system.

That scale is (until Goodreads implements a change):

1 - Really, you killed trees for this?
2 - Bad, but I've read worse...
3 - OK. I won't read again, but it was alright.
4 - Good - I'll read it again some t
Mar 28, 2015 Adam rated it really liked it
Shelves: funny
If you like Neal Stephenson then you should give this one a read. If you think Stephenson should write shorter books then read this one. While the writing is undeveloped and definitely feels like someone's first novel, it still has all the signature Stephenson trademarks. When you read a Stephenson novel you think "here's a smart guy with a lot of technical knowledge, a good sense of humor, and signs of someone who has done a bit of partying in his day." This novel is the first insight into all ...more
Benjamin Espen
Feb 25, 2015 Benjamin Espen rated it really liked it
The Big U Book Review

I picked up The Big U while I was organizing my library, and I decided to see if I still liked it ten years [at least] since the last time I had read it.

It turns out, I do! For me, this is the perfect college satire, on the same level as Thank You For Smoking or Office Space. I read it when I was an undergraduate, and it was hilarious, and a devastating send up of the bizarre world that is the American university. Ten years later, it is still hilarious and devastating. Then
May 23, 2014 Anna rated it it was amazing
I’m moving house soon, so it’s time to re-read books and decide whether to keep them. ‘The Big U’ stands up well to a re-read, I must say. Neal Stephenson is a fantastic writer, so this wasn’t much of a surprise. ‘The Big U’ was his first novel and is quite different to his subsequent, often much longer works. It reminds me, in fact, of a mashup between the oeuvre of J.G. Ballard and the TV series Community. The Ballardian connection comes from the lead character being a structure rather than a ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Derek rated it liked it
Its eye-rolling start tried to discourage me from continuing: Kafkaesque, petty-tyranted bureaucracy; an isolated, hothouse society of weirdo student behavior; an impersonal, implacable crushing of human spirit under cinder block architecture and lousy food. I had had enough of this style of satire with Bill, The Galactic Hero.

Over a progression of increasingly strange developments, it becomes something other. Something Lord of the Flies, as various factions of the student body are cut loose fr
Dec 13, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it
Just finished the Go Big Red Fan prologue, and I think I can see why Stephenson sort of disowns The Big U. It's his first novel, published in 1984 when he was 24 or thereabouts, which means it was most likely *written* when he was 22-23, if not younger. But JUST BECAUSE STEPHENSON WOULDN'T CONSIDER WRITING SOMETHING LIKE THE BIG U TODAY, DOESN'T MEAN HE SHOULDN'T HAVE WRITTEN IT IN HIS TWENTIES. I'm only eight pages in but I think this book will be a lot of fun for the same reason another author ...more
Jukka Särkijärvi
Jun 11, 2013 Jukka Särkijärvi rated it liked it
Shelves: student-life, satire
The Big U is an interesting work.

For those not up on the Stephenson trivia, it's the author's first published novel and for a long time, he kept it deliberately out of print due to his own dislike of it. He finally relented under fan pressure (apparently copies were going for three-digit sums on eBay and he figured that the only thing worse than people reading The Big U was paying over a hundred dollars for the privilege), and we are given the opportunity to see how good he is at evaluating his
Jul 14, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
In my ongoing effort to read everything by Neal Stephenson that isn't the very intimidating 3000-plus-page Baroque Cycle...

Neal Stephenson has essentially disowned the book, this being his first effort and not up to the Cryptonomicon standard. Personally, I thought it was great. It's still very Stephenson in style, although the scope is smaller than his other books and doesn't go as deep. The Big U is a send-up of large university life, taking every paradigm and sterotype to a hyperbolic extreme
Chrys Albarado
This book was odd, intellectual, meaningful... But mostly odd. I enjoyed it. It was entertaining. It was definitely a break from my normal reading fare.

This is a book to read when you want something that is more like "steak" than potatoes. You need to reach in to yourself and also have a decent understanding of the world around you to understand the goings on. I think of the story as a George Orwell style writing. It's deeply symbolic. This novel was recommended by a friend and I admit, I knew
Aug 30, 2012 Leif rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
According to Neal Stephenson, this book is not up to snuff. It does not hold up to the long winded, rambling, unfocused, boring standards of books like Cryptonomicon and every book that he has written since. In essence, this book is just too much damn fun. It is a true satire of university life in the United States and it is just over the top enough to really, really work.
I love all of Neal Stephenson's early novels, but this is my definite favorite. I love Casimir Radon and his misguided qu
Jul 20, 2010 Sam added it
I understand that Stephenson is not very proud of this book, but I enjoyed it. If anything, I was just a little surprised by how dark and cynical it is.

It’s a satire of university life, where the university in question is based very loosely on BU; it’s basically BU if everyone lived in a nightmarish dystopian version of Warren Towers.

So we follow a bunch of mostly likable — if pathetic — characters through their travails. And things get odder and odder until a full-scale civil war erupts in the
Jan 02, 2014 Carol rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
This novel is set at American Megaversity, a huge institution modeled on Boston University, and specifically, Warren Towers. It follows the adventures of several students plus a couple of professors and some of the staff and administration as they navigate their way through the university's bureaucracy, culture, secrets, IT system, and tunnels. The story takes place over the course of an academic year that culminates in a civil war/riot at the university.
I found this book fairly disappointing,
Scott Schroeder
Jan 17, 2016 Scott Schroeder rated it really liked it
Can I give a book 4.5 stars? No? Shoot. Seems too generous to give it 5 stars. But it's creative, and it's fun. It does read like someone's first book... well, it IS his first book. I would recommend Zodiac, and Snow Crash, and the Baroque trilogy, and... well, fine, almost every other Neal Stephenson book over this one. But I'm still glad I read it, and that's what counts.
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Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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“What people do isn't determined by where they live. It happens to be their damned fault. They decided to watch TV instead of thinking when they were in high school. They decided to blow-off courses and drink beer instead of reading and trying to learn something. They decided to chicken out and be intolerant bastards instead of being openminded, and finally they decided to go along with their buddies and do things that were terribly wrong when there was no reason they had to. Anyone who hurts someone else decides to hurt them, goes out of their way to do it. . . . The fact that it's hard to be a good person doesn't excuse going along and being an asshole. If they can't overcome their own fear of being unusual, it's not my fault, because any idiot ought to be able to see that if he just acts reasonably and makes a point of not hurting others, he'll be happier.” 39 likes
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