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The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  55,006 ratings  ·  2,415 reviews
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial inte ...more
Paperback, Trade Reissue, 499 pages
Published May 2nd 2000 by Spectra (first published February 1995)
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47th out of 5,148 books — 17,554 voters
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Community Reviews

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I get the feeling that Stephenson's writing process goes something like this:

Hey, I found a really cool idea here. I wonder what I can do about it....

He then writes about 200 pages of really awesome, meticulous world-building, with innovative ideas about, in the case of this book, the possibly uses of nanotechnology and its eventual social ramifications, and then goes, Oh, damn, I'm writing a story, and high-tails it to the end of the book, leaving the reader a little wind-blown and confused. It

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became
Okay, here's what this Stephenson guy did with his novel. He got together a focus group of 25 unpaid, thirteen year old boys and made them puke out as many buzz words in 10 minutes that they could about science fiction. The buzz words had to be something that would palliate the hyperactive endocrine glands of 13 year old males. Stephenson then roiled together this mess with a rag mop and wrung it into a bucket called The Diamond Age: Or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

To give you a thin sample
Tadiana ✩ Night Owl☽
Review originally posted at

Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is set in a near future that is unrecognizable in some ways and disturbingly familiar in other ways. Nations have dissolved and people now tend to congregate in tribes or “phyles” based upon their culture, race, beliefs or skills. Nanotechnology has upended society, and even the poorest people have access to matter compilers that create clothing, food and other items from a feed of molecules. Still, the lack
Is it possible to feel nostalgia for a place in the future? The crowded, multi-factioned, multi-leveled city of Shanghai and nearby Pudong made me miss my hometown terribly. Stephenson's descriptions of brightly lit Nanjing Road and small, dim, alleys of hawkers was so spot on. The mix of high technology, the sophisticated neo-Victorians, and the Confuscians made a confusing but ultimately satisfying story.

I came to The Diamond Age with a vague idea of what the book was about. Like previous stea
Welcome to Stephensonland! Wait, sir? Sir? Yes you. I'm afraid you'll have to check your need for believable characters with me. Here's a numerical token you can use to reclaim it at the end of the day. Oh, and hold on. Is that an expectation of coherent plotting in your back pocket? I'm afraid those are also disallowed in Stephensonland. It'll be perfectly safe here behind the counter. Now, here's your complementary CS patch. That's right, it's very similar, except instead of nicotine, this wil ...more
I gulped down the 500 pages in four days, and it was not an easy read. I admit ruefully that Stephenson's vocabulary is better than mine. I feel like this book demands analysis, and I don't know enough to provide it. All I could do is count heads and make remarks about the colour and gender and fate of each major character. Which, OK, is worth doing, but it's 3:42am and I've been reading since about 8pm, so forgive me if I don't open it up again just now.

I want a primer.

I also want more about Dr
This has been on my shelf a while, I think a friend sent it to me. I have to admit, this is a dense read sometimes in the way that hard sci-fi can be: Glazing over at "tech speak tech speak tech speak." If you fall of the tech-speak train you start to glaze over a bit and get confused, or at least I do. I'm sure all the technology is masterfully crafted and is visionary, I just couldn't 100% follow it. It's like sometimes authors TRY to be obscure in their writing in order to be "highbrow" to r ...more
Sep 19, 2007 Dave rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: sci-fi
First half of the book gets 4 stars; the second half gets 2 stars. Average = 3 stars.

I really liked the first half of the book. His description of technology is wonderful, and the relationship between Nell and the Primer are quite captivating. Much to my dismay, the book fell apart at the end. Characters are disposed quite expediently, conflict is introduced with little or no explanation, very illogical events occur, and then the book stops. If I could give different ratings to both half of the
Up to about halfway through, I was in love with this book, but then Hackworth goes to the Drummers and we skip 10 years, and my thoughts are like this: if you as a writer didn't care about those 10 years enough to write about them, why do I care enough to read them? Worse, science fiction is already more concerned with the ideas than the characters, but when the writer is consciously trying to mimic the further-removed-from-reality discourses of Victorian-era writing, we wind up so distanced fro ...more
If Snow Crash was so good that cyberpunk went in to a coma, The Diamond Age effectively pulled the plug.

Much like seemingly everyone else I loved the first part of this book and felt that the second part didn't quite live up to the same extremely high standard.

Aside from the literary death of cyberpunk when Bud (a character that I'm sure we've all read about many times before but still want to know his story in this instance) is the victim of Confuscian capital punishment and the data transfer i
6.0 stars. Among the best books I have ever read (although slightly behind Snow Crash as my favorite Neal Stephenson novel). Neal's books are just loaded with great dialogue, mind-stretching ideas and a world as complex as our own. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: Prometheus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Aug 21, 2014 Apatt rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: sf-f
This is the second Neal Stephenson book I have read, the previous one being the marvelously entertaining Snow Crash. Unlike Snow Crash this not an easy read, being the impatient sort I almost gave up on it around page 70, fortunately some wiser heads than mine pulled me back (thank you Goodread friends!). The problem for me is the initial inundation of unfamiliar words, some are of the author's invention, the others are just English words not in my vocabulary!

The book focuses on the trials and t
If Charles Dickens climbed in an H.G. Wells time machine and went forward in time and he decided to create a post cyber-punk, progressively dystopian bildungsroman novel with a strong female lead and with a fascinating glimpse of a future that expands on the world begun in Snow Crash, he would have written this novel.

This is Great Expectations with nanotechnology. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is to post-modernist science fiction thought as what Dickens was to his era: a smart, entertainin
Duffy Pratt
Suppose you wanted to write a new Victorian bildungsroman about the Boxer Rebellion. It would only be natural that the central plot of the book should focus around the Turing test for artificial intelligence. Now set the book in a future Shanghai, in a world where nanotechnology makes material needs obsolete, at least in theory... And voila: The Diamond Age.

Like Hackworth, the hacker supreme in The Diamond Age, Stephenson seems to be unable to resist anything that is supremely clever. I think th
Miss Michael
Jun 04, 2008 Miss Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Miss Michael by: James
Stephenson is undoubtedly a good writer. I feel as though that's a trite thing to say, but I'm not talking about the overall story, I'm talking about the way each sentence is crafted. Also, I felt the need to read the book with a dictionary next to me, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. As far as the overall story, there's a lot to like, plenty of varied characters, several story lines that are more closely woven than one might originally think, and plenty of action. There's a kind ...more
I loved this book, especially the Neo-Victorian culture. I did feel that some parts lagged and I did flick forward a bit midway. Neal Stephenson is one of my favourite authors, and I do give him credit for each of his books being based on a completely different paradigm.
Beautifully written but not quite on the same level as Snow Crash or Anathem for instance.
Feb 25, 2009 Sean rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: sci-fi
I read this the first time when I was a young, impressionable, repressed, closeted Mormon boy. (Oh, god, so many of my reviews seem to start this way.) Stephenson's vision of a future shocked and titillated me, and years later I still found it returning to haunt me. Yet I don't think I ever truly understood the story, and certainly not the ending.

Now I think I do. In a future where synthetically assembled diamond is as ubiquitous as glass, where almost anything can be designed and created atom b
Mike Reiring
The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is the novel that, along with Snow Crash, put Neal Stephenson on the map in the mid 90's. Stephenson has since written a string of imaginative, thought provoking books that all touch on some aspect of the nature of information and it's movement. While it's never stated, Diamond Age seems to be set about 50 - 75 years after Snow Crash.

The first part of the title is a reference to the names that anthropologists and historians use to describe th
The Diamond Age: Nanotech, Neo-Victorians, Princess Nell’s Primer, and the Fists of Righteous Harmony – all we need now is the kitchen sink
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I am a huge Neal Stephenson fan based on his novels Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, two of my favorite books. He is frequently a brilliant writer, unafraid to introduce new ideas and infodumps in the most unexpected and entertaining ways. His sense of humor is more subtle and clever than most, and his world-building abilit
Neuromancer with nanotech and lazy, badly edited, self-indulgent writing and plot. One could possibly praise Stephenson for explaining how his nano-tech works when nobody else does, but that would be a mistake, because the way Stephenson explains it, it just won't work.

Even worse than the plotting and writing is the conclusion Stephenson draws about the Chinese, which is blatently condradicted by everything the Chinese do in the novel...what a waste of time. Even more frustration occurs because
If 'Snow Crash' was the definitive cyberpunk book, then 'The Diamond Age or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer' is the last word on that particular genre. It's nominally set in the same world as the earlier book and shares some of the geo-political background. Nation states are an outdated concept, and now people are grouped into phyles by a common culture or other affiliation. Three major world views are uneasy neighbours - the neo Victorians of New Atlantis with their mannered stoicism and care ...more
Lit Bug
Lemmed it. Not that it was so bad, but I couldn't go further.

The plot is excruciatingly slow, the characters flat. The world-building is adequate, even really good sometimes. But pages and pages of inconsequential descriptions of surroundings and routine gestures and detailed accounts of characters who die soon and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot so far. Maybe I'll pick it up when I'm in a more lenient mood, more tolerant.
After thinking about this book at length, I find myself wholly unable to rate 5 stars. The story is not sitting as well with me as Snowcrash yet I doubt few books ever will. I am comparing Stephenson to Stephenson, which is unfair. I have not been affected by this book as strongly as I feel I should have been. The entire work is an obvious labor on Stephenson's part but I am greedy and I want what even this amazing book does not provide. Namely, I want a greater connection to the characters.

Ben Babcock
I love fiction set in the Victorian era. Sexually-repressive mores and cool, arrogant superiority aside, the Victorians embody a sense of order and etiquette that often escapes us these days. They had protocols for social interaction—protocols embedded in unfortunate distinctions between classes, and laden with the constant threat of small talk about the weather, but protocols nonetheless. The Victorian cadence and diction are so courteous, delightful without being overly flowery. While I would ...more
Jan 13, 2012 Tracey rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: steampunk/nanotech fans
Shelves: due-for-re-read
I bought a used copy of The Diamond Age : Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer in March, after having read & very much enjoyed Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash. Oddly enough, Stephenson's books seem to be summer reading for me, or at least that's how it works out.

As usual, Stephenson drops us into the middle of the story, with little explicit explanation of what's going on. John Percival Hackworth, neo-Victorian nano-engineer (makes perfect sense in the novel!) is putting the finishing touches
Executive Summary: While there are some parts I liked, I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other books I've read by Mr. Stephenson.

Audio book: This book was one that was recommended to me by a few people when I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to. At first I was wondering why, but it eventually became apparent. Jennifer Wiltsie does a few voices and accents. Her voice for Nell is especially good. This is definitely one that works well in audio.

Full Review
I have really enjoyed both
Interesting at first, the book effectively explores how societies might react to the proliferation of nano-technology and ubiquitous access to molecular assemblers.


Ok, so The Diamond Age is ~500 pages of fragmented stories. Although the book begins at a comfortable pace, taking time with each individual narrative and fleshing out the events leading to Nell's story, with each turned page the narrative cohesion drops and the motivations of the characters/events become less and less clear. By
A well-conceived near future dys/utopia with interesting characters. What's not to like? The clunky writing. Stephenson needs to take a basic writing course. He obviously worked hard to find just the right vocabulary to express the social and scientific aspects of his world, but ruined it with high school prose.

The climax was especially unsatisfying as the big meeting between two principal characters is described by a third character some distance away. Bleeds all the emotion and satisfaction ou
Maggie K
Dang...what a great sense of world-building!
What a great variety of characters that I had great feeling for!
What great concept in the idea of the primer!
What a great buildup in tension!
What amazing action and a great escape scene!
What inventiveness in correlating the storylines into a rescue!

What a ....
Wait, it's over?
Doesnt it need an ending?
Where did everyone go?
Are they alive?

What a major letdown!
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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.
More about Neal Stephenson...

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“The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. ” 317 likes
“Nell," the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, "the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” 101 likes
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