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3.73  ·  Rating details ·  5,220 ratings  ·  572 reviews
PopCo tells a story of twenty-nine-year-old Alice Butler, a quirky, fiercely intelligent loner with an affinity for secret codes and mathematics. She works for the huge toy company named PopCo, where she creates snooping kids' kits - KidSpy, KidTec and KidCracker. At the company conference Alice and her colleagues are brought into developing the ultimate product for the te ...more
Paperback, 450 pages
Published 2009 by Canongate Books (first published December 31st 2004)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,220 ratings  ·  572 reviews

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Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, 2017, 2011, favourites
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,
Sep 11, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britlit
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
Apr 24, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sheer bloody-mindedness, and disliking not finishing a book, made me trundle through this 400+ page steaming pile of egregious nonsense. It sounds promising, the concept is interesting, I have a vague interest in codes and there is always a slight creepiness to children's toymaking. How wrong I was.

Let's start with the main character. This woman is an uber hipster - can't possibly do anything that anyone anywhere might see as 'cool', but to the point where it actually stops her doing things. The
May 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Eli Brooke
Mar 23, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 06, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Update: I'm finally done with this book, and gladly so. It offered the biggest let down I've experienced while reading. First 250 pages, pretty damn good. Last 250 pages, absolutely awful.

I kept going because I was hopeful the ending would at least be properly satisfying. It was not. Don't get sucked in. It's not worth it.
While reading: I am 75% through with PopCo and am struggling with the desire to finish it. Here's my issue: I was really, really into this book up until about 250 pages in.
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Aimee C.
Oct 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kelly Vincent
Nov 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve Morris
Oct 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery, literary
I've had it with Scarlett Thomas. Been let down too many times. This could have been a great story, but the author forget to develop the plot, and instead decided to lecture readers about the evils of meat eating, medicine, fashion, toys, games, products in general, marketing, money, and companies. But drugs are OK, drugs are cool. And so is homoeopathy. Homoeopathy is so much better than medicine, which is evil.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started to read this book by coincidence so I did not know what to expect. In fact, it's not easy to define the genre of the story: we can find cryptography, codes, math, as well as politics, economy, love story and an unconvetional childhood of Alice. The whole story is a little bit weird, so is Alice, and I have a weakness for weird things...
Rowena Hoseason
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
A self-indulgent, anti-corporate, post-adolescent, semi-autobiographical parable: ideal for the XR generation, I suspect.
Plenty of entertaining interludes, insights into the life of a troubled but talented teenager, and stacks of hardcore cypher / codebreaking technical detail.
It felt a lot like spending a weekend trapped in a student flat with half a dozen semi-wrecked philosophy undergrads, rambling on about being unconventional iconoclasts (while simply adhering to a slightly different set of
Jan 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Victor Sonkin
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
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Dan S
Aug 10, 2011 added it
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
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.

Beth Harper
Feb 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What DIDN'T I learn from this book?!! It was amazing. And what I found so good about it was by the end I really couldn't tell if this was infact a true story or not... very cleverly written.

I love Scarlett Thomas's style. It's not very easy to write in the present tense let alone really well! And I love how she writes about EVERYTHING.

The Vigenère square was the best thing I learned from the book though and I'm well on my way to becomming a super sleuth because of it! If only my friends would l
Jun 08, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jackie "the Librarian"
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do no harm Stop others doing harm Do what you can

Scarlett Thomas captures the exact tone for her heroine at each flash-backed age as she grows from a nine year old in a suddenly disrupted family through teen age and college years to her present-day twenty-nine year old self awakening to a coherent world view and finding her tribe. At the heart of the tale are the puzzles faced by a girl searching for meaning in a framework of number theory, and cryptography; secrets unfurling.
Thomas weaves acce
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Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her widely-acclaimed novels include PopCo, The End of Mr Y and The Seed Collectors. As well as writing literary fiction for adults, she has also written a literary fantasy series for children and a book about writing called Monkeys with Typewriters. Her work has been translated into more than 25 languages.

She has been longlisted for the Orange Prize, sh

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