I've had "In the Beginning...was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson on my Amazon Wish list for a while, but I do realize it's not much of a science fiction / fantasy book (still going to get it some day).

Digging deeper into his work, I've found three books which I'm definitely going to get:

  • Snow Crash
  • Cryptonomicon
  • The Diamond Age

I find the subjects he covers fascinating, and being a programmer, I'm tempted to read all three of them. I've already read William Gibson's Neuromancer, and it feels like I'm going to enjoy these ones in a similar way.

I read this question What is the connection between Snow Crash and The Diamond Age? and learned about the connection between these two books. Being the first time I'm reading Stephenson, between Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, which would you recommend me to read first? Which one is the "lighter" one for a new reader? Do they have a chronological order?

I don't want to get closed by asking something subjective, but is it OK if I ask you to feel free to add your book recommendations on these subjects on your answers and comments?


5 Answers 5


I agree with the other answers regarding both defaulting to the order books were written in, when in doubt, and that both Snow Crash and Diamond Age are stand-alone.

In regards to your question about which is "lighter", I'd have to say Diamond Age most closely fits that description, as Snow Crash involves some "heavy" (albeit interesting) digression into some linguist theory elements.

Anathem, his most recent, is also stand-alone (and my favorite to date).

The Baroque Cycle does tie in (loosely) to Cryptonomicon, and is, in my opinion, the "heaviest" of his books (as well as the slowest-paced).

My personal recommendation would be to start with Snow Crash (out of pure personal preference). If you find it a bit too esoteric, but you still enjoyed it, then move on to Diamond Age. If, however, you really enjoy every aspect of the book, I'd suggest skipping right to Anathem.

  • 1
    +1 For Anathem, although this one seems to have a very polarized readership, you either love it or hate it... Personally, I read it twice, back to back when it was first released.
    – TGnat
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 14:32
  • Zodiac I'd say is the lightest of all (haven't read The Big U or Reamde), mostly because of the style it's written in (1st person asshole invironmentile). It's also not as close to other Stephenson books in style, but not totally alien in that respect. The Baroque Cycle and Anathem I found equal in terms of pace and size (boy are they huge or what?). Anathem was a bit harder than the Cycle for me because of all the new words you have to learn (yes I'm a bloody caveman) and I go back to a random Cycle book every now and then.
    – rath
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 0:24

In my mind Snow Crash is the easiest read. Starts quick, stays fast paced. If you've made it through Neuromancer nothing should surprise you.

Diamond Age is very hard core nanotech, and if you're not already familiar with the concept, there is a learning curve.

Cryptonomicon, while nearly my favorite, drags in the very beginning. It's got probably the lowest curve for a modern geek, but you have to push through the setup.

Anathem...How to describe Anathem? Anathem is fricking awesome, however, it is probably the hardest read of all, and probably not the best one to start with. It's got the slow build of Cryptonomicon coupled with the learning curve of Diamond Age.

  • 2
    I disagree about Cryptonomicon being a slow start, I was hooked from the moment Bobby Shaftoe started composing Haiku whilst riding on a truck. +1 for Anathem being awesome.
    – Amos
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 20:19
  • @amos: Sure, and then what happened? 30 extremely boring pages about Waterhouse. Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 20:26
  • Nope I liked Waterhouse even more than I liked Bobby, but then I do have a degree in Maths and another one in Computing so maybe I identified with him more than Bobby shaftoe.
    – Amos
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 21:04
  • @Amos: I liked him after Pearl. Before that, not so much. Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 21:06
  • 2
    Snow Crash and Diamond Age are closer to being genre fiction, and I think that makes them easier to read. Cryptonomicon and Anathem are strange and unique, which makes them ultimately more rewarding, but a harder read.
    – Pixel
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 19:39

Reading books in the written order when there's not a clear chronology is usually a good default (as Omar Kooheji points out).

Snow Crash and Diamond Age are only barely related and can be read in any order.

If you intend to read the Baroque Cycle books at all, I believe you should read Cryptonomicon first (which was the written order). Many of the characters in the Baroque Cycle books are ancestors of various Cryptonomicon characters, and some of the action takes place in locations recognizable from Cryptonomicon. Reading them in the reverse order would probably work too but would be less amusing (in my opinion) than this order.


Personally I prefer to read any authors book in the order they are written, as most Authors get better at what they do as they go along. Until they inevitably jump the shark and run out of ideas. That way you don't end up not liking a book because it's not as good as the last one you read, because the author hadn't quite grasped their style.

As for Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash and Diamond age are stand alone you can read them in any order, I've not read The Cryptonomicon but I'm lead to believe that a lot of the concepts in it lead into the Baroque Cycle books so you would probably want to read it before them.


Other than reading Snow Crash before Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon before the Baroque Cycle, I don't think it matters.

However, if I were recommending his books to someone, I'd tell them to start with "Zodiac - The Eco-Thriller" and then "Interface" (originally published as "Stephen Bury.") The main reason I'd start with these is that they're shorter than many of his later books, and you get lots of his type of action with not too much world-building getting in the way.

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