The Cobweb

ISBN: 0553383442
ISBN 13: 9780553383447
By: Neal Stephenson J. Frederick George

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About this book

Clyde's life gets complicated when his wife is called up for the Army Reserve in response to a crisis in the Middle East, leaving Clyde in charge of their five-month-old daughter. Then a foreign exchange student is found floating in the lake. As Clyde investigates, he uncovers a plot afoot in his own small town that may have global implications.

Reader's Thoughts

Bhakta Jim

Very entertaining thriller with one of the best protagonists I've ever come across. Plenty of thrills, humor, and anything else you ever wanted in a story. The story is remarkably plausible, even after we failed to find any WMD's in Iraq. I wouldn't mind more books with this hero, either.Stephenson is best known for his science fiction, which this is not. Don't let that stop you from reading it.The story would make a great movie.

Ivan Idris

I happen to like science fiction and books by Neal Stephenson. This review is about “Cobweb” written by Neal Stephenson and Frederick George. It’s not a science fiction book, but more of a political thriller. A slightly satirical thriller.Just before the Gulf War starts a brave Deputy County sheriff discovers clues of a conspiracy in the East Iowa University. The suspects are a group of Arab students. A CIA analyst in Washington finds similar clues. Senior management is, of course, not happy with this kind of theories.The FBI gets involved although it shouldn’t. And we get thoroughly informed about the responsibilities of the CIA and the FBI and their relationship. If you are not interested in U.S. politics or the way the U.S. government works, you might find these details annoying. Overall the book is well written and exciting to the end.

Michael Bouchard

Eh. Not my normal type of book. First half I couldn't wait for it to be over. Second half I was interested enough to enjoy it. Looking forward to another Stephensen book, probably Snow Crash.


A very different sort of book by one of my favorite authors.Little in the way of science fiction, but some interesting biology stuff.I just enjoy Stephenson's characters so much, it made the book fun.Also, the plot had good mystery in it, which Stephenson also does well!Not sure what to make of the politics in the book.


Not bad. Rather similar to "God's Fist", with a bit of Sthepenson's sense of humour and reminiscences about the Palouse.


"Watch out for the iguanas," Larkin had told her. Betsy hadn't understood the reference until recently. But now she saw iguanas all over Washington, people who sat sunning on their rocks, destroying anything or anybody who came within tongue's reach, but doing nothing. The book centers around several situations in the time just before the first Gulf War, detailing a few different plot lines: DC intel analysts and insiders, a smarter-than-expected deputy sheriff in a big small town in Iowa, and a grad-student-nigh-PhD in that same small Iowan town. The plot revolves around the same basic fulchrum, the secret development of a biological weapon, but takes many different vantages to how things play out. There's a lot of good DC-specific intrigue snarkiness, which is what I enjoyed most. The authors use both the agency web as well as the physical layout of the greater DC area as "characters" in a way. Anyone who lives in the DC area will be able to picture what the authors have in mind as characters live and move around the area.The book has the same feel as Interface, the other novel by Stephenson and his father. They did their basic homework on a lof the key plot points, and ones not so key: making botulin toxin, Olympic-style wrestling theory, the culture of Vakhan Turks, the plays of the CIA and FBI and all Intel groups as they jockey for positions and their own jobs, how federal-political meetings can be run, and what it's like to run a large business that is really a research group looking for more money to continue operating.


I got turned onto this writing duo from reading "Interface", which is a stellar book as well. This book is also quite good - and at one point became a page turner. (the kind you wake up at 3AM to read a few more chapters) This book had less science fiction in it than I prefer but was a great thriller nonetheless. 4.35/5

Mad Russian the Traveller

This is the second book by this combination of writers (Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George), and it is still in the category of mainstream thriller involving political intrigue. The story takes place during the run-up to the first Gulf War. The premise of the story is that part of Saddam's biological warfare production was being done at various universities in the US with Iraqi exchange students using funding from the US gov't. Much of the action takes place in the Midwest, and the characters are better drawn than the first novel by this combination of writers. Well done.

Markus Jevring

Unlike Neal Stephenson's many other books, this was just barely acceptable. I realize it's a cooperation with another author, but they made Interface together, and that was so good. By comparison, this book is garbage. It was quite well written, but the story just wasn't that interesting.


A mediocre Stephenson book is better than no Stephenson book at all.


This was a very interesting book, not least because it takes place around the time of George H.W. Bush's war in Iraq. The novel was written in the mid-1990s, yet manages to foreshadow certain elements of 9/11 in ways that are disturbing to see now. Although plot elements reflect common themes in the thriller genre, the authors take care to make their characters believable and sympathetic. Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks, in particular, really made the book.


Slow start but very exciting at the end. Dated because it's about the first Gulf war. Not really an alternate history, but a possible behind-the-scenes intrigue.

Cary Ussery

This was a good book and the story was intriguing. However, this did not 'feel' like a Neal Stephenson book; not sure how the co-author collaboration worked here but this seems less Stephenson and, therefore, I assum more George. Nice, fast-paced read and thriller.

Althea Ann

I believe this was the only novel by Neal Stephenson that I hadn't read, so, in the interest of completism, of course I had to read it.Sadly, I have to admit, it wasn't that good.Being dated was part of it - it's a political thriller, and well, we know know more about Saddam and his alleged WMDs than Stephenson did when he wrote it.Stephenson's main point here is: Foreign grad students in the sciences could actually be plants working for enemy governments, using our labs and resources to create bioweapons right here on US ground.Discovering this plot is a small-town Iowa Good Cop, who (in an interesting twist) becomes friends with a Turkish militant, and seeks to foil the Iraqis.From the other side of things, a low-level CIA analyst who's a Good Mormon Girl also uncovers evidence of shady goings on - and for her efforts, nearly loses her job and any hope of a career.Unfortunately, all the governmental higher-ups are too busy worrying about politics to get things done...The characterizations in the story are really fun (love the drunken Russian pilots) - but there were too many cliches and too much random paranoia. The other novel published under this pseudonym (Interface) was better.

Michael Murdoch

From his triumphant debut with Snow Crash to the stunning success of his latest novel, Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson has quickly become the voice of a generation. In this now-classic political thriller, he and fellow author J. Frederick George tell a savagely witty, chillingly topical tale set in the tense moments of the Gulf War. **When a foreign exchange student is found murdered at an Iowa University, Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks finds that his investigation extends far beyond the small college town—all the way to the Middle East. Shady events at the school reveal that a powerful department is using federal grant money for highly dubious research. And what it’s producing is a very nasty bug. Navigating a plot that leads from his own backyard to Washington, D.C., to the Gulf, where his Army Reservist wife has been called to duty, Banks realizes he may be the only person who can stop the wholesale slaughtering of thousands of Americans. It’s a lesson in foreign policy he’ll never forget. From the Trade Paperback edition. Review "Praise for Neal Stephenson: I have seldom felt such humble, intoxicated, euphoric and droolingly grateful awe as before Neal Stephenson's ... Baroque Cycle" -- Christopher Brookmyre, Glasgow Herald "The Confusion Ideas about currency and calculus become thrilling because of the way Stephenson incorporates them into his story ... Huge in scope ... rich in detail ... This weird, wonderful collision of scholarship and storytelling has no peer" Time Out "Quicksilver: A tour-de-force ... Dense, witty, erudite and gripping, Quicksilver is ... an indication that Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is shaping up to be a far more impressive literary endeavour than most so-called "serious" fiction. No scholarly, and intellectually provocative, historical novel has been this much fun since The Name of the Rose" -- Charles Shaar Murray The Independent "Cryptonomicon: The Gravity's Rainbow of the information age ... an astonishing, monumental performance; and if the rumours of a sequel are true, I can hardly wait" The Independent About the Author Neal Stephenson is the author of The Baroque Trilogy (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System Of The World). His other books include Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Zodiac, as well as Cobweb and Interface, written in collaboration with Frederick George. He lives in Seattle.

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