The Gold Bug Variations

The Gold Bug Variations

by Richard Powers


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A national bestseller, voted by Time as the #1 novel of 1991, selected as one of the "Best Books of 1991" by Publishers Weekly, and nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award—a magnificent story that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art, by the brilliant author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060975005
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/1993
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 146,841
Product dimensions: 0.00(w) x 0.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

RICHARD POWERS is the author of ten novels. The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois.



Urbana, Illinois

Date of Birth:

June 18, 1957

Place of Birth:

Evanston, Illinois


M.A., University of Illinois, 1979

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The Gold Bug Variations 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
notechaser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite book by him so far; deserving that overused word, masterpiece. What a brilliant tapestry of genetics, music, library reserach--and it's a love story too. Great punning title as well.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title is a warning to the casual reader:"If you don't get the title, or if you don't want to get the title,beware."In The Gold Bug Variations, author Richard Powers perspicaciously composes a novel with themes of puzzles (Edgar Allen Poe's The Gold Bug), music structure (Bach's Goldberg Variations), romance (two love stories that intertwine across twenty-five years), computer technology, art history, and DNA genetic codes. I remember reading this book when it was first published, maybe twenty years ago, feeling like I'd plunged into the deepest and most bewitching lake on earth, hopelessly unable to surface for 638 pages, desperate for a breath of air, powerless to return to the top of the water, smitten with the sparkle of the words all around me, bewildered by the enigmatic story, in awe of the intelligence of the writing.
P_S_Patrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The authors obvious passion for, and inspiration derived from the subjects involved here: genetics, Bach, code, libraries, and information, make possible the creation of what is without doubt a creative and intellectually stimulating book. They also go no small distance in blinding him to the cloying verbosity and dragging tedium manifest in several of the pages.I can't imagine that many people would get this book. The target audience would presumably be (molecular) biologists, or at least scientists of some description, with an interest in classical music, possibly art, and a reasonable knowledge of computer programming, not a particularly wide demographic. Without fitting this description the reader would struggle to understand half the book, the jokes, or to be interested enough in the themes that run throughout to force themselves to finish reading it. This, alongside the abundance of literary and scientific references that would challenge any well read reader to pick up on, puts the book in the top bracket for obscurity and abstrusion. I would say that I fit into this target audience fairly well, I have just finished a degree in cell biology, I listen to classical music, and have an A level in computer science, surely I am one of the few people who this book was written for. Yes, the book is clever, and yes it is one of a kind, and for the majority of the text the authors fluidity of consciousness shines through, but he doesn't make the blatant display of erudition that he attempts seem natural or subtle as easily as the intellectual benchmark Eco can. In fact I feel rather guilty about criticising the author for trying to be intellectual, as he genuinely doesn't do a bad job of it, and it is no fault of his own that he is writing for a niche, the world does deserve more books like this. He really does write some genuinely aesthetically and technically brilliant passages, but just somehow seems unable to realise that there are some absolute rotters in there too. It seems hit and miss, trial and error, and I can't understand how the same man who is capable of writing so brilliantly and so badly is capable of doing it within the same book. The quality parts are in the majority though, so it is easy enough to forgive the author, as he does provide something so startlingly complete in this book that it is worth reading through the bad bits. If it wasn't for the fact that the parallels between DNA and genes and the music of Bach had been picked up on before (in Hofstadter's GEB), then this book would have been genius.Something, apart from everything else, that isn't immediately apparent is that the book loosely follows the structure of the alluded to Goldberg Variations, having thirty chapters, each of which is meant to mirror the themes of their counterparts in Bach's composition, for example the sarabandes are supposed to correspond to more energetic chapters, and the slower variations are represented by the more introspective chapters. In fact the parrallels to baroque music in general seem to run far more deeply than the author probably intended, the over-decoration, flamboyant exaggeration, drama, intricacy, and emotional hyperbole, everything that makes baroque good, along with everything that puts people off it, is present in huge quantities in this book. But what leaves this novel being memorable for the right reasons, on the whole, is that it does wrap up rather nicely in the end, ending in a satisfying tonic key. Almost nicely enough to leave the impression that this was a fantastic book.
marck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let this be a lesson to a father of two: Never take on novels that are described on the back cover as "one of the most ambitious novels of our time!" unless one can be fully committed to the experience. Powers' achievement here is mind-boggling, but I was not in the best circumstances to fully engross myself in the experience. One of the key climaxes came and went, and I'm STILL not sure what happened ... only because I was not cognizant enough to follow. Still, I slogged on, promising myself at least 10 pages a day, and keeping a list of the glorious new words that Powers introduced to me in his prose. And I have to say, the climactic "hack" at the end of the book was worth the whole trip for this quasi-geek -- it was simultaneously geeky and heart-warming. Highly recommended to anyone who can put themselves up to the task!
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"What could be simpler?" scientist Stuart Ressler asks. The four bases making up DNA, the four bases making up Bach's Goldberg Variations: the phenotypes revealed by these bases in the spiraling helices of life and music comprise the double-stranded metaphor that drives the four characters in this Joycean epic. The stories of Jan O'Deigh and Franklin Todd, and Stuart Ressler and Jeannette Koss parallel one another as all four struggle to bridge the gap between signified and signifier. How does life start from only four notes to end up as butterflies, flowers, birds, humans, emotions? The exploration of this mystery by the characters affords Powers the opportunity to go off on many riffs about molecular biology, evolution, physics, and emergence. In working out the relationship between noise and sound, the characters discover the serendipitous correspondence of The Goldberg Variations, with its dazzling virtuousity moving from four notes to sixty-four and back, to the elements of life itself. "Ultimately," Powers writes, "the Goldbergs are about the paradox of variation, preserved divergence, the transition effect inherent in terraced unfolding, the change in nature attendant upon a change in degree. ... how variation might ultimately free itself from the instruction that underwrites it, sets it in motion, but nowhere anticipates what might come from experience's trial run." This book is an intellectual challenge that can impart joy from its uses of language as well as its uses of science . A snowstorm produces "spectral trees glazed with lapidary." A pianist shows "less than gershwinning ways." Evolutionary selection can be summarized as "weed it and reap." Thanksgiving offers "a plenitude of pies, pride of drop-in guests, brace of hams, corsage of table settings, parliament of mashed potatoes, supplication of network sports, clatch of conversation, covey of vacation days, school of parades, volume of preserves, brood of read-alouds, keepsake of snapshots: everything running at glut, at glorious surplus." Like the helix itself: poetic, recursive, emergent, capable of inspiring wonder. Highly recommended!(JAF)
janey47 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What's great about Powers is that he always takes more than one story line, usually seemingly unconnected, and ultimately binds them together really strongly and deeply. His first book, Three Farmers On Their Way To A Dance, is a good example of this. So is Plowing the Dark.Sometimes it's not directly two different story lines but different times in the same story, but times so far removed that they seem irreconcilable. Gold Bug Variations is a good example of this.Sometimes he takes the same story and emphasizes different aspects of it. Well, okay, here I'm thinking of The Time of Our Singing and the themes of music and race, but this one could also fall into either of the preceding categories.So he makes you see how disparate ideas and seemingly unconnected stories all work together.I sometimes feel as though reading his work enriches my life because he gives words to intuitions that I've had that I haven't had words for. Sometimes I think he has identified emotions or responses that I felt but couldn't articulate. So I actually believe that I am a more whole person emotionally than I was before I started reading his writing, and that is an extremely unusual experience for me with respect to a novelist. I think mostly what I get from books is recognizable and known emotion, or imparted intelligence/knowledge. I don't think any other writer has actually enriched my life in this way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago