Joshua Cohen has just been dubbed “a major American writer” by the New York Times and a “great American novelist” by Tablet. At 34, he is the author of eight books, including the 800-page Witz and now the 600-page Book of Numbers.
In Book of Numbers, a failed novelist is, like the author, named Joshua Cohen, but he is about ten years older than the actual Joshua Cohen — he’s paunchy, losing his hair, and in the middle of a protracted divorce. He’s been hired by another Joshua Cohen, referred to in the book as “Principal,” the CEO of Tetration, a fictional company that reads like a merger of Google and Apple. Principal is a Steve Jobs-like figure: in ill health and devoted to the California version of an Eastern religion. The novel retraces the birth and rise of the Internet, as well as the much longer — and, in some important ways, ending — history of print culture. It’s about surveillance and data and the impact of these on all of us now and, as the novel’s long view of history would suggest, in the years ahead.
“This is a novel about so many things,” Cohen told me in a recent interview. “I wanted each review to sound like it was of a completely different book.” Let this animated GIF-packed listicle be your guide to what a few of those things are and a bit of what Cohen might be up to.