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Lexicon | [Max Barry]

Lexicon

At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics - at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets": adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
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Publisher's Summary

At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics - at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets": adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.

Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell - who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.

Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless.

©2013 Max Barry (P)2013 Penguin Audio

What Members Say

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  •  
    Tango Texas 06-22-13
    Tango Texas 06-22-13

    Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.

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    "Fasten your seat belt..."

    You are in for a wild ride with this near future science fiction thriller. One thing that defines this novel is movement and the pace in Lexicon is always brisk. The novel shifts quickly between time periods, locations, and points of view with many twists in the road. That almost breathless pace is a double-edged sword. It makes for a story that is exciting and there is never a dull moment. But the pace doesn't allow for the science fiction side of the tale to develop as much as I would have liked to see. The premise of using words as psychological triggers to control others has been used before, but Max Barry does have some nice new twists on the idea like the hypothesis that there might be a "machine language" for human beings - a base language that every brain uses to communicate internally and would therefore respond to if you could find those "bare words". But Barry doesn't ever quite slow the pace enough to really develop the concepts; just as one of these ideas starts to flower, we cut to an action sequence. So the sci-fi aspect of the story is relegated to mostly a plot device.

    Most of the shifts between point of view were nicely done, but the plot does not unfold totally linearly and I found the shifts in time a bit confusing. In addition, there are some gaps in the plot (like a guy who can't be compromised until he is and you don't really know why) - some things don't quite jibe, but I have to admit those things didn't really hit me until after I finished the book and thought about it because while listening I was so caught up in the story.

    Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman were both good narrators on the whole. My only criticism of the performances being that neither of them did a good Australian accent. I also want to note for anyone else this may happen to - when I bought this audio book, it showed up in My Library with Part 1 and Part 2 in reverse order of the way every other book has shown up. Part 2 was first under the title and then Part 1. So, I accidentally downloaded Part 2 first and had a little bit of the middle of the book's "secrets" spoiled for me before I figured out what happened.

    This is a "page turner" kind of book (a great one if you are looking for something to keep you alert on a long drive) with some good characters, action oriented plot with some cool twists, interesting settings, and competent narrators. Not classic science fiction, but a very entertaining listen.

    27 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    PhilR 07-22-13
    PhilR 07-22-13
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    "Captivating and enchanting!"

    A very timely book that I rather wish had been a read than a listen. Narrators are quite good, but this is a book I think would be more enjoyable (and easier to track) if page-flipping and back-tracking were possible. Is this what Edward Snowden is reading in Moscow?

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elle in the Great NorthWest Beaverton, OR, United States 06-22-13
    Elle in the Great NorthWest Beaverton, OR, United States 06-22-13

    I LOVE books. And dogs & quilting & beading & volunteering.

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    "Mind Blowing Plot-Excellent Narration"

    Having never really paid a lot of attention to the insidious ways information is collected on me-(I even volunteer to participate in studies for which I am rewarded with $25.00 gift cards for Target)-I at first thought this novel was a conspiracy theorists kind of thing. Plus this is my first Max Barry Novel, I wasn't prepared for all the ideas that the story brought to my attention. Even our reviews here can become part of data gathering, all our online purchases are recorded, our purchases via credit card, store "Loyal Customer" input is collected volunteered by us to get minor discounts on purchases.

    Other reviewers have already detailed the story arc so I won't repeat it here...I just suggest that even readers who aren't interested in the conspiracy theorists ideas listen to this book...and I suspect it translates better in the audio form than in the paper.

    I found the audiobook enlightening, sort of scary, relevant and entertaining. Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman are excellent narrators and the story is one that responds well to having 2 different narrators....Basically Corrigan is Emily and Appelman is most of the male voices. He brings off Harrys Aussie accent ok and it's pretty easy to figure out who is talking in 1st person from the sound of Appelmans voice. Corrigan is a popular narrator for a reason---she brings so much to the person she's being in any audiobook I've heard her narrate.

    As a primary protagonist, Emily isn't always someone you'd identify with-even as a homeless 16 year old hustler. She grew on me.

    The story has an unexpected ending - I wasn't at all prepared for it. It's tempting to go into more detail, but I just can't do it without spoiling so I'll just leave my review here.

    Worth a credit? You bet. One of the best I've heard on Audible by far.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mindusq san francisco 07-06-13
    mindusq san francisco 07-06-13 Member Since 2008

    Typical cat lady: lazy, sings off-key, craves spicy bloody marys.

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    "Super, creepy fun"

    I stopped listening only long enough to run to the Ace hardware store where they wouldn't let me have a discount unless I gave them my phone number. Gave my work phone number and voilà, all my personal details showed up on the screen. This story hits so close to home that I want to pull down the shades, throw my cell phone away, get off of the Facebooks, store up enough water and vittles, grab a shovel and get off the grid. Today.

    Highly recommend this intriguing, modern story about how They control us. Also curious what "type" I am (both a cat *and* a dog person).....

    14 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Freeman SAN DIEGO, CA, United States 04-19-14
    Freeman SAN DIEGO, CA, United States 04-19-14 Member Since 2015
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    "this book really hooks you and then ..."

    ... and then it seems the editor took a break halfway through. i really liked the ideas in this book and it had some very creative ideas, but then it becomes hard to follow because it jumps around a bit too much. this made the book lose some of its steam. still, it's definitely worth a listen despite this.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ethan M. Philadelphia 08-05-13
    Ethan M. Philadelphia 08-05-13 Member Since 2005

    On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through

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    "Terrific SF thriller, with more below the surface"

    Max Barry writes a very unusual type of science fiction: they appear to be, from blurbs and a plot summary, thrillers set in the world of today, with a SF twist, along with a bit of farce and horror. This isn't wrong, of course, but it misses part of what makes the author so interesting. Barry somehow manages to combine propulsive plots with science fiction tropes in a way that is both really fun, but also offers insightful commentary on contemporary social issues. Jennifer Government pushed past the standard cyberpunk to satirize globalization and libertarianism, The Company goes beyond an Office Space-style parody of big business in interesting ways, and so on. I liked these, but I think Lexicon is his best book.

    In this case, the less revealed about the actual plot, the better (though Google "Langford's Parrot" to get in the properly paranoid mood). However, the twists on the power of language are interesting, both for plotting and in thinking about our world in a time of Big Data, online personalization, and targeted advertising. It is hard to not come away from the book without thinking more about how language causes individuals to take action. The book also manages to throw in a bit of Harry Potter (if the Muggles were treated by Wizards in the way that you would expect) and a new take on the zombie apocalypse for good measure.

    I loved the reading, though, even as a non-Australian, I could tell that the female narrator was having some issues with the accent, though these didn't bother me. Ultimately, I found myself coming up with reasons to listen, since it was that compelling. I would definitely recommend this, especially to those who like near future and thoughtful science fiction (Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson).

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mike Murphy 09-08-14
    Mike Murphy 09-08-14

    Long term book junkie only recently addicted to audio books. Now my iPod and I are inseparable.

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    "Innovative, clever, exciting, violent, SF"

    Max Barry is now one of my "I think I'll read everything he's written" authors.

    I've been reading science fiction for decades, so I know how rare it is to come across a book like "Lexicon" which has not just a new ideas, but a clever, well-thought through plot, written by someone who is skilled at dialogue, characterisation and action scenes and who can unfold the story in a way that engages the reader's intellect and emotions.

    The basic premise of "Lexicon" is that words have the power to control how we think and behave and that this power can be shaped into a weapon by those with the right skills.

    The characters constantly explain how influence and manipulation work: get someone to pay attention to the wrong thing, play on their emotions to shape their perception of good and evil, understand their personality and then pry their psyche apart. Despite this, it took me several chapters to realize that Max Barry had been manipulating me from the first page onwards.He did it by controlling the order in which I received information, who I received it from and the emotional terms used to convey it. At least twice in the novel I had to reset what I thought I knew to be true. Barry didn't cheat. All the information correctly to understand what is going on is there but my own assumptions make me see one thing and read another.

    A book that is about weaponising words is likely to appeal to those of us with a recreational addiction to fiction. We KNOW words have power, so we are ripe for the ideas in this novel. If, like me, you've been trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), public speaking, influencing skills, psychometric assessment and you read tarot cards and palms as a party trick, then the early parts of this book are frighteningly familiar. The book takes what I know I can do and then asks me to imagine what a motivated person, with REAL talent, no social ties, no inhibitions and the support of an organization with generations of research at their disposal, could achieve.

    "Lexicon" is filled with coercion, violence and killing from the first page. Max Barry doesn't pull his punches but he doesn't turn the violence into pornography either. He makes it too real and too repulsive for that.

    His main evil-incarnate character is suitably chilling but I could write that off as stereo-type. Elliot and Emily I got to know and like and care about, so what they did, to others, to each other and to themselves had much more impact.

    My only niggle with the book is the last chapter. It's not where I would have gone with this. It felt like the kind of thing Hollywood might have changed in the movie version to ensure they stayed firmly in the summer blockbuster segment. But then, I'd never have thought up something as clever and powerful as "Lexicon" in the first place, so I'll go with Barry's judgement.

    I listened to "Lexicon" as an audiobook, which, I think, made the book even more exciting. Zach Appleman did a splendid job as the rugged, world-weary, Elliot. His American accents are perfect and he at least managed to sound like he'd been to Australia. Heather Corrigan was marvellous at evoking Emily's vulnerability and her strength but her attempts at Australian accents ranged from unconvincing to inappropriately hilarious. Nevertheless, both narrators kept me listening, often on the edge of my seat.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 09-17-13
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 09-17-13 Member Since 2015
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    "Sorry to disagree with the five-star reviewers"

    The premise was excellent. The writing simply didn't live up to it.

    The parts where the protagonist is young and "innocent" are way too simplistic. The effort to build suspense is too painstaking and heavy handed. The language that the author creates to show the power of words is almost ridiculous. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, even the ones who supposedly 'change' do so in very predictable ways.

    Maybe this is a novel for teens and I missed that. It was certainly not for me. I could not make myself finish it.

    The male narrator is not bad. The female narrator is grating.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Noreen WICHITA FALLS, TX, United States 04-07-15
    Noreen WICHITA FALLS, TX, United States 04-07-15 Member Since 2011
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    "Weird World of Words"

    Narrators were great. They kept me listening. Story was not my favorite. Too sci-fi for me. Don't like alternative realities.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeanette Sydney, Australia 07-06-13
    Jeanette Sydney, Australia 07-06-13 Member Since 2011
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    "A little disappointing"

    I would give this book 2.5 to 3 stars.The idea of the book was good however the writing was quite simplistic, it was quite disjointed and there were was one part in particular which was quite illogical and didn't make sense.. The author never really developed his ideas and I was left wondering why he introduced some of them. Many chapters just ended and left things unexplained which is often a great way for the reader to use their imagination, in this case, however it felt more like the author either didn't know how to explain it.

    I thought that the narrators did a good job except for the appalling Australian accents. The male wasn't too bad but truly it would have been better if the lady did not attempt it. Very off putting for Australian readers.

    I found the book to be an easy, pleasant enough listen but definitely lacking and didn't reach it's full potential. I won't be reading any other Max Barry books.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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