Of all the Stephenson books I have read The Diamond Age is easily the best written with a lyrical quality to the prose that is not present in his other works. If the name on the cover did not say Stephenson I would not have believed that he wrote it.
Stephenson sets this book in The Diamond Age. An age in which nano tech is a reality and there really is no scarcity. This entails all the standard nano technology that can build things, food out of atoms. He really does develop this concept well though. When Stephenson talks about technology you feel that it already exists.
The thing that this book is really about is culture and how an environment shapes people specifically children and it does this through an ingenious plot device called the Young Lady's illustrated primer a learning device for young girls.
Hackworth is an engineer who has been commissioned to develop a young lady's illustrated primer. Of course he manages to lose a copy and this lands up in the hands of Nell, a young girl and the primer becomes her guide and tutor teaching her all sorts of things using stories. (Its amazing the depth of information that Stephenson manages to convey here). The fairy tales as a teaching device is magical.
In an almost parallel storyline Hackworth manages to get in all sorts of trouble for losing the primer and his tale is actually even better.
The book does get a bit slow towards the end but its a worthy and eye opening read. I found this book visionary 17 years after its release. Its hard to think of what it must have seemed like when it was actually published.
You can buy The Diamond Age here.