Review: The Incrementalists

Read date: 11 January 2014

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

This book is very different in setting than anything else I’ve read of Mr. Brust. Set in modern day Las Vegas, Nevada, it tells the story of Renee, the newest recruit to a world-spanning secret society, and Phil, one of the longest-lived members, who is her sponsor and trainer.

The goal of the Incrementalists is to make the world better, a little bit at a time. They do this by ‘nudging’ people who are at a pivot point in their lives.

Renee is the replacement for Celeste, who recently died, but as the book progresses, questions arise whether she died naturally, by her own hand, or perhaps by another’s.

The hunt for the truth about Celeste’s death parallels the search for the reasons why Renee is not picking up the skills and knowledge that should be almost instinctual, given the method the group uses to induct new members.

Each chapter is organized as alternating point of view changes between the two main characters, Phil and Renee. By the end of the book, you would think I would be used to this, but I still found myself paging back to find who was speaking at particular line. This is the biggest problem I had with this book. I’ve read other works that used this technique, but none to this extent.

This book has some interesting philosophical discussions (altruism as enlightened self-interest), but isn’t short on action either. It provides a very nice blend of the two.

As a reader, it is sometimes difficult to know how collaborations have been affected by the skills of the individual authors. I have read quite a few books by Mr. Brust, but up to now I have not read anything by Ms. White. After this, I shall make a point of trying out some of her other works.



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