Variant syndromes of Alzheimer disease (AD), led by deficits that extend beyond memory dysfunction, are of considerable clinical and neurobiological importance. Such syndromes present major challenges for both diagnosis and monitoring of disease, and serve to illustrate the apparent paradox of a clinically diverse group of disorders underpinned by a common histopathological substrate. This Review focuses on the most common variant AD phenotypes: posterior cortical atrophy, logopenic variant primary progressive aphasia and frontal variant AD. The neuroanatomical, molecular and pathological correlates of these phenotypes are highlighted, and the heterogeneous clinical presentations of the syndromes are discussed in the context of the emerging network paradigm of neurodegenerative disease. We argue that these apparently diverse clinical phenotypes reflect the differential involvement of a common core temporoparietofrontal network that is vulnerable to AD. According to this interpretation, the network signatures corresponding to AD variant syndromes are produced by genetic and other modulating factors that have yet to be fully characterized. The clinical and neurobiological implications of this network paradigm in the quest for disease-modifying treatments are also explored.