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Cryptonomicon [Hardcover]

Neal Stephenson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (691 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 1999
With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse - mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy - is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Watrehouse and Detatchment 2702-commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.

Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia - a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails grandaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi sumarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.

A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, CRYPTONOMICON is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought, and creative daring; the product of a truly icon

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Neal Stephenson enjoys cult status among science fiction fans and techie types thanks to Snow Crash, which so completely redefined conventional notions of the high-tech future that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if his cyberpunk classic was big, Cryptonomicon is huge... gargantuan... massive, not just in size (a hefty 918 pages including appendices) but in scope and appeal. It's the hip, readable heir to Gravity's Rainbow and the Illuminatus trilogy. And it's only the first of a proposed series--for more information, read our interview with Stephenson.

Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods--World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, cryptanalyst extraordinaire, and gung ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first.... Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed.... Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."

All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.

Cryptonomicon is vintage Stephenson from start to finish: short on plot, but long on detail so precise it's exhausting. Every page has a math problem, a quotable in-joke, an amazing idea, or a bit of sharp prose. Cryptonomicon is also packed with truly weird characters, funky tech, and crypto--all the crypto you'll ever need, in fact, not to mention all the computer jargon of the moment. A word to the wise: if you read this book in one sitting, you may die of information overload (and starvation). --Therese Littleton

From Library Journal

Computer expert Randy Waterhouse spearheads a movement to create a safe haven for data in a world where information equals power and big business and government seek to control the flow of knowledge. His ambitions collide with a top-secret conspiracy with links to the encryption wars of World War II and his grandfather's work in preventing the Nazis from discovering that the Allies had cracked their supposedly unbreakable Enigma code. The author of Snow Crash (LJ 4/1/92) focuses his eclectic vision on a story of epic proportions, encompassing both the beginnings of information technology in the 1940s and the blossoming of the present cybertech revolution. Stephenson's freewheeling prose and ironic voice lend a sense of familiarity to a story that transcends the genre and demands a wide readership among fans of technothrillers as well as a general audience. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First Sentence
IS THE BEST THAT CORPORAL BOBBY SHAFTOE CAN do on short notice-he's standing on the running board, gripping his Springfield with one hand and the rearview mirror with the other, so counting the syllables on his fingers is out of the question. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read. . . Aug. 7 2002
By Nathan
Going in to CRYPTONOMICON, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I'd never read anything by Neal Stephenson, nor had I read any blurbs or reviews of the book. However, it had appeared on enough "Best Book" lists that I decided to give it a try. And boy am I glad I did.
This novel is fun, huge, funny, rambling, witty, and sprawling. It is clever, engaging, and well-paced. It is full of quirky, eccentric, immensely likeable characters, crazy, interesting ideas, and amusing, often hilarious, looks at various situations including, but not limited to, mathematics, life, how to eat Cap'n Crunch properly, the purpose of beards, and well, just about anything else you can think of. Obviously, then, this book is not for everyone. Those who like tight, meticulously pared-down straightforward stories may not be able to get into this one.
For me, though, as you may have guessed from the title of the review, this book was an absolute joy to read. The books chapters cycled between four main characters, and every time I finished a chapter I found myself in an awkward position: I didn't want to go on, because I wanted to keep reading about the character I'd been following. However, by the end of the first paragraph of the next chapter, I'd be feeling the same way about the next character in the cycle. It was an odd feeling, and a tribute to the skill with which Stephenson created these characters that each of them was so completely engaging.
In addition to the main characters, the settings and situations were vivid and well-drawn. Despite this books immensity and its tendency to ramble at length about inanity, it never got boring, and always retained its charm. Stephenson provides us with a very amusing outlook on life.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great author Sept. 29 2013
By Bootsy Bass TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
....tough book for me to get into. Highly Math oriented and sometimes I would get bogged down in all of that. But Mr Stephenson sure knows how to tell a fascinating story
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic! March 11 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't know what else to add to this book that has not been said before. This book is a true classic!
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By fastreader TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book will appeal to people interested in World War II, cryptography, paranoia at the highest level, swash buckling adventures, the power of money, commerce, international communications networking; which probably covers 80% of the readers in the world.

Unlike Stephenson's book called Snow Crash (Highly recommended) this story is one in the present time with deep links back to the 1940's during World War II.

The main characters are Bobby Shaftoe- a grunt in WW II Marines; Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse - a cryptography and code geek at the highest level; Goto Dengo - a Japanese soldier who follows orders without question, any order; Avi - super super paranoid genius and business person: Rudy - who ends up working for the Nazi's during WW II. Along with a large supporting cast of characters

The bulk of the story revolves around creating and breaking codes during WW II and then extends beyond that as future off spring of the main characters run into each other when developing a data crypt in the Philippines, while looking for some long ago buried gold (literally tons of it).

They intermingle and run into mostly bad guys along the way.

Stephenson fully develops each character and we are privy to what they are thinking during various situations. The evolution of computers is blended into the story line as well.

The various story arcs move along at a fast pace which is god as the book is over 1100 pages long.

Recommended. I have Stephensons ReaMd on my shelf to read and am looking forward to it based on the last two books I have read from this author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Phenominal Sept. 18 2002
This book starts very slow, and you're wondering how these characters and timelines are related. But patience really pays off. After a couple hundred pages, you are deeply involved in these characters.
I explain to my friends that this book is not written as science fiction. The tech/science mentioned is either today or near-today. What is science fiction is what it make you THINK.
The science is rock solid, one of the few authors who doesn't treat computers (my business) as a magic black box that does wonderful things for you. The main characters are pleasantly solid, yet excentrically unique. They are unfortunately the only characters with any depth.
My business partner is a huge fan of the author's, and has pushed me to read several of his books. This is the only one I have liked.
As Clancy made 250 pages of how to construct a nuclear bomb interesting, Stephenson makes you WANT to understand how cryptography works, and gives you increasingly complex explanations over the entire length of the book, fleshing out the explanations and definitions of many of the critical concepts.
The characters he creates leave you with the sense that they are true to life, but shown in a twisted way leading to many different levels of humor. I found myself laughing at a joke three times. Separate times, in three different places in the book, as the events in that place further illuminated the joke told several chapters back. There were surprises around every corner.
Highly recommended.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Entrancing
Neal Stephenson ably juggles multiple story lines in multiple timelines with a variety of fascinating and quirky characters while also managing to develop a fascinating treatise on... Read more
Published on Dec 30 2011 by McMalph
3.0 out of 5 stars Arrived late and all out of shape
Book arrived later than expected. That might have not been the shipper's fault, but they didn't bother responding to my email when I was trying to find out where the book was a... Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2011 by veecta
1.0 out of 5 stars Unusable
I sent this book to my father, I thought he'd really like it.

My parents reported that when it came it was so dirty and smelled so bad it was absolutely unusable. Read more
Published on May 1 2011 by Kirstie
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest reads I had the pleasure of in my adult life
It's been years now, but I can still recall the utter absorption... the humour, marvelous wit, the history come alive, ... this is a suspense novel for science buffs in a way. Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2011 by Lisa
5.0 out of 5 stars Big book, big ideas; lots of fun
This is the kind of great novel that, without any pretensions of intellectualism (but an enormous display of intelligence), is both immense in scope, bold in vision, and... Read more
Published on April 3 2010 by Nathan Andersen
5.0 out of 5 stars Woe to Hyse!
I have been saying this (woe to hyse) outloud for over a year now and still get a kick out of it (read it-you'll get it). So much so that I am re-reading the novel. Read more
Published on Aug. 3 2004 by eric bergeron
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the coolest book I've ever read
I've read Cryptonomicon twice now and am convinced that while this is very tough read, it is both highly entertaining and extremely educational. Read more
Published on July 14 2004 by Thomas J. Muehleman
5.0 out of 5 stars High entertainment
I enjoyed this book from start to finish, and went right to the computer to order more books by the author. Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by Wendy K. Laubach
5.0 out of 5 stars "Glory"
Plot Summary: How to summarize this plot...Well, It starts with 2 professors and 1 student riding bikes at a late 1930's Princeton talking about zeta functions and building a... Read more
Published on June 26 2004 by Brian
5.0 out of 5 stars A Post-Modern Masterpiece.
This is a large, messy post-modern masterpiece. The novel's nearest comparisons are not science fiction (since this is not a SIFI novel or not much of one) but other novels that... Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by D. N. Goldman
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