Cryptonomicon Hardcover – May 1999
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Even though this book is an astounding 1200+ pages, it is an engrossing read. Like Mitchner, the story weaves the lives of many generations together through a common theme. Except Mitchner never wrote about lives so exciting (Apologies to any Mitchner fans - but Hawaii was a little dull.)
There are many character threads and stories in the book, but the two main ones are the story of a WWII cryptographer (Clancy style), and the story of his Silicon Valley grandson's pursuit of an offshore data center and advanced cryptography (Gibson style). Both threads are thoroughly engrossing. The book paces perfectly, it never gets too frentic or too dull.
The character development is also done very well - Stevenson doesn't clutter the book with too many marginal characters besides his main ones and he makes most the characters very memorable. This leaves him lots of time to develop his main characters into complex and interesting people.
Stevenson's writing style is also very readable, yet not as flat as the standard supermarket fiction (or bad sci-fi for that matter). The different story threads are written in a different tone, and Stevenson uses his command of tone to provide even more character and plot development. For example, his savant WWI cryptographer thinks in mathmatical proofs, his modern-day cyberpunk in Tolkein-inspired metaphors.
If I had a complaint about this book (I don't have many) it is that the ending leaves a little to be desired.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I loved this book. It's wonderfully nerdy and really funny. I haven't yet read all of Neal Stephenson's work but prior to this, I had previously enjoyed Snow Crash and Seveneves. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Pierre
What an excellent read. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. I wasn't use to Stephenson's writing style, but now I am glad that I read all the way through. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jordan Swanson
I knew that the book was huge which was one of the reasons I wanted to read this epic story but the print is was too small. I ended up buying the book again digitally.Published 10 months ago by Novh Wreck
I have remove this book from my kindle, I have read some chapters and I did not like the changing of time zone or years in the reading.Published 15 months ago by papa
This is an amassing story. If I ever get to the end I'll read it again right away while I still know who's who. Read morePublished 15 months ago by George Dixon
In short, and unfortunately, it's quite boring.
All the characters are the same: same behaviour, same humour, same psyche. Read more
Brilliant! Vintage Stephenson. The mind boggles at the immense amount of information contained within NS's world. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Dr Rif Kamil
....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 storyPublished on Sept. 29 2013 by Bootsy Bass
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