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
E-book extras: "Stephensonia/Cryptonomica": ONE: "Cryptonomicon Cypher-FAQ" (Neal addresses "Frequently Anticipated Questions" and other fascinating facts); TWO: "Mother Earth Motherboard" (Neal's landmark nonfiction account of, among other techno-feats, the laying of the longest telecommunications cable on earth); THREE: "Press Conference": Neal answers "Why write about crypto?" and other penetrating questions. The smash New York Times bestseller and cult classic is at last a special-features-loaded e-book. Dashing between World War II and the present day, Cryptonomicon is an epic adventure of codemakers and codebreakers; soldiers, hackers, spies, pirates, lovers, prisoners; power, secrets, conspiracies, great escapes -- and a buried fortune in gold.
"Engrossing - insightful ... fascinating and often hysterical... Cryptonomicon is really three novels in one, featuring healthy portions of World War II adventure, cryptography, and high-tech finance, with treasure hunting thrown in for good measure... But that's only half of it."
"Hell of a read."
Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash; The Diamond Age) hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped the twentieth century - and that have led us into the twenty-first.
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 Waterhouse and Detachment 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 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 granddaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine 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.
Funny, smart and geeky This book is full of the geeky stuff (there are even code snippets!), but it also has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. The second time I read it, I was able to pick up a lot more of the humor. ...more info
THE JUNGLE BOOK When you're in a bookstore the CRYPTONOMICON doesn't look all that intimidating. You've seen tons of books this thick by Tom Clancy and Robert Jordan--and probably read some or all of them with no problem.
But online here at Amazon you only see the page numbers--a whopping 1100 + !!!
Now for the important question: Is it worth your time turning all these pages?
LOCATIONS: A book this thick has to have some interesting locations, and it does: From pre-WWII Shanghai, the jungles of the Philippines, England, Italy, Sweden, Japan and Australia. I've never been to the Philippines but I felt like the author did a good job of describing it.
CHARACTERS: There are several main characters (all male) and the author takes turns telling each of their stories, which is a good way to break up any monotony. I wasn't able to really visualize what the characters looked like, but their individual actions and adventures more than make up for that. Some characters are of the nerdy suit-and-tie type and others are of the practical military-gear toting-type.
FUN: Is this a fun book to read? If you like humor and geeky "Gee Whiz" sort of information every now and then, this book has plenty of it. I especially found the part about Van Eck Phreaking really interesting--and something only the most paranoid of people would worry about. There is lots of history, most of it dealing with the Pacific Theater of WWII that I did not know before, since most games and books seem to dwell on the European side of that War.
OVERALL: If you want to read a book with some variety in location, rich in history and sub-plots that don't seem connected until much later, then I definitely recommend this book. It's a jungle of a book, but sometimes the jungle is where you find the rarest treasure. ...more info
Inconsistent - some greatness amongst some disjointed tedium I got this for Christmas and finished it late last night.
As the tale begins, the author initiates two primary storylines, The first is set in WWII spanning both the European and Pacific theatres. The second is modern day and is centered on a California start-up (with requisite ambitious young guys) with primary business interests in the far east. One knows the stories are connected because of similar last names in both. The other connection is encryption - how crytography was central to the war and how it is central to current day business and, in the author's view, central to the future of civilization.
One of the great pluses of the book is how the author made use of these commonalities between WW2 and modern-day to create interest and anticipation. The middle of the book actually made use of these quite well and I was eager to keep reading. There is some terrific writing in middle sections and descriptions of people and places both in Europe and the Far East are very vivid.
The author does write with terrific humour at times and I was reminded in several places about a series of books written about WWI called "The Bandy Papers - the Journals of Bartholomew Bandy" by Donald Jack. Very similar in style as the author captures the points of view - dry wit - of Grandpa (WW2) and grandson (techno geek) Waterhouse.
The presentation of Gen. Douglas McArthur was (from my Canadian perpective) endearingly flag-waving-pipe-chomping-bullet- shedding-American-Super-hero and, of course, totally unbelievable.
Then I hit the final pages where I had hoped to receive a big-payoff to the build-up over the previous thousand pages. Alas, it was not to be and all the tedious verbiage that scarred the entire book turned out to be a sad bell-weather.
One of the "1 star" reviews amongst these reviews suggested that Tolkien was nothing compared to Neal Stephenson as far as filling up pages with words. There are numerous examples of page after page of "who cares" blathering which may tell us that some of the characters are in fact terribly boring individuals but do not deepen the characterizations. One of the good points is that when you hit such a section - and the reader will recognize them - you can simply skip about 5 pages or more and pick up the story without missing anything. The book could have been shortened by about 400 pages, maybe more. I'm guessing there is an encrypted message in the pages somewhere but I couldn't care less.
Some story lines, characters and inferences are left totally unresolved in the end (e.g. what happened to the dentist?). A case of author boredom and a loss of interest as the ending approached? And why the heck did Andrew Loeb make a final appearance! Talk about out-of-place and just bizarre.
I dunno what the author is thinking sometimes but several times he comes across as just a tad too clever. At least 3 times during the book (inluding the opening pages) I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. For example, one such bit of cleverness is his incorporation of the Hindenberg disaster in New Jersey - the narrative is written at that point from the perspective of a main character who stumbles literally out of the woods after seeing a brightness in the sky. It is not central or even obliquely of interest to the story line. The author never mentions Hindenberg by name and it is left to the reader (if you can pass the author's ever-so-clever test of cleverness) to figure it out. It seemed somewhat a condescending (to the reader) writing style.
There is the usual technology-dropping (like dropping names but gadgets instead of people) to presumably up the coolness factor and from my knowledge it is mostly, but not always, believable.
Ultimately, why there is some terrific writing, the overall result is a draft that needs 1 or 2 more rewrites and a worthy ending to really tell a terrific story.
Summary - go directly to Tom Clancy's books which are executed much better and have endings that offer a consistent pay-off (but with less humour). Clancy can also go on and on... but not like this guy!
The paperback story is 1130 pages of small type that is hard to read....more info
WOW! I LOVED this book. But, for potential readers, I have a VERY large caveat: Unless you have a love of mathematics and/or cryptanalysis you're going to miss out on much that made the book, for me, so great. In fact, judging from the one and two star reviews so prevalent here, you more than likely are going to hate it and end up torching it in your back yard in frustration and dancing around the ashes. By way of anecdote, I was talking to one of my neighbours who happens to have a degree in mechanical engineering while we were out walking our dogs about a certain aspect of the book that had me puzzled for a bit, and another neighbour stopped to join us. After listening for a time, she looked at me and asked, in a semi-sarcastic, baffled tone, "Are you reading an Engineering textbook for fun?" When I told her it was a novel, she became even more nonplussed. So, the point here is, you've been warned. I happen to be an English Literature major, but I was one of those kids in school who in, say, trigonometry class just looked at a math problem, knew the answer and handed in my tests in five minutes. The words, "SHOW WORK" are scorched into my memory of adolescence. On the other hand, if you've liked Stephenson's other works, or like picaresque literary jaunts in general, you will no doubt like this one as well. You'll just have to skip the parts I found most fascinating.
I can now say, though, that I understand why Stephenson fans took him to task for lack of verisimilitude in Snow Crash and the books which constitute The Baroque Cycle, both of which are a great deal of fun to read, but not terribly conducive to deep thinking. This book is so conducive, for a number of reasons, but the primary one, I should say, is that very few people realise just how WEIRD the branch of mathematics known as Statistics is. The simplest example I can think of is coin tossing: If you enter a (rather primitive) casino, toss a coin once and come up heads, your chance on the second toss of coming up heads again is 25%. It's not 50%. Furthermore, if you toss the coin and it comes up heads, then put the coin in your pocket and wait three days, three months, three years, however long, and take that same coin out of your pocket on the other side of the globe and flip it, your chances of coming up heads, after all this time, are still 25%, not 50%. I've gone out about the Math enough for this review, but the Math herein is very much concerned with probabilities like this one. It makes you start thinking, as the character Waterhouse does at one point, of the entire world as a giant probability wave. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I lost tossing and turning with different numbers running through my head.
The characters in this book, as Stephenson puts it are "people too busy leading their lives to worry about extending their life expectancy." This makes for very intriguing, if involved, reading. But the writing can also approach the poetic at times. The sinking of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor is described thusly: "A military lyre of burnished steel that sings a thousand men to their resting places at the bottom of the harbor."
And the book is so terribly funny. The Englishman, Chatan's, description to Detachment 2702 of the importance of knowing the right way to, er, blow your head off if in danger of being caught by the enemy is priceless, "You would be astonished at how many otherwise competent chaps botch this apparently simple procedure."
Also, as noted by other reviewers, there are numerous in-jokes, my personal favourite being the Latin motto for the Societas Eruditorum: "Ignoti et quasi occulti." Which Enoch Root translates for Bob Shaftoe as, "Hidden and unknown-more or less," which is EXACTLY what it means! Notice the quotation marks surrounding more or less. The word "quasi," in Latin means "more or less" or "as it were" or "so to speak".
Alright, I've gone on long enough, perhaps too long, for an Amazon review. For those few who might be interested, I'll try to include a simple program I came up with for solving the Turing bicycle problem, which Stephen uses to illustrate how the Enigma machine works in the Comment section once this review is posted.
Classic Cryptonomicon is one of those novels that wouldn't be out of place on a bookshelf next to classic epic stories like the Odyssey or the Iliad. Its grand, sweeping plots encompassing two time periods coupled with its realistic yet slightly superheroic characters create a unique experience that many of today's so-called "epics" lack. The hero journeys of the follow-orders-at-all-costs Bobby Shaftoe, the scary-brilliant Lawrence Waterhouse, and the forward-thinking entrepreneurs Avi and Randy twist and weave across the ages with precision and guile. Along the way, these heroes encounter other larger-than-life characters -- a conflicted Japanese soldier/digger, a pontificating immortal, General MacArthur -- further fleshing out the already three-dimensional story. And interspersed throughout everything is gold, glorious gold. Truly epic!
Is it for everyone, though? No. The sheer size of the novel alone will present a daunting challenge to even the hardiest of readers. Throw into the mix heavy doses of (sometimes subtle) sarcasm and pages-long ramblings on subjects seemingly unrelated to any aspect of the story, and some readers may find themselves throwing the book across the room. If you don't care about why men grow beards, or the extraction of some obscenely impacted wisdom teeth, or why Athena was really the goddess of technology, you may find yourself with some dented walls. But if you can stomach the following: "The uppers were so deep in his skull that the roots were twined around the parts of his brain responsible for perceiving the color blue (on one side) and being able to suspend one's disbelief in bad movies (on the other) and between these teeth and actual air, light and saliva lay many strata of skin, meat, cartilage, major nerve-cables, brain-feeding arteries, bulging caches of lymph nodes, girders and trusses of bone, rich marrow that was working just fine thank you, a few glands whose function were unsettlingly poorly understood, and many of the other things that made Randy Randy, all of these definitely falling into the category of sleeping dogs," you'll be just fine.
Is Cryptonomicon perfect? Sadly, no. At times it feels as if the plot is getting away from Stephenson and he has to kick it back into place. Whole huge periods of time pass in narration, not action. An entire trek into the jungle to find a mysterious location is recounted by Randy in an email. And, of course, as has been expressed in other reviews here, the ending comes on way too quick. But fortunately these incidents are few and far between and do not cause great distractions from the already sprawling plot. Even the ending, upon reflection, feels appropriate in the context of the entire novel.
All in all, it takes a quirky personality to love Cryptonomicon. But if you're one of these unique individuals, be prepared for a wild ride....more info
An impressive novel Before Crypotnomicon I had never read any of Neal Stephenson's novels. Throughout the book I was impressed as the wild array of story lines coming from different times and many different characters slowly wove together, so I was impressed by the quality of the writing and the technical side of it.
The only shortcoming was, in my opinion, the ending. For a novel of this breadth, the climax should be pretty extraordinary and satisfying, after having built for so long. Instead the final bit left me feeling a little hollow.
That said, some might say that it's not in the destination but how you get there. Crytonomicon exceeds in that aspect. It's worth reading just for the ride. Both the technical and the human sides of the story will keep you reading (and wanting more) right through the end....more info
Much Fluff It was a struggle to finish this book. The book is an excellent 400 page novel crammed into a 900 page tome. I can't believe that the book wasn't heavily pruned by an editor prior to release.
Some parts of the book are indeed very entertaining and funny. At other times, it's like reading the phone book....more info
Dull and pointless I couldn't finish this book, finding I had no desire to read any more after I got about halfway through. There are several concurrent storylines, none of which have anything to do with each other except in the most peripheral sense. The book spends so much time plodding along, I found I had a surge of excitement when he finally got to the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At last, something was happening! Unfortunately, the next page began "Three months later,". I was incredibly disappointed after hearing the rave reviews this book got, and now I am completely mystified how it received them....more info
Not as bad as Snowcrash It has the same problems, as it's overlong trite cyberpunk. However, at least his writing's improved....more info
unique style The author has a unique writing style; often dispensing background information in pithy and vulgar many-page rant-lets. Highly enjoyable as long as you don't mind some gruffness.
Virtually all characters have humorous elements, but with equal depth. The plot is advanced via at least three different threads in alternating chapters. To the authors credit, all of the threads are engaging.
Computer science content is remarkably plausible (read: well researched and presented by an expert), with almost no hand-waving. Can't comment on same for historical accuracy. ...more info
The modern Dickens If you love to read, read Stephenson. Having read "Snow Crash," Cryptonomicon," and "Quicksilver," I've come to simply love this writer and hope I never run out of new books. One can quibble about endings, characters and coincidences, but the pure pleasure per page is unequaled in my experience since the prime of Anthony Burgess. And in the recent books, the breadth of setting/topic/comedy/pathos/human understanding makes Stephenson the rightful heir to our greatest novelist, Dickens. Read everything he writes....more info
Geekfest Alan Turing, Enigma, the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto and last but not least, the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch. What more could you want?
That's just the side stories not the main plot.
This sprawling book was a page-turner and is properly deserving of its Cult status.
A Gripping Thriller with excellent Mental Stimulation. The book's heavy - so right away you know its going to be either really good or really bad right?
Well, this one's a real keeper. A story, told from several vantage points across two generations of several families related by blood and circumstance. There's all the action of a WWII thriller - with fighting in trenches and jungles and taking out pill boxes on remote Pacific islands. But, for me the most interesting part was the Information Science and the journey into cryptography that Neal Stephenson leads you on as you progress through the book - easy to understand, but quite stimulating to ponder for those neophytes not acquainted with the fields of encryption or cryptography. There's love stories, crazy geeks with amazing toys and luxury tech equipment and more exciting twists than you'll believe. There's Gold, Silver, espionage, fighting, and more than I expected when I picked up the book - it kept me gripped from the first to the last page and the story rounded out to the perfect resolution.
It was a long read, but Neal Stephenson needed every page to get the story down that he did - and it was worth the investment of time to enjoy the story he crafted for us. Thanks Neal!
Lots of promise, never gets going This is the first book I have ever failed to finish. This is out of thousands upon thousands of books, I read nearly continually. I've read long meandering epics etc. and loved them, but this one just did not have anything going for it.
I only made it to page 300 and the entire time I was wondering when a plot was going to be presented to the reader, a central story. A REASON to keep reading beyond just reading about these completely separated characters in two different time periods. I kept thinking that the story was going to get started after the author introduced the characters a bit more, but at page 300 I realized that this was all the book was going to be . . . character introduction and lots of it.
Maybe these characters all tie together in a wonderful and thought provoking way around page 1000 or so, but I'll never know because the author never gave me a reason to want to find out....more info
Long and glorious. Neal Stephenson is a fantastic writer, and his skills truly shine in Cryptonomicon. Yes, it's a long book, but I suggest to all those who find fault with Stephenson's long-windedness that brevity is not somehow 'better' than verbosity, it's just different. Stephenson has carved his own niche in the continuum of writing-style, and, yes, it's in the Long-Winded-Land area of the spectrum. Is it a good style despite this? YES. Stephenson is incredibly deft with words, and the telling of his story is extremely effective. Cryptonomicon made me laugh, cry, and feel ill to my stomach at times (in a good way!). The dialogue is witty as usual for Stephenson, the plot is dense, multifarious, and fascinating, and the characters are well-developed. What more could you ask for? I recommend 'Cryptonomicon' to you, yes, YOU....more info
Gobsmackingly good.... Cryptonomicon will demonstrate to you clearly how pedestrian and formulaic virtually all other books, film, and other entertainment have become. Continually surprising, brilliantly evocative both visually and emotionally, and frequently hilarious. I loved it when it came out (though like others I had a hard time slogging through some parts) and upon rereading it recently found myself even more astonished. Combined with the Baroque Cycle (with which it is inextricably intertwined) it now comes to, what, 4000 pages? And yet I, for one, cannot wait for Stephenson to continue the saga....more info
Excellent read I don't quite get how people can pick up a book this size and then complain about the book's size ... isn't the book's, ah, SIZE a clue the book is going to be ... um, BIG? Sorry if that's going over a few people's heads, especially the computer scientists out there writing 1-star reviews.
My hat's off to the author - he nailed it. To make a 900+ page book entertaining all the way through takes mastery. Every storyline of this thing had me gripped, from the business to-and-fro with the Dentist to Shaftoe's war heroics - Shaftoe's one of the most entertaining characters I've yet encountered in fiction.
A book this big is generous from Stephenson. He could have written 3 Snow Crash-sized novels and maybe been paid 3 times. I'm glad he served up something like this to get lost in over a couple of weeks - every day I looked forward to picking this up and diving in.
teaser preparing for a sequel? Premise on how encryption was critical for winning past wars and how anonymous data havens could be even more important for business is very topical. However, it is just too long (900+ pages). Lots of Neal's long winded colorful techno analogies are entertaining, but perhaps he should refrain from including so many of them in a fiction work and publish more purely technical essays like IN THE BEGINNING ... WAS THE COMMAND LINE. Furthermore, the forces that build through the book are only just starting to become an interesting plot device for a radically new world order when the book just ends. I guess I was hoping the book would actually deal a bit with this pervasive encrypted Internet. Perhaps this is just a teaser ending to prepare for a sequel, which could be much more interesting than what essentially is a speculation on how encryption could become even more important than the Internet....more info
blah The plot is uninteresting, the characters are shallow and the cohesion of the story is iffy at best. The most important thing to know about this book is that it's not one story but multiple stories stitched together in an attempt at a book.
I heard alot of good things about this book and I'm utterly baffled at just how poor I thought the book was. I simply can't recommend this book to anyone....more info
Will somebody please stop this book? I want to get off ... I threw in the towel around page 550 something. I just didn't have it in me to make it to the finish line. This guy apparently will _not_ use 2 words when he can use 7. It _is_ well plotted and the author has a keen eye for details and arcane and interesting facts but oh man, is this guy wordy. He is the anti-Hemingway.
I love cryptography, which is why I picked up this book. I also enjoy anything related to WWII. The author uses a fairly standard present time-past time storyline. He does a credible job of weaving together a number of characters and several storylines. He teases with a really interesting set of possibilities as to where his story might go involving Nazi gold, Nipponese gold, the Enigma machine, global communications and data and especially cryptography.
As I said, I got to around page 550 and just ran out of gas. He simply cannot get a grip on the narrative and after awhile, it just gets boring. He never delivers on the implied promise that things will start to pick up get going. Cut this book in half, I mean it; take away about 450 pages and it would be a terrific techno-historical thriller but I found it just too long.
If you are graduate of the Evelyn Wood School of speed reading, you'll probably love it.
Good read and an intellectual challenge Cryptonomicon
As a former college math major, the math and mathematic cryptography portions were intriquing but it is not necessary to understand them to appreciate the book. In fact, perhaps half way through I became engrossed in the story and just brushed through the math portions. I have recommended the book to friends who would be baffled by the term "cube root" and they loved it.
One of the few books that address the mental effect on a Japanese soldier of the years long grind as they suffered continuous defeats at the hands of a people they felt were in all ways their inferior.
The interweave of modern and WWII characters and issues is superb. ...more info
Geez, Louise ... Well, I gave what I thought to be a valiant effort at 260 pages, then had to say: no more. I'll admit it - I'm 53 years old, and while I have worked with computers for the past 30 years, to look at me you wouldn't think I was a computer geek, but perhaps I am. My beef is this: I grew up with the novels of Arthur Hailey (remember Airport?) where he spun out 8 or 10 storylines, then began to tie them together. Stephenson never ties them together. Perhaps you have to be 14 years old and have the attention span of a gnat to appreciate this (new?) writing style, but it's not for me....more info
The nerd bible has been written. Nerds unite! Here is your book. I'm serious as this book just oozes nerd goodies. This book has nerds from the 40's, nerds from the present time, German nerds, American nerds, British nerds, Techie nerds, graphs, charts, figures, formulas, manuals, gadgets, hacking, and yes even nerdvana. If you are nerd just buy the book you know you can't resist.
That being said, the book is very well written and moves at a very fast pace. I think I read this book in about three or four nights. This is a book I put off for awhile because of its length but if that is worrying you just buy the book since once you start it you will not be able to put it down....more info
"Like Snow Crash, with more ADHD" I really liked Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Then recently someone recommended this book by saying "It's like Snow Crash, with more ADHD."
I was sold, and Cryptonomicon exceeded my expectations. There are numerous digressions that are really funny, partly because you find yourself entertained the whole way. Like a stand-up comic, Neal Stephenson will suddenly veer off into a side-anecdote and then slams you back in a way that's fun all by itself.
The biggest complaint to this book is that the ending is oddly-standard compared to the rest of the book. Some authors seem to start with a great problem and a great solution, which creates a great ending. Intead, similar to Orson Scott-Card's books, it feels like Neal Stephenson starts with a great premise, fully enjoys developing the story, then thinks "ok, I think that's enough. Hmmm... What's a great way to end the book from here?"
*shrug* I still give it 5 stars. I'll always prefer a great story with contrived ending over a contrived story with a great ending.
Here's an example and litmus test for whether or not you should buy this book... and it's a slight spoiler, but only of a digression, so I think you'll forgive me...
At one point, the book digresses for a few pages into a character's ability to solve scientific problems as a function of his sex drive, complete with graphs as if right out of a math textbook! Now, if you would be annoyed by such a digression or the geek-factor of it then you should stay away.
However, if you are intrigued, amused, or especially both, then you are probably a geek like me, and you should buy it. Now.
Neal Stephenson: Authentic Genius or Certified Wacko... Got a month of free reading time? And that's free time for ONE book? This isn't a condemnation of Cryptonomicon by any means, just a warning to those who pick it up. Because once you start reading, chances are you won't be able to stop.
Author Neal Stephenson is either an authentic genius or a certified wacko (or both), because Cryptonomicon is so intricate, so layered, and so engrossing, that someone who could write this much material, and contain it in one novel, must have an odd functionality to their brain.
Spanning two generations of families during pre-, intra-, and post-WW II, this epic (and it most certainly deserves that title) shows the reader the early formation of computer language that developed thanks to code-breakers within the U.S. and German intelligence communities. This may sound horribly boring, but it is far from tedious. Author Stephenson knows not to bore readers. He incorporates cryptanalysis into everyday life, often with hysterically funny results (at one point a character relates his masturbatory behavior to helping solve enemy codes; and another time the London street layout helps design a code system that is nearly unbreakable). All of the characters are incredibly human, from the earliest "geeks" (Richard Waterhouse and Avi) to the rough-and-tumble WW II gladiators (U.S. Marine Bobby Shaftoe and General Douglas MacArthur). There are deadly battles with Japanese soldiers, crushing encounters with German U-boats, and even a treasure hunt finale that'll tickle your funny bone. There's romance between a geeky code breaker and the young granddaughter of Bobby Shaftoe. There's government conspiracies, and unlikely alliances between men on opposite sides of the war. There's ...just too much to put into one review! Fortunately, though, Neal Stephenson (author) masterfully ties all of these threads together and culminates it into one of the best conclusions seen in novel length fiction history.
At 1,130 pages long (paperback), the thickness of Cryptonomicon may be a deal-breaker for some readers. Don't let it be. The author's able prose is sustained throughout its ample length and will keep readers coming back to see what awaits the Shaftoes, the Waterhouses, the Roots, and the Dengos.
A prodigious novel from a genre-busting author, Cyptonomicon defies categorization. It is and isn't science fiction. It is and isn't historical fiction. It is and isn't a techno-thriller. It is and isn't many things. But the one thing it most certainly is is a masterpiece....more info
Cryptonomicon Took a while to get into but soon couldn't put it down. Loved this book. Had some very memorable and humorous scenes....more info
In dire need of an editor Have you ever hated yourself for finishing a book? For a long, long month, I resisted my own desire and my wife's urgings to drop the book. I should have listened. The book badly needs editing, the characters are shallow, and the author's (very) high opinion of himself stains the pages. There are two crypto-analytic themes to this book: World War II codebreaking and the struggles of a modern day cryptographic computer company to turn profitable. By page 500 (of the 910), I had no idea how they related; by page 700, I had an inkling but no longer cared. I only finished because I felt some undefined need to do so.
I would guess that by the time Stephenson wrote this book, he had enough critical and financial success that he was able to demand no restraints from his publisher. Consequently, the writing meanders and much of it is irrelevant. Stephenson dedicates three pages to description when three paragraphs (and sometimes only three sentences) will do. Worse yet, many of these wanderings are completely unrelated to the story, such as discussions of Captain Crunch and wisdom teeth. By page 300, the reader can see when these airy insignificances arise, and to continue, he or she must painfully wade through them.
Most of the characters in the book share the exact same personality: gruff and cynical. The exceptions are academics, who are portrayed as wimps with no grasp on reality, and East Asians, who all have a personality similar to the characters from Shogun. Otherwise, a World War II Marine shares the same personality as a modern day billionaire-investor who shares the same personality as a modern day entrepreneur. An example of the same-flavor feel of Stephenson's characters: One character (Enoch Root) was an Army Priest during World War II and dedicated himself to peaceful causes afterwards. By the time one of the modern characters encounters Root, in a jail cell in the Phillippines, Root (who must be at least in his mid-eighties) has been running a Church in the Phillippines for a number of years. Nevertheless, Root describes the goddess Athena as a virgin who was "leg-f***ked  once but did not achieve penetration." This same character uses the word "dissed," just like any modern fifteen year old boy. Character development, needless to say, is non-existent in this book.
On the plus side, Stephenson has encyclopedic knowledge and an expansive vocabulary. Even this becomes a turn-off, however: Stephenson's writing reflects a man who thinks of himself as intellectually beyond the realm of mere mortals. Perhaps he is different in real life, but he comes across as the geek in high school who justified his social-ineptitude by the fact that he got great grades (especially in math!). That same geek who got great grades lost many arguments because he lacked intellectual and logical skills outside of "book learnin'."
Stephenson is like that: For example, he ticks off a long list of German and American technological advances during World War II, but then concludes that the Allies won because America stood for technological advance while Germany stood for mindless warfare. In another story line, Stephenson's modern day protagonists set out to create a data bank near the Phillippines that is protected by the most advanced cryptography in existence. These protagonists are some of the most brilliant computer code-writers and cryptographers in the world, and they are attempting to set up a company which hides information so well that even governments cannot access it. These same brilliant people are shocked to discover that criminals are keenly interested in the project. Again, Stephenson has incredible knowledge but weak logical skills.
Why give the book two stars instead of one? There are some redeeming aspects of the book: I liked the aspects of cryptography and analysis, a subject to which I have never paid much attention. Any book that I can learn from cannot be all bad. ...more info
A big, gold, brick of a book I loved this book.
It seems like most reviewers who enjoy Cryptonomicon are involved heavily in some type of geeky activity, so this review is for the other people out there, people like me, who ask only "Does it work?", not, "How does it work?"
This book, with all of its in-depth explanations for questions I never thought to ask, was incredibly engaging. It has an enormous plotline that spans several decades, yet does eventually tie in together. There are lots of "Aha!" moments, as well as several where you ask "How did he DO that?"
I loved it so much that I bought it for my husband, a computer geek, and my dad, definitely not a computer geek, for their father's day gifts. It is looong, but unforgettable. The best way to read this book is in big stretches, so carve out some time, put your feet up, and get ready to lose yourself in a place where eating cereal has a mathematical precision that will amaze you.
And if you don't like it, you can always use it to prop open doors....more info
Powerful, Wonderful, Epic A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book for Christmas. I'd never heard of the writer, but John recommended it strongly. I sat down expecting a romping science fiction book. What I got instead was an epic tale of two families from World War II through modern day (late 90's, some of the technology is a tiny bit dated) and all over the globe from England to Scandinavia to the Philippines, to Japan to the high seas in almost every hemisphere to a British protectorate country that Stephenson invented out of whole cloth that sounded so plausible I had to look it up on the Internet to make sure it didn't really exist.
It involves cryptology all the way from England against the Nazi's through very complex security for the Internet and, of all things, card games. The people are all amazing, diverse, human, complex and fully realized.
As many people have said, it ends rather abruptly, but the journey that leads up to that ending is so well worth traveling, I really don't care. This is a book that will go on my "read again and again" shelf, right next to Dalaney's Dahlgren....more info
This is in my top 3 books of all time This book was truly a great book to read. I loved reading it, although it did take me about a month and a half. It reminded me of a bible given the heft of the paperback edition, and i couldn't store it in my coat for travel. Beyond that it was a great story, great character developement and did a superb job keeping all 3-5 storylines in-tact....more info
My Favorite Book I'm not a 5-star freak. Very little is truly perfect, but I'm going to destroy my credibility up front by saying this is my favorite book. Ever. What makes me insane about Neal Stephenson's books is that I can't say definitavely what determines "the crack facor." In the first chapter, with the introduction of Bobby Shaftoe clinging to the side of a truck and composing haiku, I was hooked, completely addicted as to a drug. Other Stephenson books have not grabbed me as intensly, namely, and sadly, the somewhat-prequel series The Baroque Cycle. Other of his books are nearly as addictive: Diamond Age and Zodiac to name two.
This book spans decades and follows two families that become intertwined between the events of WW2 and the present day. The depths of love, death, war, math, facial hair, jungle adventure, wisdom teeth, politics, communications and every sub-topic of geekology you can imagine are plummed. I read this book the first time on a back-packing trip to South America, and carried the 12 lb trade paperback for a month after I'd read it because I hadn't found anyone who evinced enough passion over my description to be entrusted with it's ownership. It ended up with 2 kiwis who I hope gave it a good home. I've re-read it many times since and, simply, can't recommend it enough if you want to be intelligently and absorbingly entertained. ...more info
I would love to BS over martinis with this guy Did you ever feel like someone listened to all your thoughts, figured out exactly what your interests are, then wrote novels specifically directed at you? I love everything that this guy writes. Partly because he writes well, but also partly because he thinks deeply on topics that interest me: modern currencies (which are basically confidence games), future implications of nanotechnology, the role of cryptology in the movement of money, how governments will be affected by the fact that geographical location is becoming less relevant, the complex and subtle differences between cultures and the evolution of manufacturing. Gotta go.... buy my next Neal Stephenson novel....more info
Is this Science Fiction? People keep putting Neal Stephenson's books into "science fiction". Even if they take place today, or 60 years ago. Yes I loved it, but I think his books are increasingly miscategorized.
Or perhaps there's a hidden meaning to "science fiction".
I think it's this:
In order to make a book interesting you have to make something extreme or weird or new. In many books, authors resort to making one or more characters cruel or psychologically tortured, depressed or otherwise dysfunctional.
In "science fiction", the characters are generally intellient, clever, well balanced and otherwise normal.... it's just the world they inhabit that's gone arwy.
Something is only reviewed as "serious literature" if the characters are broken in some way, but if the *world* is wrong.... it's called "science fiction". Even if it takes place 40 years ago.
Genious This is a staggeringly clever book, extremely well written. Not an easy read, but so funny and insightful that one never minds the effort. Carry it everywhere and savor it slowly....more info
A Brilliant, if Flawed, Techie Novel This large, sprawling book was a pleasure to read for all 900+ pages. That said, some editing could have tightened the story, eliminated some needless scenes, and otherwise improved this reader's experience. However, there are numerous scenes that will forever be a part of my literary mosaic. When Bobby Shaftoe, one of several principle characters, is interviewed as a war hero by Ronald Reagan, I dare you not to audibly betray your amusement. Likewise, the death scene of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto is a classic.
While some other reviewers appear to be put off by some of the discussion of crypanalysis, I was not. The discussions were not overly taxing and, generally, were part of the appeal of the book, to mention nothing of their assistance in understanding key plot points. The technical discussions are emphatically not parts of the book that should have been edited down.
Of course, if you do not find both interesting and humorous a character's attempt to divide the property of the recently deceased via a mathematically sound, complex, and fair method (involving more complex math than was fully explained or than I could comprehend if it had been), then perhaps this is not your cup of tea. Similarly, if you found Catch-22's Yossarian boring and do not like Vonnegut's humor, then, again, this may not be the book for you. I found the book uproarously funny.
The biggest quibble I have with this book is the ending. Generally, the last hundred pages or so were not as engaging as the previous 800. The end itself was, in my opinion, quite weak and contained a few plot holes. Major questions remain unanswered and the resolution of those that are answered was less denouement than deflation. Stephenson seems to have hit a point where he had to wrap things up or write another several hundred pages. He wisely chose the former, but failed to create an ending as enjoyable and original as the rest of the book.
In all, there are extremely memorable characters, a number of highly original, funny, and entertaining scenes, and bucket loads of geeky facts and plot points. The book is a classic of the genre, if, indeed, it has not created or defined a new genre.
Man Power! This novel has two interwoven narratives: one that's set in 1944-1945, and one that's set in the present day. The World War Two narrative line is consistently funny, exciting, unpredictable and clever. The modern-day narrative is slow, pedestrian, occasionally confusing and contains several long, tedious digressions on topics like how to eat Cap'n Crunch cereal properly and how to steal information off your neighbor's computer monitor.
After a few hundred pages, it becomes clear why Stephenson's personal value system led him to write this sort of novel. The people that Stephenson clearly admires most are white, middle-class males with technical educations who are very gung-ho about America's Greatness. In the mid 1940s, these sorts of people were the saviors of civilization. In the 1990s they grew goatees, made their money selling garbage on the internet, and voted for George W. Bush because they were tired of all this gawdam political correctness. Thanks for that, guys!
When the two plots eventually come together, though, things pick up a bit, and I was left quite charmed by what a quick, entertaining read this colossus turned out to be. It also made me a bit sad though, 'cause it's nowhere near as original or groundbreaking as Stephenson's two earlier novels, SNOW CRASH or THE DIAMOND AGE. His desire to tell a good story has apparently been partly (though not wholly, thank god) superseded by middle-aged crankdom....more info
Brilliant I laughed out loud at several points: my daughter kept on looking at me to figure out what the big deal was. This book is FUNNY. It gave me a lot to think about with regard to our privacy. I bought it one Thursday and didn't put it down until the following Tuesday....more info
Cryptography front and center in WWII My biggest question before deciding to read this book was "Will I be one of the ones that like it or am I too old to be able to follow the sidelines and the more current buzz words". Since reading this story is such a commitment of time, I want to make sure you all know my specs: I'm over 50, not a techno-geek, but I do have experience in the world of computers and software, I majored in the sciences so I've had my share of mathematics and physics. I hated math and physics but I loved this story. I do have a great deal of interest in World War II and cryptography intrigues me. I especially love a conspiracy. This book has all of that. Usually I do not like a book that rambles around tangentially to the plot line, but I went into this book knowing that with 1100 pages (PB) there would be some of that. But in this book, there is a lot of it. Most of the book takes trips into the mind of the characters away from the plot. However, that is where the gems of this book are hidden.
There has been a lot made of the Cap'n Crunch detour. I have to tell you, I loved that section. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the book immensely. The length was long; however, saying that is similar to Kramer on Seinfield, while in a sauna, saying that "it's like a sauna in here". Of course it's long, it's over 1000 pages. If you want a short book, read a graphic novel or comic book. Many didn't like the wordiness and the off plot meandering. If you want the instant gratification of finishing a book in two days, this is probably not the book for you. Although, it only took me about 2 weeks to finish, it was never boring and I never dreaded reading any of it.... Okay, I lied a little; I skipped over the bicycle sprocket explanation. But I read all of the rest. And for the most part, there are many sections that if you do not have an interest in them, skipping will not hurt you.
There were not many characters, so that part was easy to follow and the story line was interesting with more than a touch of fact. It was nicely put together and I've given it the highest ranking. I don't see where anyone could say that this book was missing character development. Any more development and the book would have been 2000 pages.
Funny, Interesting, but in need of an Editor Neal Stephenson's book is a dense, well researched story that is one-half the history of modern cryptography and one-half an adventure novel. The WWII parts of the book are often hilarious and have a 'Catch-22' tone to them. The portion of the story set in the present varies in quality from blah to excellent. A firm editor that limited Stephenson to perhaps 700 pages would have made for a better pace without sacrificing all of his exquisitely detailed digressions. I found the novel as a whole very entertaining and erudite, and would reccommend it to anyone, with the caveat that some undergraduate history classes and a little math make the book a much more fulfilling read....more info
Slow and Tedious... This is the first book by Neal Stephenson I have ever read, or I should say I have ever attempted to read. I got to page 400 and had to stop. I probably should have put the book down after 100 pages, but after so many glowing reviews and endorsements, most notably from the New York Review of Books, I thought I would give it as much of a chance as I could. What a mistake.
Maybe I should even go back farther in time - I purchased the book thinking it would be an incredibly fast read, something in the same vein as a Dan Brown or Stephen King book. I was sadly disappointed to find that all of the people who said that this 1000-page monstrosity would be a quick read were terribly, terribly wrong (I also found at least two other people who thought the same thing and I wish I had listened to them when they told me to stop).
The book bounces back and forth between World War II and the present day, between grandparents and grandchildren in an all-over-the-map techno-thriller that is simply too dense to be readable. The pacing can only be described as plodding. I find Dickens a quicker read.
I think I may have started reading this with the wrong-mind set and maybe I should give it another go in a few years. But for all those looking for a nice-light read, stay away. And for those looking for something that makes you think or something where you can enjoy the texture of the language, stay away as well. Go out and pick up some Virginia Woolf or even some Dickens. It will be time much better spent.
Vast saga and still captivating So what if it is almost 1000 pages long ?
This should not discourage you, au contraire: covering the last 50 years - from WWII to the Internet, from the Nazi Enigma machine to the modern code breaking techniques, from USA to Europe to Asia, using a language that is so Stehephenson-ique - funny, but still educating, entertaining while teaching us so much.
One of the best Neal has ever produced. I wish his other books would have the same quality, but unfortunately they do not....more info
Danielle Steel for Nerds "Cryptonomicon" is entertaining and gripping at parts, and downright tedious at others. Stephenson makes a very obvious choice to go into far too much detail about the technical details of plot mechanisms to lend his novel extra geek cred--or maybe he thinks his audience actually enjoys that part (and, judging by the success of this book, he might just be right).
But while some passages seem, every once in a while, to capture some element of human emotion, those parts are the exception rather than the rule; in general the characters are caricatures, the technology researched and plausible but, frequently, just slightly wrong (the educated reader might pick up on enough of a giveaway, every so often, to reveal that Stephenson is no expert on the technology he uses in his plots), and the descriptive passages tedious and long winded (a previous reviewer mentioned a scene in which the protagonist eats Captain Crunch cereal--suffice to say that that description drags on, in Hemmingway-esque detail, for pages).
Perhaps I'm being overly suspicious, but all of Stephenson's twists--his unnecessary descriptions of cryptographic algorithms, his in-jokes (punning the name Linux as "Finux," for instance), his long-winded lip service to Dungeons and Dragons--seem designed to ingratiate him with the "geek" crowd that is his intended audience. A reader of this persuasion may find these nods titillating, but he should also question whether this lip service is genuine, or if he is merely being pigeonholed by Stephenson.
This certainly isn't a bad novel. It's generally entertaining, good B-grade bedtime reading. But "the next Dickens," to quote another Amazon reviewer, Neal Stephenson is not. ...more info
A reading workout I came to this book as my second Stephenson novel after Snow Crash, and I read that one the first time when I was in junior high. Cryptonomicon was a daunting looking book, but the character development and interesting mix of stories kept me involved to the end. Like other Stephenson books, this one contains a lot of technological excerpts, mostly about math and code breaking, and these can be a pain to get through, but it also contains some of the most realistically human writing of any author. My only concern was the end. I was hoping that after all of that investment, there would be a more realistic ending. After a thousand pages worth of buildup, the ending seemed to be tacked on and all too short. Despite this, if you are a techno nerd who also enjoys an engaging view of WWII history, this is a book for you....more info
It killed all my free time It killed all my free time ! (in a good way)
The book is filled with real life Historical references and human icons, in a manner that reminded me a little bit of the way "Forest Gump" was written, so I'll say that the book is a cross of "Catch 22" with an average Tom Clancy, in the pase of a modern Hollywood blockbuster... a REALLY REALLY long one.