ISBN: 0099410672
ISBN 13: 9780099410676
By: Neal Stephenson

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Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that have shaped the past century. Weaving together the cracking of the Axis codes during WWII and the quest to establish a free South East Asian 'data haven' for digital information in the present, Cryptonomicon explores themes of power, information, secrecy and war in the twentieth century in a gripping and page-turning thriller.

Reader's Thoughts


it took me a month to get through this book. amazing, considering my usual speed with the written word, but quite true. this behemoth refused to be devoured in my usual hours-at-a-time fashion, nope. more like very high quality cheesecake, in that it's so rich you can only take a few bites before you need to assimilate.part of the story is about a WWII GI, who happens to be so gung-ho and talented at both completing difficult missions successfully and staying alive at their completion that he gets the dubious honor of being assigned to a squad so top-secret he has no idea what he's doing there. part of the story is about a brilliant but oblivious mathematician (clearly an asperger's syndrome kind of guy) who becomes a codebreaker during the same war. and part of the story is about the computer-programmer grandson of the latter and his infatuation with the tough-as-nails granddaughter of the former. part of it is about codes (both for war messages and for computer programs) and part of it is about war (both physical and digital). all of which makes it sound very dry when it's anything but.Stephenson's typical doses of randomly-applied hilarity are out in full force here. he does an incredible job of painting the world through the individual voices of his characters...and quite often, those guys are thinking very odd things about very odd situations. the hefty book could have been trimmed by, say, 30% if it left out these random observations, sometimes comical, other times simply beautiful examples of what letters can do in the hands of a gifted wordsmith, but then we'd miss out on things like:"a red dragonfly hovers above the backwater of the stream, its wings moving so fast that the eye sees not wings in movement but a probability distribution of where the wings might be, like electron orbitals: a quantum-mechanical effect that maybe explains why the insect can apparently teleport from one place to another, disappearing from one point and reappearing a couple of meters away, without seeming to pass through the space in between. there sure is a lot of bright stuff in the jungle. randy figures that, in the natural world, anything that is colored so brightly must be some kind of serious evolutionary badass."no, i'm not recommending it to everybody. it's long and meandering and insanely technical in many places. but yes, i am gushing about it. it's lovely.


*Re-reading this book, started early January 2009Note: This review is from my blog, circa 2005.I finished reading Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson about a week ago. It took me over a month to finish, not because it wasn't great and exciting, but because it was 937 fucking pages long! I have to say that Neal Stephenson is one of the most interesting and unique authors I have come across in some time now. The book had three main characters/story lines, and each of them had it's own strongly independent voice, yet strung together with a unifying, sardonic edge. I don't think I'll bother much with plot summary, as it was very complex and spanned the course of at least 60 years and about 10 different countries. What I really loved about it was that the three main storylines that all seem so separate at first, come together over the course of the novel through family ties, etc, but are unknown to the modern characters because of war time secrecy, among other things. I have never studied WWII in much depth, but this book brought it all to life extremely vividly and from perspectives I have never read about before. Although this book was in the science fiction section (probably because of the author's other novels) it is definitely more of a history novel. For instance, it had real historical figures as characters, such as Alan Turing in close relation to one of the main characters. Not only is it interesting from a historical war-time perspective, it is also extremely nerdy in its math and cryptographic details...not to mention computer programming and the history of how the modern computer came to be invented as a result of WWII cryptologists needing to break codes. Although the majority of the characters are fictional, I do think that most of the historical elements are well preserved and not too overly exaggerated. However, I am no expert. Basically, I couldn't put this book down, in spite of its weight. ;) The story was compelling, the characters multi-dimensional and interesting, and the locations and events intriguing. Also, in the original hard back edition that I got from the library, there are a large number of typographical/grammatical errors that many have speculated to be a hidden code! Not that anybody has broken it...I'd give my left toe to know what Mr. Stephenson is hiding in that book.


This is a book about cryptography, among other things. Lawrence Waterhouse Price is a brilliant mathematician whose peculiar talents are discovered on a routine military test. He is assigned to a very secret project known initially as Detachment 2071 until Price remarks about the unrandom nature of the group’s name, “2071 is the product of two primes. And those numbers, 37 and 73, when expressed in decimal notation, are, as you can plainly see, the reverse of each other.” Randomness is important because their job is to manipulate the decoded information they have received from the Enigma and Ultra machines in such a way so that they can achieve maximum benefit from the use of that information without giving away to the Germans and Japanese that their code has been broken. They must make sure that Allied actions maintain the appearance of randomness and ignorance. A Marine raider sergeant Shaftoe is given the task of implementing Detachment 2072 (as it became). For example, Price is stationed in Britain and there they have created machines—forerunners of the modern computer – that electrically examine the different possibilities of wheel combinations in the Enigma machine. These required large pegboards to connect the various circuits, so an inordinately large number of tall women needed to be hired as the pegboards were very high. If the Germans got copies of the personnel records, they would immediately notice a bell curve with an odd peak at one end and wonder why people working in this area were not chosen randomly, the bell curve being a random distribution. So Detachment 2072’s job would be to plant false personnel records to make sure the height distribution would be random so as not to give away any possible clues as to what they might be up to. The unit’s job is to create another layer of deception: “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 around and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious.” Price’s grandson and Shaftoe’s niece, unwittingly paired in the present, are working on a project to create a huge data haven in Southeast Asia when they discover that a sunken submarine may hold the secret of an unbreakable code that is tied in with a massive conspiracy that originated in Detachment 2072. For those who might be interested, there is a great description of how the Enigma machine worked. It was a periodic polyalphabetic system consisting of three – later four – interconnected wheels that embodied cycles within cycles. Three wheels have a period of 17576, i.e., the substitution alphabet that codes the first letter of the message will not appear again until the 17577th cycle. When the Germans added the fourth wheel, the period became 456,976. To use the same substitution letter the message would have to be longer T than 456,976 characters, a virtual uncertainty. The Germans believed their four-wheel Enigma to be undecipherable. Stephenson has a delightful sense of irony that permeates the book. Price, because of his cryptological skills, has the highest security clearance possible: Ultra Mega. The only problem is that it’s such a high security clearance the fact that it exists must be kept secret from everyone except another person with Ultra Mega clearance so he always has to be issued a lower security clearance in order to get into secure areas none of the guards or other officers are permitted to learn about Ultra Mega. Stephenson’s perception of the war is curious. The winner would be the one who succeeded in breaking the other side’s codes and then manipulated his troops’ actions so as not to reveal those codes had been broken. The plots converge on an enormous gold reserve hidden in a mine, and the ciphers hold the key. It’s a great story. Be forewarned, it’s the first of a trilogy. Stephenson has these wonderful little comments throughout the book that bring a broad grin to the face. For example, “See, you are being a little paranoid here and focusing on the negative. It’s not about how women are deficient. It’s more about how men are deficient. Our social deficiencies, lack of perspective, or whatever you want to call it, is what enables us to study one species of dragonfly for twenty years, or sit in front of a computer for a hundred hours a week writing code. This is not the behavior of a well-balanced and healthy person, but it can obviously lead to great advances in synthetic fibers. Or whatever.” Or Randy’s father dumps the contents out on a ping-pong table that inexplicably sits in the center of the rec room at Grandma’s managed care facility, whose residents are about as likely to play pingpong as they are to get their nipples pierced.” Do NOT be intimidated by the length (1000 pages) of this book. It’s loaded with fascinating detail and reads faster than 100 ten-page books.

Arun Divakar

I couldn't do it ! 'It' here refers to the act of finishing the book. Beyond a certain number of pages, my mind felt like a glass full of muddy water in which the silt somehow refuses to settle down. The book is not to fault, maybe I just am not ready for this yet.Stephenson is an interesting kind of author for he knows quite a truck load about quite a lot of things. In the pages I went through, there were discourses ( through the character's mouths of course) about things as varied as the second world war, cryptoanalysis, the economic,social,political & historic statistics of Manila, gender biases and so forth. There are three different stories which Stephenson has mixed into one single cauldron to bring out this book.Maybe long after Snowcrash & Anathem , I will get back to this. For now, goodbye wrong book ! Goodbye Cryptonomicon ! (There..I knew something was wrong with the other name).


I'm shocked by the critical acclaim this book received in the sci-fi category but I suppose even a turd can float. Two stars is really pushing it. Maybe a star for the number of laughs I got per 100 pages. This is the work of a technically inept egomaniac. He does have some technical background (he drops Unix hints and anagrams the name of a supposed deity who dies and then later comes back w/ no explanation??) However, it's not enough “savoir faire” for any of the content to make sense. It might sound dangerous to some but just plain stupid to computer geeks such as myself. It's obvious that this is not his first book by the way that the author is allowed to recklessly abandon the main plot (or any of the 4 sporadic narratives) for 70-100 page tangents. If he hired a first yr EE student to clarify some basic principles, snipped about 500 pages and got some ritalin, this book might be tolerable. Like many technical books or movies, I was utterly disappointed. Why did I continue? First, it was a gift and I would feel ungrateful if I didn't give it a fair chance. Secondly, there are many alternating plots that the reader would naturally be led to believe that the lives of these men parallel each other in a different time and place. If you like mysteries, you can almost imagine how these people are related. This would have made the book entirely more interesting. But then nothing. I finished the book and whipped it across the room. Later, I skimmed the last half of this 900+ PAGE SLEEPER to see if there was an overlooked morsel of evidence that made all these separate lives connected which would have made all of the silent pain and suffering from that book worth something. Nothing. Exactly what I got from the book: nothing.


3.5/4.0This is a brilliant book.Not science fiction, really. More like history-of-science fiction. A World War II cryptography/adventure/treasure hunting story, with an overlarge dose of modern international computer corporation politics thrown in for good measure. Full of digressions, which are part of the feel of the story. If you don't like getting sidetracked, then avoid it. Unfortunately, even with all its brilliance, it has notable problems.1) The ending is poor, which is a huge disappointment from a 1,000 page novel.2) There are no good women characters. None. This is a boys-and-their-toys story, and the females have the same personality depth as cheap cardboard. Not super surprising from a war story, but still frustrating, especially given the modern day scenes.Still, it's fascinating, and absolutely worth reading. But it's not as worth reading as Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, which is (basically) the same genre but without the flaws.


My friend Stuart's reading this and I stupidly started spoiling one of the best lines in the book (it pops up as Shaftoe's motto) and he was mildly irritated with me. Fortunately for him, he is vastly smarter than me so while he was quite generously acting annoyed he was probably thinking to himself, "Maybe one day I will spoil math and engineering and the details of Riemann zeta functions for Conrad." Now I'm rereading it out of sympathy and it's even better than I remembered.Anyway, while I haven't yet approached the implosion that I know is coming toward the end, I am really even more impressed at the catholicity of Stephenson's concerns than I was the first time I read the book. He has insightful things to say about information theory, natch, but also Tolkein, postmodern literary criticism (OK, he's a little reactionary about this, but he's also right), the wisdom of joining the Marines, childrearing, Filipino architecture and urban planning, facial hair (can you tell I love Randy's diatribes about Charlene?), Ronald Reagan, the assassination of Yamamoto and associated dilemmas of cryptanalysis, Papuan eating habits, the 90s networking bubble...If you don't like writers who have something interesting to say about everything, I don't know why you read. If it bothers you that Neal Stephenson uses his characters as mouthpieces to voice his well-considered opinions on everything from the prospects of economic growth measured against the likelihood of revolution in the Philippines, for example, to the details of Japanese tunneldigging, then you might as well settle in with your Danielle Steele and be done with it. Stephenson knows a lot about everything, and that's unusual and should be treasured. As a stylist, he's no Hemingway. His stories have beginnings and middles but the ends are usually catastrophically bad. So what? He reveals enough about his subjects that you usually leave his books behind with the feeling that your brain is now fused in a slightly different way. And good for Neal Stephenson, and good for us.


I read this book and I really liked it.I liked the book a lot, but things about it have made me develop a whole speil. The story was great, interesting historical/thrill fiction. But! He could have easily cut a good 1/3 out of the book and it would have been fine. Mr Stephenson loves taking a long way around to describe things, and to compound the problem, his characters like to take the long way around to say things too. So you have this recursive loop of masturbation.For example in one chapter the characters are trying van eyc phreaking, apparently this is using an antenae to read the signal off of monitor cables and such to get an image. This is fine, but rather than having the characters do it, see it works, and have it established as plot point later, he decides to give us 8 pages of what is on the computer. An interesting piece about the origins of fetish, but it has nothing to do with the book. The whole book was full of this stuff. I just wanted to yell shut the hell up and get on with the story!Also if there is a clever way of saying something he goes out of his way to do it, for example he calls sunburns, radiation burns. While true, it doesn't come off as clever, just one of those science geek things where they wink and whisper, "Most people don't know sunight is radiation! hehe we are smart!" Granted he assumes that the reader is in on the joke, but it still bugged me.Which is all too bad, I liked the storyline a lot, it was interesting, the way he went from WWII to the present was nicely done. His descriptions of how crypto and counter crypto both then an now were interesting as well.I was talking to another friend of mine about this and he agreed only about another one of his books, Snowcrash, i think, and he summed it up as, "I get it, nanotech is cool, now move on with the story."In game terms this is like playing a game of titan, it takes forever, you have fun while you are playing but you never want to play again.

Clif Hostetler

Aspire for fluency in geek speak? Is "Big Bang Theory" your idea of reality TV? Then I recommend this Moby Dick of nerd novels. Jay Clayton in his book Charles Dickens in Cyberspace calls this book the “ultimate geek novel” (pg. 204-211) and draws attention to the “literary-scientific-engineering-military-industrial-intelligence alliance” that produced discoveries in two eras separated by fifty years, World War II and the Internet age. That's a good concise summary of the book. Stephenson writes with a fascinating droll humor that lets the reader forgive him for explaining cryptography and mathematical problems in excruciating detail. This book offers an insight into the world view seen through the eyes of a genius. Everything that might be a beautiful sight or interesting view to others will appear to be an example of hidden intervals or patterns to the mind of a genius.This is a turn of the century (20th to 21st) book that strives to pattern itself after a 19th Century novel in that the author uses hundreds of words in those locations where a dozen words would be adequate to carry the plot forward. However, the writing is so entertaining that the reader wishes that even more words would have been used. Stephenson repeatedly branches out on multiple subjects in independent essays that could easily be lifted from the book and used with slight editing for a standup comedy routine. However, the comedy routines would probably go over best in a college town where some physicists or mathematicians are present in the audience.My tech-geek friends read this book over ten years ago, and they all recommended it to me. It wasn't available in audio format at the time, and I didn't want to invest the time required to read a book this big (928 pages, 42 hours audio). So I never got around to reading it. Then about a year ago it became available on So as usual, I've made it through a famous book about ten years after it's been read by everyone else.I highly recommend readers of this book refer to the Wikipedia article on this book. It explains which characters are fictional and which are historical, and it helps explain the nature of the various story lines within the book.I can see how this book was even better when read at the height of the dot-com and fiber optic cable bubble. Techie geekie things were newer then, and it appeared that we were entering the utopian age of Aquarius that would lead to perpetual prosperity. Does anyone remember the promises made that the new information age would be free of recessions and business cycles? Since ten years have elapsed since it was published, the reader can detect some signs of the book's age by noticing that there are no smart phones, iPads or iPods (it was the zenith of the CD Walkman era). Windows NT was new then. It was pre 9-11 so the emphasis in the book is on the inconvenience of customs inspections over that of security checks prior to getting on board.Most of the book can pass as plausible historical fiction. But there are a few Stephensonian inventions that definitely belong in a science fiction novel. Below are some of the imaginative examples:Qwghlmian -- is a fictional language that allegedly hails from some fictional British islands in the North Sea. It has 16 consonants and no vowels making it nearly impossible to pronounce. To complicate things further, there are two mutually non-comprehendible dialects of the language, Inner Qwghlimian and Outer Qwghlimian. Confusing the mid-glottal with the frontal glottal can, in one instance, completely change the meaning a sentence.Rocket propelled submarine -- This book has the WWII era Germans advancing in submarine technology parallel with their development of jet engines in airplanes. Supposedly this quiet and new generation of hydrogen peroxide propelled submarines could stay below water for days.RAM made from plumbing -- A character in this book constructs a digital computer with addressable random access memory (RAM), and it was made from plumbing parts and other primitive stuff. It happens during WWII which was the pre-transistor era, thus he used drain pipes filled with mercury with electrical level sensors that created the binary signals necessary for a functioning digital computer. (If a computer like that were made today, EPA would declare it to be a Federal Superfund Site for toxic cleanup.)Some quotations I found interesting:A comparison of atheists and church attendees:"… the post-modern, politically correct atheists were like people who had suddenly found themselves in charge of a big and unfathomably complex computer system (viz. society) with no documentation or instructions of any kind, and so whose only way to keep the thing running was to invent and enforce certain rules with a kind of neo-Puritanical rigor…. Whereas people who were wired into a church were like UNIX system administrators who, while they might not understand everything, at least had some documentation…. They were, in other words, capable of displaying adaptability."A paraphrase of the fine print on a typical investment prospectus:"Unless you are as smart as Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss, savvy as a half-blind Calcutta bootblack, tough as General William Tecumseh Sherman, rich as the Queen of England, emotionally resilient as a Red Sox fan, and as generally able to take care of yourself as the average nuclear missile submarine commander, you should never have been allowed near this document. Please dispose of it as you would any piece of high-level radioactive waste and then arrange with a qualified surgeon to amputate your arms at the elbows and gouge your eyes from their sockets. This warning is necessary because once, a hundred years ago, a little old lady in Kentucky put a hundred dollars into a dry goods company which went belly-up and only returned her ninety-nine dollars. Ever since then the government has been on our asses. If you ignore this warning, read on at your peril — you are dead certain to lose everything you've got and live out your final decades beating back waves of termites in a Mississippi Delta leper colony.Still reading? Great. Now that we've scared off the lightweights, let's get down to business."The difference between physicists and engineers:"There is a kind of unspoken collusion going on in mainstream science education: you get your competent but bored, insecure and hence stodgy teacher talking to an audience divided between engineering students, who are going to be responsible for making bridges that won’t fall down or airplanes that won’t suddenly plunge vertically into the ground at six hundred miles an hour, and who by definition get sweaty palms and vindictive attitudes when their teacher suddenly veers off track and begins raving about wild and completely nonintuitive phenomena; and physics students, who derive much of their self-esteem from knowing that they are smarter and morally purer than the engineering students, and who by definition don’t want to hear about anything that makes no … sense. … The engineers love … their issues dead and crucified like butterflies under glass. The physicists … want to think they understand everything."


I stake the claim that this novel is the "Catch 22" of the new millennium. Smacking of Heller and borrowing somewhat from Pynchon, this novel also stakes new ground and weaves an engaging yet intricate plot. There are also many asides which encompass basic cryptographic theory, History and mechanics of modern finance and economics, Hacking methods including "Van Eck Phreaking" and EMP pulses, Music Theory, and speculations upon the future and impact information will have.The novel weaves together 3 plots. 1 being the story of Bobby Shaftoe, a tough and guts marine during WWII who is assigned to be a security officer for the OSA, a forerunner of the CIA who handled US involvement with cryptography. The second plot is that of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a nerdy un-socialized individual whose innate skill at mathematics and pattern recognition landed him a job as a cryptographer during WWII for the OSA and jointly with Brittain's MI6, their counterpart to the OSA. The third plot is of Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence's grandson who with his business partner are trying to construct a worldwide vault of information storage and exchange which if successful will land them with untold fortunes of "fuck you money." The plot eventually weaves around the infamous missing "nazi gold" and how much decrypting enemy messages led to the outcome of the war. The author's voice is very sardonic yet, mirthful. There is literally a laugh-out-loud passage on every page. The opening passage is of Bobby Shaftoe composing a haiku about a truck wheeling around a corner on two wheels just about to tip over as Bobby himself is holding on for dear life to said truck as it careens around a corner on two wheels, just about to tip over. Another humorous passage involves Randy who is signing a disclaimer for a very delicate tooth extraction which only one or two orthodontic surgeons in the country would touch: "They gave Randy a bunch of forms which he signed saying something to the effect that they could put Randy into a wood chipper for all they cared and he would have no legal recourse."All in all, a ripping good read. Stephenson actually makes data storage and finance much more entertaining than any brain candy pot-boiler we could read. I highly recommend this novel.


Though Snow Crash will probably remain my all-time favorite Neal Stephenson novel, Cryptonomicon might take the crown as his best.[†:] As I write this review, I wrapping up my third reading of this novel.BRIEF ASIDE REGARDING THE TIMING OF THIS THIRD READING: It is probably worth noting my mental state when I cracked the spine on this one for the third time. Stephenson's Anathem had just come out and I could not quite bring myself to drop the cash on the hardcover. But I was overwhelmed with the urge to read some Stephenson. Given the the brutalizing that the U.S. economy was taking (according to the news) right about this time, it therefore seemed apropos to read something that involved economics, crypto, currency, libertarianism (and flaws of same), and safety/security.END OF ASIDE AND RETURN TO REVIEW THAT IS REALLY MORE LIKE A BUNCH OF RANDOM DISCONNECTED OBSERVATIONS: Cryptonomicon manages to do a good job of not feeling terribly dated even nine years after its release. The cutting-edge laptops in the narrative still seem pretty fancy; the issues all continue to feel pertinent and relevant; the only thing that seems to set it in a particular time is an off-hand reference to "the Power Rangers" pretty late in the story.Anyway.It holds together well all these years later and is a great exemplar of Stephenson's hyperbolic style and how well he wields that style for explanatory power as well as humor.What Stephenson does masterfully here is to create an interesting story for nerds (esp. crypto nerds) that has a thinly veiled coming-of-age sub-text lathered onto a character that we (at first) don't think needs any maturation.I am talking (of course) about Randy.If you don't figure this out by the time you get to the "Pulse" chapter then you have some explaining to do. We (the readers, the nerds) are thinking that Randy is a grown-up because we (1; as grown-ups) identify with him at the outset and (2) he has all the trappings of a grown-up such as (a) a beard, (b) a girlfriend of 10 years, (c) a business plan, etc. But the Randy we start with is little more than a bearded child running away from his commitments (i.e., his career as a university sysadmin and his relationship with Charlene (though, given the circumstances described in the prose, citing the latter is probably not fair to Randy) to play with his friends (e.g., Avi, Tom Howard) and their toys (e.g., high-tech laptops, GPS receivers). We get the first hint that this late-stage coming-of-age is going on when Randy shaves off his beard to discover a grown-ups face underneath. From there it's a pretty steady sleight-of-hand unfolding through the narrative which is really quite rewarding. (Hence taking the crown as Stephenson's best.)Granted, there's so much more going on in the novel than just Randy; we could also consider Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, Bobby Shaftoe, Goto Dengo, or Enoch Root[‡:]. But Randy is probably the best place to center.------† = At the time of this writing, there is a pretty broad swath of Stephenson unread by Y.T., namely all three in the Baroque Cycle and the brand new Anathem .‡ = Root in particular fascinates me because (if what I've heard is true an he does in fact appear in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle) he seems to share a few traits in common with Tolkien's Gandalf (doubly interesting because Stephenson's Randy calls Root a "Wizard" in the Tolkien sense), Weis/Hickman's Fizban, Arthur Miller's "Old Jew", etc. I'm thinking that there is a whole taxonomy of characters to explore here of which Root is one.------See also:• 10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them) at io9


Though I'm giving this book four stars, I am a little disappointed in it. For the first time, Stephenson's wordiness got to me. At first, it is all fun and "character building" and enjoyable to read. But after working through 700 pages and still hitting long stretches about Randy's fascination with dust devils as a kid or how he had really bad wisdom teeth years earlier, I got a little frustrated. I had the feeling he was striving for length instead of letting the story dictate the number of pages.I am also what I assume to be a rarity in that I read Anathem before Crytonomicon. I actually liked Anathem a lot more. This is partly because everything felt necessary. I actually didn't want it to end, whereas I was ready for Cryptonomicon's ending.I don't mean to be too negative, because I believe this is a great book. The two WWII storylines were the highlight for me. Loved Lawrence and Bobby and pretty much everyone else from that era. Especially enjoyed the Admiral Yamamoto scene. I was less impressed by the main storyline set in the present. Simply didn't enjoy Randy and Avi and their group of geeks as much. I came around on Randy a bit, mainly due to his Captain Crunch habit, but Avi had no such saving grace. Still, it was a masterful blending of multiple storylines into a cohesive and enjoyable experience.


I'm an English major. I've read a lot of books. This one, is -- hands down -- my favorite modern fiction novel. I've read it twice, recommended it to others, and I'm sure I'll read it again. There is so much to appreciate here.It is a semi-historical adventure, so there's something for fiction and non-fiction fans.The writing is justly verbose at times, and conversationally abrupt at other times. In essence, you find yourself wholly in the minds and bodies of the characters while reading every scene.The literary quality of the writing is top notch. Although, Stephenson's writing is a little easier to appreciate if you're a bit of a geek. There is a lot of mathematical / historical / technological jargon -- and some really fantastic war stories.Multiple timelines multiplied by multiple plot-lines make it a slow and tricky read, but I kind of cherished that. I hate feeling like I've read a good book too fast.If you can stay with it, the way that Stephenson ties up the stories in the end is exciting and brilliant.I think most would agree that this book sets itself apart from Stephenson's other works. I don't expect him to achieve this quality again (in my opinion, he hasn't), but I can always hope.


I am FINIIIIIISHED! I thought it didn't have an ending! I thought Neal Stephenson kept sneaking to my house and inserting more pages in the back while I was asleep! I thought he would never be appeased until I begged him to stop with a deck of cards, morse code and a wide variety of pleading looks!This is a massive boy book. A MASSIVE boy book. It's got overwhelmingly male characters, and they do really boy things, like coding, and shooting things, and drawing logarithmic graphs about the last time they masturbated. I kept being surprised that I could open this book and it didn't immediately smell overpoweringly of old canvas and sweat. And I say this in the most endearing way, generally speaking - the characters in this book have no idea, none at all!, that I am not One Of Them, so I got to romp about with the best of them, messing about with submarines and mid-nineties hacker politics.I should probably tell you at this point, that two of my favourite things as a mid-teenager were vintage pen-and-paper codebreaking and rambly adventure stories, so I was in my element. This book is very exclusive in many ways and I am sure that in any other context I would get the rabbit in headlights look of someone who knows they're about to be accused of being a fake geek and who doesn't know *quiiite* enough what they're talking about to put those (wholly ridiculous) accusations to rest - but as it was, for most of the time I was reading this, it was me and my comfy chair and my knitting and the printed word of Neal Stephenson, and I could slot myself into that narrow band of intended audience and roam around at my leisure. This book is a boy book, and while I was reading it, I was a boy. Which is a cack-handed way of saying that I am a nerd and I don't get to talk about polyalphabetic ciphers you break with frequency analysis and a pad of graph paper very often, and Cryptonomicon made me feel as much at home as I could possibly have wished for. Which is nice.It's also a cack-handed way of saying I feel, in some way, like I shouldn't have felt at home? It was so chock-full of Tech Men and Soldier Men and Men Who Do Things Despite Slash For Their Womenfolk, that I genuinely felt like I was empathising on the wrong side of the divide at some points. Like I was having to sneak in and pretend I had a metaphorical moustache. Very odd. Ladies of Goodreads, is that a thing you understand? Men of Goodreads, when you read something very female led, like say Jane Eyre, or Rebecca, or whatever it is you emancipated chaps read these days, how do you feel? I've rarely felt that this strongly (*cough*Gorky Park) it was very odd. At any rate I am interested by how/how strongly this manifests itself in other people.Back to the book! It's an info-dump; there is almost more info-dump than plot. Some of it I knew already and that was comforting, some of it really fired me up for playing with numbers a bit more. While I've been reading this book, I've been occasionally meeting a friend who's teaching me the basics-and-then-some of statistics, and I get the same feeling from that of channeling my enthusiasm into something practical, something that someone else is excited about as well. I liked the info-dump.It starts off really slowly. There is basically no plot for probably the first two-fifths; certainly the first third. It is full of inside references and totally devoid of beginning, middle or end. If this bothers you, don't read it. It bothered me, for a while - that's why I put it down and came back a few months later. Or that's one of the reasons. The other reason is that it's NINE HUNDRED PAGES LONG AND NEAL STEPHENSON IS STILL TALKING.In the end, I put it aside often, but always came back. There are very few books I can say that about, and of the others they were almost entirely written by Frenchmen. This book is not like those books. If you ask me, it's worth having a go at, and if you get 60 pages in and go cross-eyed at the tiny font, don't worry. You won't have missed much, and it's a nice place to come back to. I might even read it again, but it probably won't be for a while. A long while.


I mean, FINE, okay, this is one of the most engrossing books I've ever read. I don't really mean "best" or "best-written", necessarily. I mean, it's a messy sprawling epic that's almost too clever by half and full of hilarious characters and history just-so tweaked to accommodate them and also pure unadulterated geekiness. So it's not really for everyone but boy did I lap it up and then eat my huge slices of humble pie for everyone in my life that's been bugging me to read it for about four years.I do have a couple small tiny niggling complaints, and one of them was the massively inbred dynastic mindfuck that was the generational split between mid-century and modern. I mean, are there only five families on the planet that had any effect whatsoever on the latter half of the 20th century? Neal Stephenson seems to think so! It's clever, I mean, in an Aureliano Buendia, Great Men History sort of way to see the same quirks and traits and consequences of history revealing themselves in the microcosm of a few generations of a few families. But I didn't necessarily need to be hit over the head with it, NEAL.That said, though, I can't think of a family I'd rather find myself marooned in the seas of literature with than the Waterhouses or the Shaftoes, so. Also I had a love/hate relationship with the lectures that Stephenson felt was his god-given right to slam smack in the middle of a scene because he just feels like you HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THIS NOW and you do, so I struggled against enjoying the lectures because I'm a nerd and I like learning things and hating the lectures because I love fiction and I hate great big long swathes of explanatory text slammed into a character's mouth. It's all very Giles. But I mean, if you know the book you know these are sort of tiny complaints in the face of the awesomeness of Stephenson's humor and imagination, his passion for these, let's call them archetypes of humanity that he's wrapped around history and technology and ideas. In a way, it's what I always hated about Rand that somehow works brilliantly when Stephenson does it. Huh.

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