ISBN: 0099410672
ISBN 13: 9780099410676
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

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


Neal Stephenson likes to throw weird shit together and see if it sticks. The more recent his book, the more likely it is to resemble a schizophrenic's curio cabinet. Your average Phillip Pullman will add a little wacky trepanning to his fantasy trilogy for that refined edge of esoteria. Meanwhile, Stephenson will have an exiled member of Italian royalty who works in 'demolition real estate' and knows Escrima thanks to an intense trepanning session with Horace Walpole, Duke Orford. Which I believe is an accurate summary of the next William Gibson book.One man's premise is another man's plot.I liked it better when Stephenson used the bizarre as a spice to flavor a driven, exciting story. Though spices may make a dish delectable, they aren't palatable on their own; you need some meat. I guess what I'm saying is: who the fuck wrote Snowcrash and when will he write something else?


** spoiler alert ** Arrgh! I don't remember a book that I both liked and didn't like this much!Alright, a quick intro snipped from Amazon:"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. "Whew!Stephenson takes 918 pages to spin his yarn and in the end I enjoyed most of the ride but I wondered what was the point. After 918 pages, that's not a good thing.Pros:1) It's a long book. If you like to settle down to a long book, this will do.2) There is a strong pro-libertarian theme running throughout.3) Some of his writing is quite good, entertaining, thoughtful, fun, thought provoking, well done.4) He puts out some ideas that are really sharp. His discussion on Athena between Root and Randy got my little hamster wheels turning inside my head. He does this a few times.5) Math. Not much but he uses actual math. And it fits with the story.6) Cryptography. He uses actual cryptography and it also fits with the story. Cons:1) It's a freaking long book. If you like your books to be in the 200 - 300 page range, give this one a pass.2) It just... ends. All the characters suddenly lose all the depth and charm Stephenson had imbued them with and it just stops. I think he should embarrassed that 900 pages weren't enough to end this in a satisfactory manner.3) Was there a character not obsessed with sex? No? Right, right, I come from a Puritan background where I was beaten for having impure thoughts, but still, sex was a constant theme for just about every single character. It got really tiresome.4) Potty mouths. The lot of them.5) Sometimes his writing just sucked. Flat out bad. I wondered if he eschewed an editor.6) Bobby Shaftoe's death. At the start of the scene where he dies, I thought "This would be the worst possible place to have him die after all the crap he went through" and, of course, he dies. Lamely.So do I recommend this book? No, not really. It has some stellar moments, mired in dross. If you still want to read it, well, caveat lector.

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.

Donnagha Dulchaointigh

I am half-way through Cryptonomicon, and here are my thoughts so far:1. Where is the storyline? Why no plot? So far, the only moderately compelling story - and this is after 553 pages - is Goto Dengo's accidental encounter with and escape from cannibals on the island of New Guinea. Otherwise, I have been unable to detect a plot anywhere in this book.2. Neal Stephenson has little narrative skill. He does not seem to know how to describe action so that the reader becomes caught up in the plot. But then again, there is no plot in this book.3. Neal Stephenson desperately needs an editor. This book would have been more effective had it been one-fifth the length. E.g., is a four-page dissertation on eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch really necessary? In Anna Karenina, when Tolstoy spent several pages describing Levin's unsuccessful attempts to keep pace with the serfs in mowing and reaping grain, he made an important, poignant point: that Russian landowners could not physically perform the work of souls they owned. But what is the purpose of Stephenson's verbosity in so many passages throughout this novel? Does the reader gather any insight of real value? Or are these passages just so many words?4. What is the purpose of two separate narratives - one in the 1940s and one in the 1990s? I identify with none of the characters in the 1990s storyline, and this is a fatal flaw of any novel: if the reader cannot identify in any way with the main characters of a story, and especially if the reader neither likes or dislikes any of the main characters - then why read the book?5. I wish that Stephenson would not try so hard to devise cute metaphors and similes. I find them distracting, forced and at at times puerile.6. Stephenson has little narrative skill, and his writing has almost no eloquence. I would rather read a much shorter novel that is well written and that conveys a message, than 1000+ pages of logorrhea.Sorry, I intensely dislike this book. But I intend to finish it, just so that I can tell all who listen how much I detest this book _ and why I find it so ... empty and pointless. After I finish Cryptonomicon, I will return to Gogol, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Melville, Verne, Durrenmatt, Frisch, Kafka, Pushkin, Hawthorne, Joyce, Hugo, Zola, Korolenko, Lu Xun, Yu Hua, Ba Jin, Shen Congwen - in short, writers who actually knew or know how to write ...

Nicholas Karpuk

This is a failure on several levels.Firstly, I did that This American Life offer with Audible so I could try it for a few weeks and get a free book out of the deal.First off, Audible isn't particularly good. Though one credit generally will get you a book a month, their definition of a book can mean the first 4th of a Stephen King novel. You also lose all access to these DRM encrypted files when you drop the service, so I doubt I'll be keeping it.The second issue is that the version of "Cryptonomicon" has a disingenuous label that you might miss if you're not paying attention. It's not unabridged, it's "unabridged excerpts", where certain chapters are summarized in a few sentences. So yeah, it's basically abridged, and severely so. It's like saying something is non-toxically poisonous.I could forgive all of these things if the book were better.My interest in Neal Stephenson springs almost entirely from "The Diamond Age" which I thought was a great, ambitious novel. His knack with science fiction is amazing. The trouble is "Cryptonomicon" is more or less set in the real world.I like many books written by nerds. I like many books written about nerds. Until now I didn't really think about the fact that I don't like books written by nerds about what nerds are into.The book is split between nerds in World War Two and nerds in the 90's, between nerds discussing cryptology and Turing Machines and nerds discussing cryptology and computers. There's an entire chapter on a character using a library to program a realistic system to deal with how many calories people burn from eating within the main character's roleplaying game. Not an aside, not a paragraph, a chapter.Of course the discussion of fantasy roleplaying, unix programming, complex communications microwave towers and router systems all take a backseat to the mind numbing discussion of cryptology. I dislike solving word jumbles, so this almost erotically detailed discussion of code breaking and the math involved left me cold and alienated.I've accepted all of these elements in other forms before without minding at all. I read Neuromancer for god sakes, but most sci fi discusses these topics while exploring a bigger issue or for the sake of advancing the plot. In "Cryptonomicon" all this nerd fodder is just sitting there posing like a centerfold for the Asperger crowd.I got about halfway through the audiobook before an extended conversation about ethics and routers ultimately killed my patience. This book is some of the most masturbatory nerd porn I've ever read. I'll probably pick up other Neal Stephenson books, but I'm going to have to start reading the first chapter to make sure it in no way resembles this.


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.


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

Erez Schatz

Greenspun's Tenth Rule of Programming says, that any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad hoc informally-specified bug-ridden slow implementation of half of Common Lisp. (Including Common Lisp, added Robert Morris)Lisp, to qoute L. Peter Deutsch, can make you realise that software could be close to executable mathematics.Cryptonomicon is surprisingly similar to the previous paragraph, both as an analogy to the book, and for the useless use of computer-based qoute, just for the sake of it.To start with, this book is way.... too.... long.Just way too long. No real way of getting around it. Cryptonomicon fails to carry its own weight, even if it didn't have so much of it. It *is* a page-turner, which is good, seeing as it has so much of those, but more because there is very little actual content. Rather than drawing you in, it lets you drift over; instead of using the breadth of scope to mean something, it really doesn't. The 2 WWII parts are more of a time-line rather than a story, and the third part, the actual story, is very weak, and no real connections other than some obvious ones, that is, don't expect any last minute golden thread that will tie it all. There is a lot of fanfare around and in the book, and there's a whole lot of research thrown in for good measure, but there isn't much of a point, where you surface out of a 10 page description that is painstakingly detailed, with as much story in it, as if you took a break and went to read an encyclopaedia. Other such detailed descriptions include a 5 pager about the cars going in or out, a pornographic description of cereal eating, each of those gives the reader no added value other than to be impressed by the writer's way around words, which a good editor would've red-marked away had this been a debut piece.Characteristics is shoddy, which is amazing for such a large novel. With 1100+ pages in paperback, some character development is expected, but characters here rarely act, and mostly react, being moved from place to place by the circumstances and the background characters that appear and disappear, without any excuse than the sake of pushing the plot forward, toward a very dull and, strangely enough, rushed, ending, which is not ever partially a conclusion and is an ending simply because the book ends there, leaving many threads hanging in mid-air. The only glimpses the author allows us into the mind of the characters is when a mathematical, military, or technological problem is in need of being solved. Other than that, there is a lot of inner monologue, but hardly any glimpses into the actual "inner" parts, resulting in characters moving from one state of mind to another with little to no reasoning.This is a book that haven't decided whether it wants to be "techy" or about technology, resulting in parts "for the layman" and parts that demand some knowledge in computer tech to understand. This is a book that attempts to tell us a lot, which is basically how good is the author in finding yet another meaningless, but semantically cool, metaphor. This is a book that might've been, minus about 400-500 redundant pages and plus about 100 pages to close the remaining threads, a fun, intelligent read. At current state, its a smart-alek, overly self-important, and hardly elegant.


*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.


Neal Stephenson is brilliant. Quite obviously so. And one of his strengths lies in writing books that make abstruse, convoluted niche subjects feel approachable and exciting to the average reader. His attention to detail and his playful tangents, asides and divagations are charming, witty and often fascinating.Unfortunately this does not always translate into well-written and well-structured narratives. To put it mildly, Cryptonomicon drags. It meanders. Occasionally it stops completely dead. More than a hundred pages before the end all the surprises and brilliance had been squandered and I was gritting my teeth and just waiting for it to be over.This is a very male narrative. All of the main characters are straight males, and the book (and its characters) are obsessed with male ejaculations (yes, explicitly) and their effect on the male thought process. Furthermore, Stephenson includes some facile pop psychology about the interactions of the the sexes (which made this homosexual roll his eyes) and took a few embarrassing swipes at academia, atheism and gender equality. The fact that two of the male supporting characters are homosexual does not lessen this impression of male heteronormativity, especially when you realize that both of these characters are doomed to lonely, loveless deaths.Women are cast only in the most stereotypical roles and are never completely fleshed out. They are either sex objects, sex tyrants, frigid or helpless--nothing in between. Out of all the many, many orgasms in the book, only two belong to women (or rather, A woman) and they are presented in such a way as to make them sound unnatural and almost frightening.I'm not sure what Stephenson's point was in writing such a heavy-handed, gender-unbalanced narrative, but it alienated me almost completely. Maybe I'm missing the point--I'm sure there are people who would say I am--but it just didn't work for me.So! In conclusion, Cryptonomicon was a lengthy slog that could have used tighter editing and plotting, and far less fixation on reinforcing gender and sexual norms.


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.


Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far). Cryptonomicon is a difficult book for me to review.In many ways it’s amazing – so why not the give it the fifth star?In many ways it’s infuriating – so how did it get the first four stars?Simple answer? It’s too long! Crypto clocks in between 900-1100 pages, depending on which copy you get – and the story is a rambling beast, full of whimsical tangents, studious digressions, chatty dialogue and endearing anecdotes. It’s an absolute pleasure to read – I find Stephenson’s writing a joy – but it goes in so many directions at once that it’s too often becalmed in the midst of the telling; any sense of forward momentum is diluted by the all-encompassing approach. Often you’re not sure which way is forward! For me, this book is the perfect example of the ethos that…“The journey is more important than the destination.”I learned from this book. I learned about cryptography, maths, military tactics, history, engineering, business tactics, phreaking, currency, mining, academia, etc. But I also learned how to kick-back and enjoy the journey of a book – to stop waiting for the next plot development point to come along like clockwork.Months after reading Crypto I came back to Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, the sequel/prequel trilogy to Crypto and I loved it! To enjoy a book properly, I need to be in the right headspace – I need to know what I’m getting into and adjust my expectations accordingly. I didn’t have the right hat on for Crypto – so I really enjoyed it, but still kept having little tantrums that it wasn’t doing what I felt it should. My experience with Crypto helped me develop the right mindset to fully enjoy The Baroque Cycle, and if I didn’t have so many other books on my list, I’d be tempted to go back to Crypto a second time and see if I can now appreciate it more on the second go-around.This is the book I was mid-way through when I got married. Some people sit up nervously on the night before their wedding – I just read a couple of chapters of Crypto and sparked out. I read this on the flight for my honeymoon (between rounds of mushy newly-wed kisses). I finished it around the pool and on the beach. In much the same way that Blue Mars will forever be linked with the birth of my son, Cryptonomicon will always bring to mind, for me, wedding bells and a feeling of glorious happiness.Bobby Shaftoe, Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence Waterhouse and Enoch Root are all excellent characters – and the affection I feel for each of them is further enhanced by their association in my mind with the love I feel for my darling, bookworm wife.P.S. Don't mention the lizard.P.P.S. My only gripe with this book - and it's not even a gripe so much as an observation: Is this actually sci-fi? At all? No? Good. Just so we're all in agreement then.


This book took me over a month to read, with a couple of short books sandwiched in between. It is not a good sign for me when I need to take two breaks to finish a book. However, this is not a book that I can dismiss regardless of whether I like it. I have several friends who love Cryptonomicon to bits and they are smart, discerning readers. I remember when I finished reading Twilight I was kind of glad that I didn't think it was very good. Had I found it to be an amazing classic I would have no credibility left among my peers. With Cryptonomicon the problem is the opposite, I am kind of disappointed that even though I like some of it, on the whole I don't particularly care for it. Still, better to be accused of being a philistine than to write a dishonest review just to be up with the Joneses eh? Cryptonomicon is a hard book to synopsize, I feel nonplussed just thinking about how to describe the basic plot in a few sentences (so I won’t). The novel is set in two timelines 1942 and the present (or the 90s, the “present day” at the time the book was written). There are several narrative strands that gradually intertwine toward a single ending. The book is also hard to categorise, part historical fiction, part thriller, some element of cyberpunk, a bit of romance and (thankfully) a substantial amount of comedy. This novel seems to be more character driven than the other Stephenson books that I read*. The central characters are quite well developed and are generally interesting and likable but unfortunately I could not invest in their adventures. I think this has more to do with the plot they are embroiled in rather than any deficiency in their development. The structure of the book is quite complex and there does not seem to be much in the way of momentum in the pacing, it also seems to be somewhat incohesive. The frequent switches in narrative strands made it difficult for me to remember what each character is up to the previous time they appear. On the positive side the book is often very funny, the main saving grace as far as I am concerned. Lines like this just crack me up “You know what this is? It’s one of those men-are-from-Mars, women-are-from-Venus things.” “I have not heard of this phrase but I understand immediately what you are saying.” “It’s one of those American books where once you’ve heard the title you don’t even need to read it,” Randy says. I laughed out loud quite a few times while reading the book. On the whole I find it to be well written, with some wonderful turns of phrase, another factor that prevent me from giving up on it. Some of the cryptography and hacking scenes are also fascinating.Of the four Neal Stephenson books that I have read Cryptonomicon is the hardest to get into, and even by the end of the book I still wasn't really into it. It is clearly too good to dismiss out of hand and I always admire Neal Stephenson for aiming his writing toward an intelligent readership; I am not sure I can claim to be a proud member of his target demographic but kudos to him for respecting his readers. Regrettably this book turned out to be one of those "good but not for me" books. I wouldn't like to dissuade anyone from reading it, but I can't honestly recommend it either. If you are interested but doubt I suggest you read a few more reviews and decide for yourself whether it seems likely to appeal to you. I suspect you never know until you actually try it though.*In order of preference: Snow Crash, Anathem, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon.


Cryptonomicon is one of those plotty books, where things happen and then other things happen, which isn't really a knock: some of the best books ever are plotty. Lookin' at you, The Count of Monte Cristo. But when you write a book about a bunch of stuff happening, it succeeds based on whether all the things that happen feel like part of a whole - whether all the threads come together. Again, Count of Monte Cristo is forever the gold standard for books like this. At their best, these books are tremendous jigsaw puzzles: a successful one is a masterpiece of planning ahead, and authors like Dumas - or George Eliot, whose Middlemarch combines the best of plottiness and the best of character analysis - take your breath away when you realize how carefully they've set up each strand of plot.Cryptonomicon succeeds at this. Stephenson throws a lot of balls in the air; the story spans sixty years, from World War II to the late 90s, and spans the globe from some made-up country near England to the Phillipines, with plenty of stops in between, and he totally pulls it off. It's an impressive feat, and I can't poke a single hole in it. Nice work, Neal!Of course, while insight into human nature isn't necessarily necessary in a plotty book, it helps to have some. Count of Monte Cristo includes some wicked heavy and smart thinking about fate and control; Middlemarch is one of the most psychologically astute books ever written. And Cryptonomicon isn't really a smash success on that front. There are some cool characters, like uber-Marine Bobby Shaftoe, but basically these are just people who do things. And it has to be said that Stephenson appears to have little or no grasp on how women operate. He clearly likes women - this isn't a misogynist book - I'm just not sure he's met very many of them.Which kinda ties into why I didn't totally love this book. It's impressively put together, but it's...well, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace very often; same conversational tone, same exceptional technical intelligence - but Stephenson is - how do I say this? - he's just not very cool. Which I know, you're like "Wait, you're comparing someone's coolness unfavorably to DFW? DFW wasn't exactly the coolest kid on the block, y'know." But he was! He wouldn't have said so, but he totally was cool. Maybe I can say it like this: DFW was a geek; Stephenson is a nerd.So this is a nerd epic. It succeeds at what it wants to be. I enjoyed it. I didn't love it.

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