Cryptonomicon (Cryptonomicon, #1)

ISBN: 0060512806
ISBN 13: 9780060512804
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

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, crypt analyst 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.

Reader's Thoughts


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.

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."

Kat Hooper

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is a lengthy historical fiction set during both World War II and the late 1990s with much of the action taking place in the Philippines. In the 1940s, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, colleague of Alan Turing, is hired by the U.S. Navy to help break Axis codes. Meanwhile, Marine Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, who's too enthusiastic and courageous for his own good, doesn't realize that his troop's job is to make it look like the U.S. hasn't broken the codes, but just happens to always be in the right place at the right time.Waterhouse and Shaftoe know each other only superficially, but their descendants, who've noticeably inherited some of their traits, meet in the 1990s storyline. Randy Lawrence Waterhouse is a systems administrator who's trying to set up an electronic banking system in the Philippines. There he meets Doug and Amy Shaftoe, a father and daughter team who are doing the underwater surveying for Randy's Internet cables. Randy and the Shaftoes eventually realize that they share a secret heritage and together they set out on a massive code-breaking treasure hunt.The plot of Cryptonomicon is clever and elaborate, sometimes exciting (e.g., most scenes with Bobby Shaftoe), frequently funny (such as when Ronald Reagan interviews Bobby Shaftoe, and when the Waterhouse family uses a complicated mathematical algorithm to divide up the family heirlooms), and always informative.Neal Stephenson's fans know (and love) that you can't read one of his books without learning a lot. Predictably, Cryptonomicon is chock full of information. If a character walks past a bank in China, you can bet you're in for a lecture on Chinese banking. If he sees a spider web dripping with dew, you'll be taught how spiders catch their prey. Character backstories are used to teach us about the history of the Jews in Eastern Europe or the familial habits of the Filipinos. In Cryptonomicon there are many pages that think they should be in a textbook on computer circuitry (and some that actually admit they belong in Letters to Penthouse). There are three pages devoted to a doctoral dissertation on facial hair and shaving fetishes, and another three pages of instruction on the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch.These divergences interrupt the plot and make the book much longer than it needs to be, but you just can't help but forgive Stephenson (or to at least smile and shake your head knowingly as if he has some sort of uncontrollable yet endearing pathology), when you see him poking fun at himself for this very thing. In one scene, Bobby Shaftoe thinks he's in "HELL'S DEMO" when he's forced to listen to someone "explain the organization of the German intelligence hierarchy." Though the lecture causes Shaftoe to hallucinate, the reader still manages to learn something about the Wehrmacht Nachrichten Verbindungen while being thankful to realize that Stephenson knows he has this "issue."It's easy to tell that Neal Stephenson loves to do research and loves to impart the knowledge he's gleaned, or ideas he's thought up, and it's hard to criticize him for this, especially since it's all done in his clever, colorful, and entertaining style, even if it's not always relevant to the plot. And sometimes these infodumps can really set a scene. Here's a very short example:"The Bletchley girls surround him. They have celebrated the end of their shift by applying lipstick. Wartime lipstick is necessarily cobbled together from whatever tailings and gristle were left over once all of the good stuff was used to coat propeller shafts. A florid and cloying scent is needed to conceal its unspeakable mineral and animal origins. It is the smell of War."Stephenson also delights in creating quirky similes:"Like the client of one of your less reputable pufferfish sushi chefs, Randy Waterhouse does not move from his assigned seat for a full ninety minutes..."Though I skimmed a few of Stephenson's longer tangents, I was nevertheless entertained by the clever plot of Cryptonomicon. I read the novel in two formats. One was Subterranean Press's signed limited edition which was printed on thick glossy paper and embellished with new artwork by Patrick Arrasmith, several graphs, and even some perl script. My Advanced Review Copy of this book weighs 4 pounds (and it was only paperback -- the published version is hardback). I also listened to MacMillan's audiobook read by William Dufris. I'm sure Cryptonomicon was not an easy book to read out loud, but Dufris did an amazing job, even actually sounding like Ronald Reagan during the Reagan interview.Cryptonomicon won the Locus Award in 2000 and was nominated for both the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards that year. Pretty big accomplishment for a book that's not even science fiction. For readers who haven't tried one of Neal Stephenson's books yet, Cryptonomicon is a good place to start.


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.


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.

Nathan Jerpe

Since this book had been on my to-read pile for something like fifteen years I felt compelled to review it, in the hopes that people like me who were on the fence could determine if it was worth the time investment. Going in I wasn't sure what to expect. I have long admired the two novels Stephenson wrote prior to this one, but his more recent stuff edges over into bloat and rambling territory.By my own highly subjective criteria the answer is a qualified yes. Cryptonomicon is essentially a survey course on an array of subjects - cryptology, Linux, mining engineering, Riemann's Zeta function, the War in the Pacific - which happens to have several threads of a comic book action narrative running through it. It is a book of impressive width but disappointing depth. Though it covers much more ground it lacks the insights of The Diamond Age published four years before. Didactic 10-20 page infodumps strike without warning and serve no rhetorical purpose other than to arouse curiosity on the subject at hand. A snide humor pervades the novel which I found hit or miss.The narrative consists of 103 alternating POV chapters shared by late-90s hacker Randy Waterhouse (geek), his grandfather and WWII-era cryptologist Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse (also geek), and a marine and morphine-addict named Bobby Shaftoe (patent badass) who is fighting in the war. All three characters are the fun and entertaining sort of folks you find in good action films. Stephenson skilfully develops a fourth POV thread in the second half. These heroes traverse the globe and have loosely coupled adventures in numerous settings, some more vivid than others. Stephenson's love of geography here is contagious and this was one of the few lessons in the book that I did not find heavy-handed. The plot though clear enough is not all that critical, really - Randy's tech startup buddies invest in the Phillippines only to find themselves entangled in the affairs of tech moguls, sultans, billionaire dentists, etc. who alternately take turns trying to beat them, join them, or rob them blind. In response to events their business plan evolves from a clever telecom enterprise into a data haven into something else entirely. In the meantime Stephenson deals out a WWII narrative replete with Guadalcanal-veteran Shaftoe's rock-em sock-em and plenty of proto-geekery from Lawrence Waterhouse, who has been assigned the part of a wartime codebreaker by the British. Connections between the two timeframes are satisfying even though that ingenious a-ha! moment I was hoping for, and which Stephenson is certainly capable of, never quite arrives.What really dominates here though is Stephenson's voice and style - a wild chugging rhythm that can turn great prose and lazy paragraphs in equal measure. Occasionally I would happen upon a stunning nugget of insight and find myself agreeing with some of the exuberant acclaim splashed all over the back cover - genius of geniuses! wild roller coaster ride! buckle up! Stephenson understands technology and cares about how it affects the world. But most of the time I was just having fun and not taking the techspeak too seriously, which is what I think Stephenson intended. Rather I was content to observe not so much a visionary mind as a ravenous one, unafraid of tunneling head on into new subjects, endlessly curious even as it hesitates to unearth any real new questions.

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).


** 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.

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 ...


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.

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.

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'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.

Megan Baxter

Reading this book was a lot like riding in a car that steadily picks up speed and then stalls out. I wanted to like it a great deal more than I ended up doing. I would be trucking along, really getting into it, starting to get eager about turning the page and finding out what was going to happen next, and then...some reference to "hairy-legged academic feminists" or the "Ejaculation Control Commission" or "those things women always say to manipulate men" and my enjoyment would come to a screeching halt. Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

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