Cryptonomicon

ISBN: 344254193X
ISBN 13: 9783442541935
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

Dank Snow Crash genießt Neal Stephenson Kultstatus unter Science-Fiction-Fans und Technologie-Freaks. Das Buch hat die konventionellen Vorstellungen der High-Tech-Zukunft derart neu definiert, dass es zu einer sich selbst bewahrheitenden Voraussage wurde. Wenn dieser Cyberpunk-Klassiker groß war, dann ist Cryptonomicon riesig, enorm, gewaltig -- nicht nur aufgrund seines schieren Umfangs (circa 900 Seiten), sondern auch in seinem Reiz. Es ist der zeitgemäße, lesenswerte Nachfolger von Die Enden der Parabel und der Illuminatus-Trilogie. Darüber hinaus ist es auch das erste Buch einer geplanten Serie. Cryptonomicon zoomt durch die ganze Welt und rast verschwörerisch zwischen zwei Zeiten hin und her -- dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und der Gegenwart. Die zwei Helden aus den 40er-Jahren sind der glänzende Mathematiker Lawrence Waterhouse, ein außerordentlicher Kryptoanalytiker, und der übereifrige, morphiumsüchtige Bobby Shaftoe von den US-Marines. Sie gehören zum Sonderkommando 2702, einer Alliiertengruppe, die versucht, die Kommunikationskodes der Achsenmächte zu knacken. Gleichzeitig ist sie bemüht zu verhindern, dass der Feind dahinter kommt, dass ihre eigenen Kodes bereits geknackt sind. Unter dem Strich besteht ihre Aufgabe aus einer Täuschung nach der anderen. Dr. Alan Turing, der ebenfalls zum Sonderkommando 2702 gehört, erklärt Waterhouse die seltsame Arbeitsweise der Einheit: "Wenn wir einen Konvoi versenken wollen, schicken wir erst ein Beobachtungsflugzeug hinaus... Das Observieren ist natürlich nicht seine eigentliche Aufgabe -- wir wissen schon längst, wo sich der Konvoi befindet. Seine eigentliche Aufgabe besteht darin, selbst beobachtet zu werden... wenn wir dann kommen, um sie zu versenken, schöpfen die Deutschen keinen Verdacht." Diese ganze Geheimnistuerei spiegelt sich in der Gegenwartshandlung wider, in der sich die Enkel der Weltkriegshelden -- der unnachahmliche Programmierfreak Randy Waterhouse und die schöne und starke Amy Shaftoe -- zusammentun, um in Südostasien eine Offshore-Datenoase zu schaffen und nach Möglichkeit auch den Verbleib von Gold aufzudecken, das für die Schatulle der Nazis bestimmt war. Um den paranoiden Ton der Geschichte abzurunden, taucht der mysteriöse Enoch Root, einer der Topangehörigen des Sonderkommandos 2702 und der Societas Eruditorium, mit einem nicht dechiffrierbaren Verschlüsselungskonzept aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg auf, um die Protagonisten von 1990 mit verschwörerischen Verbindungen zu verwirren. Cryptonomicon ist von der ersten bis zur letzten Seite Neal Stephenson vom Feinsten: knapp in der Handlung, aber erschöpfend präzise im Detail. Jede Seite enthält eine Mathematikaufgabe, einen zitierbaren Insider-Witz, eine faszinierende Idee oder ein Stückchen beißender Prosa. Cryptonomicon ist zudem voll gepackt mit wahrhaft seltsamen Figuren -- irren Technologie- und Kryptofreaks und mehr Kryptologie, als man jemals brauchen wird -- vom gegenwärtigen Computerjargon einmal ganz abgesehen. Vorsicht: Wenn Sie dieses Buch in einem Zug lesen, könnten Sie einer Informationsüberlastung (und dem Hungertod) zum Opfer fallen. --Therese Littleton

Reader's Thoughts

Krissa

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.

Clouds

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.

Tracey

---------------Previously read Aug 2003It's been a while since I've had to work so hard on a book, but Cryptonomicon was well worth it.Randy Waterhouse, a computer whiz and all around nebbish, is the grandson of Lawrence Waterhouse, a math whiz and all around nebbish; the book follows their semi-separate stories. Lawrence is recruited by the US Armed Forces to break various crypto codes during WWII, while Randy works for a company that is developing a secure data storage facility in the South Seas.Their lives intersect at various points with members of the Shaftoe family - Bobby, the WWII marine who is either very good or damn lucky (or both!), and Amy, a marine recovery diver - as well as other characters, one of whom I'm slightly embarrassed I didn't see coming. I also wish I knew more about the activities in the Pacific theater during WWII - although I didn't feel it was required.The two storylines are rollercoasters - looping, curving and soaring through somewhat parallel timelines, and somehow ending in more or less the same place. This book expects you to be smart, and rewards you accordingly. There is history, humour, horror and even a couple of love stories along the way. A definite recommendation to anyone who is looking for a challenging read and is willing to get lost in its 900+ pages for a while. I'll be putting this on my ReReads shelf....

Michelle

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.

Rob

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

WK

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.

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

Jeff

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.

Phil

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.

Russell

** 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.

Matt

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.

Conrad

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.

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 Audible.com. 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."

Eric_W

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.

Apatt

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.

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