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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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Cryptonomicon (1999)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Baroque Cycle (Book 0)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
14,324233249 (4.2)484
Recently added byprivate library, lthomson, niallh, Vegberger, ISCCSandy, amlevine, storystory, businessLibMatt, thea-block
Legacy LibrariesLeslie Scalapino
  1. 202
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (moonstormer)
  2. 132
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (Zaklog)
    Zaklog: Cryptonomicon strikes me as the kind of book that Hofstadter would write if he wrote fiction. Both books are complex, with discursive passages on mathematics and a positively weird sense of humor. If you enjoyed (rather than endured) the explanatory sections on cryptography and the charts of Waterhouse's love life (among other, rarely charted things) you should really like this book.… (more)
  3. 100
    The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet by David Kahn (grizzly.anderson)
    grizzly.anderson: A great and fairly easy to read history of much of the history and cryptography the novel is based on.
  4. 90
    The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh (S_Meyerson)
  5. 112
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  6. 91
    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (S_Meyerson)
  7. 61
    Secrets and lies : digital security in a networked world by Bruce Schneier (bertilak)
  8. 61
    Daemon by Daniel Suarez (simon_carr)
  9. 40
    The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (ahstrick)
  10. 40
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Weaving fact and speculation, history and fiction, mysteries within mysteries
  11. 1814
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (lorax)
    lorax: Seriously. A big fat book immersing the reader in a bizarre and alien culture, with well-written infodumps on subjects of interest to the narrator interspersed throughout the story. It's a very Stephenson-esque book.
  12. 40
    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis (tomduck)
  13. 63
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (igorken)
  14. 30
    PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (daysailor, Widsith)
    daysailor: Same kind of edgy writing, intertwining cryptography history with good story-telling
    Widsith: More cryptography and conspiracy and earnest philosophical asides (though Thomas writes women characters a lot better than Stephenson)
  15. 31
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (psybre)
  16. 31
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
  17. 00
    Join by Steve Toutonghi (jbizroe)
  18. 00
    In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery (bertilak)
  19. 11
    Enigma by Robert Harris (ianturton)
    ianturton: Another fictionalized look at Bletchly Park, shorter and with fewer Americans.
  20. 00
    Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II by Stephen Budiansky (Busifer)
    Busifer: Many of the events featuring in Stephenson's Cryptonomicon have actually happened and while Budiansky isn't the most eloquent author his book is an interesting companion read.

(see all 25 recommendations)

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» See also 484 mentions

English (221)  German (3)  Italian (3)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Romanian (1)  Hungarian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (233)
Showing 1-5 of 221 (next | show all)
A triumph for Stephenson, this novel is three in one. The stories interweave and correlate with one another and the scope is epic. There is much to be liked here, but sometimes the action-- and prose, falls a little far from the line.

3 stars-- still recommended. Well worth the effort. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Apr 3, 2019 |
This densely-packed, complex novel explores a range of stories centring on cryptanalysis and the fate of Nazi looted gold during World War 2. Action is centred fairly much in the Phillipines, but with excursions to Shanghai, Bletchley Park, North Africa, the north of Scotland, the coast of Norway, the Gulf of Bothnia and West Coast America, as intertwined fates work out their destinies. Along the way, readers will pick up a lot of coincidental stuff about cryptanalysis. The highly mathematical parts can be skimmed (I would suggest skimming rather than skipping, as they are central to the story).

Much of the writing is in a rather circular style, sometimes reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse and almost as funny; other segments have more in common with William Gibson, especially his very near future 'Blue Ant' novels. Some of the wartime segments bear more than a passing resemblence to 'Catch-22', especially those involving General MacArthur. The action switches between World War 2 and the "present day" (1990s), where two entrepreneurs are trying to establish a data haven and cryptocurrency vault in the Phillippines. Although Stephenson has a reputation as a science fiction writer, this is not particularly a science fiction novel, although Stephenson writes with an sf writer's sensibilities; he knows the hacker community and their interests and attitudes, and that includes accepting science-fictional ideas as a given.

The technology in this novel is around twenty years out of date, but only in terms of detail. A reader who knows anything about IT will be at home here, and will have a proper understanding of the technological implications of what the characters are trying to do and how they are trying to do it. With all the hype about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies about at the moment, it's interesting to see the genesis of those things in fictional form.

And then, towards the end, there is a stunning scene between two of the protagonists which throws the whole Nazi gold story into sharp relief.

Ultimately, this book is about the foundations of our modern world - power, money, information and the rise of Pacific Rim economies. Plus some hints of conspiracy theories which don't involve the Usual Suspects... ( )
3 vote RobertDay | Mar 30, 2019 |
another great yarn from Neal Stephenson. The story touches quite a broad range of subjects: cryptology, WWII history, hackers' community, cryptocurrency (before the bitcoin), etc. ( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
I didn't read much of anything else for the 6 days it took, but I finally finished this 42 hour audiobook... and I liked it! The story unfolds in two timelines - WWII and the 1990s tech boom - and the characters in both are very engaging. There's a whole lot of nerdy stuff, humor, and action. I didn't like this nearly as much as Seveneves, but Neal Stephenson is pretty incredible. ( )
  sprainedbrain | Dec 1, 2018 |
Good stuff. Keeps you thinking and actually puts working cryptography in the book! Now you too can be a secret agent!

I really like the way he keeps the storyline going in two different timelines, then ties them together. ( )
  snotbottom | Sep 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 221 (next | show all)
You'd think such a web of narratives would be hard to follow. Certainly, it's difficult to summarize. But Stephenson, whose science-fiction novels Snow Crash (1992) and The Diamond Age (1995) have been critical and commercial successes despite difficult plotting, has made a quantum jump here as a writer. In addition to his bravura style and interesting authorial choices (Stephenson tells each of his narratives in the present tense, regardless of when they occur chronologically), the book is so tightly plotted that you never lose the thread.

But Stephenson is not an author who's content just to tell good stories. Throughout the book, he takes on the task of explaining the relatively abstruse technical disciplines surrounding cryptology, almost always in ways that a reasonably intelligent educated adult can understand. As I read the book I marked in the margins where Stephenson found opportunities to explain the number theory that underlies modern cryptography; "traffic analysis" (deriving military intelligence from where and when messages are sent and received, without actually decoding them); steganography (hiding secret messages within other, non-secret communications); the electronics of computer monitors (and the security problems created by those monitors); the advantages to Unix-like operating systems compared to Windows or the Mac OS; the theory of monetary systems; and the strategies behind high-tech business litigation. Stephenson assumes that his readers are capable of learning the complex underpinnings of modern technological life.
added by SnootyBaronet | editReason, Mike Godwin (Feb 20, 1999)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephenson, Nealprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gräbener-Müller, JulianeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pannofino, GianniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peck, KellanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stingl, NikolausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"There is a remarkably close parallel between the problems of the physicist and those of the cryptographer. The system on which a message is enciphered corresponds to the laws of the universe, the intercepted messages to the evidence available, the keys for a day or a message to important constants which have to be determined. The correspondence is very close, but the subject matter of cryptography is very easily dealt with by discrete machinery, physics not so easily." —Alan Turing
This morning [Imelda Marcos] offered the latest in a series of explanations of the billions of dollars that she and her husband, who died in 1989, are believed to have stolen during his presidency.
"It so coincided that Marcos had money," she said. "After the Bretton Woods agreement he started buying gold from Fort Knox. Three thousand tons, then 4,000 tons. I have documents for these: 7,000 tons. Marcos was so smart. He had it all. It's funny; America didn't understand him." —The New York Times, Monday, 4 March, 1996
Dedication
To S. Town Stephenson,
who flew kites from battleships
First words
Two tires fly. Two wail.
A bamboo grove, all chopped down.
From it, warring sounds.
Quotations
He is disappointed because he has solved the problem, and has gone back to the baseline state of boredom and low-level irritation that always comes over him when he's not doing something that inherently needs to be done, like picking a lock or breaking a code.
The ineffable talent for finding patterns in chaos cannot do its thing unless he immerses himself in the chaos first.
This conspiracy thing is going to be a real pain in the ass if it means backing down from casual fistfights.
LET’S SET THE existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo—which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn’t a stupendous badass was dead.
Randy is a little bit turned around, but eventually homes in on a dimly heard electronic cacophony—digitized voices prophesying war—and emerges into the mall’s food court.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Neal Stephenson enjoys cult status among science fiction fans and techie types thanks to Snow Crash, which so completely redefined conventional notions of the high-tech future that it became a self- fulfilling prophecy. But if his cyberpunk classic was big, Cryptonomicon is huge, gargantuan, massive-- not just in size but in scope and appeal. It's the hip, readable heir to Gravity's Rainbow and the Illuminatus trilogy. And it's only the first of a proposed series--for more information, read our interview with Stephenson.

Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods- -World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, cryptanalyst extraordinaire, and gung ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first. Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed. Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."

All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.

Cryptonomicon is vintage Stephenson from start to finish: short on plot, but long on detail and so precise it's exhausting. Every page has a math problem, a quotable in-joke, an amazing idea or a bit of sharp prose. Cryptonomicon is also packed with truly weird characters, funky tech, and crypto--all the crypto you'll ever need, in fact, not to mention all the computer jargon of the moment. A word to the wise: if you read this book in one sitting, you may die of information overload (and starvation). --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com
Haiku summary
Encrypted message
Like an inaccessible
Mountain of gold bars
(swensonj)

No descriptions found.

(see all 2 descriptions)

An American computer hacker operating in Southeast Asia attempts to break a World War II cypher to find the location of a missing shipment of gold. The gold was stolen by the Japanese during the war. Bouncing between World War II and the World Wide Web, Cryptonomicon follows the exploits of Lawrence Waterhouse, a young mathematical genius assigned to a highly secretive outfit that has cracked the fabled Nazi enigma code.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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