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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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Cryptonomicon (original 1999; edition 2002)

by Neal Stephenson

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Member:w0rx
Title:Cryptonomicon
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:Avon (2002), Mass Market Paperback, 1168 pages
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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999)

20th century (52) adventure (49) alternate history (68) American (49) codes (46) computers (107) cryptography (595) cyberpunk (288) ebook (57) fantasy (65) fiction (1,423) historical (84) historical fiction (347) history (127) mathematics (127) Neal Stephenson (58) novel (180) own (77) Philippines (56) read (189) science fiction (1,265) sf (242) sff (85) speculative fiction (54) technology (64) thriller (88) to-read (142) unread (96) war (67) WWII (411)
  1. 192
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (moonstormer)
  2. 122
    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. 80
    The Code Book by Simon Singh (S_Meyerson)
  4. 80
    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.
  5. 102
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  6. 81
    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (S_Meyerson)
  7. 60
    Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World by Bruce Schneier (bertilak)
  8. 51
    Daemon by Daniel Suarez (simon_carr)
  9. 40
    The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (ahstrick)
  10. 52
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (igorken)
  11. 30
    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis (tomduck)
  12. 20
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (psybre)
  13. 20
    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)
  14. 1413
    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.
  15. 10
    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.
  16. 21
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
  17. 00
    Decoded: A Novel by Mai Jia (hairball)
  18. 11
    Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (MarkYoung)
    MarkYoung: Similar humour, in this intelligent historical novel.
  19. 00
    In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery (bertilak)
  20. 11
    Enigma by Robert Harris (ianturton)
    ianturton: Another fictionalized look at Bletchly Park, shorter and with fewer Americans.

(see all 21 recommendations)

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» See also 371 mentions

English (180)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Romanian (1)  Swedish (1)  Hungarian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (188)
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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. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Lightning strikes every now and again. Piers Anthony (yes, he was a good writer, once!), had "The Macroscope", Joseph Heller had "Catch 22", and Neal Stephenson has "Cryptonomicon."
This is a marvelous mash-up of WWII, Computer start-up fantasy and the world of cryptography. Just lie back and let the book take you away, like Dorothy's twister to Oz. You won't be the same, and that will be good!
And.. Stephenson is still working out there, so I live in hope of more of this kind of thing from him.. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Feb 28, 2014 |
engaging characters, interesting situations, and some good one liners, but... not all that. Stephenson tries too hard to be cool, and too many weird, long digressions. I don't want to read three pages about Captain Crunch, nor do I want to read a 5 page letter to Penthouse. I will admit, some of the digressions are brilliant, but he misses quite a bit as well. ( )
  bradgers | Feb 6, 2014 |
It had been a few years since I'd read anything by Stephenson, so I'd forgotten what a hilarious writer he is. This a rip-roaring adventure tale, set both during World War II and modern times, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to read. This book has actually been on my shelf for a pretty long time, thoroughly untouched because of the sheer length. However, I'm glad I finally got up the nerve to crack it open and read it, because even at 1000 pages it was a brisk and entertaining read. I'm sure I could have finished it weeks ago if not for all of the time I spent getting read to move at the start of the month. Highly recommended, easily in my top 10 for the year even this early on. ( )
  unsquare | Feb 6, 2014 |
I picked the book up on a recommendation of a friend. A fairly good read. Plodding in pace in places - sometimes confusing as it jumps between the past and the present with the storyline. His descriptions of various computer geek methodologies is excellent, and worth the read of the book. Its a massive tome standing at 1152 pages, so its size can be quite daunting. Rest assured, that he brings everything to an excellent boil towards the end. ( )
  TommyElf | Jan 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
''Cryptonomicon,'' on the other hand, is a wet epic -- as eager to please as a young-adult novel, it wants to blow your mind while keeping you well fed and happy. For the most part, it succeeds. It's brain candy for bitheads.
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pannofino, GianniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peck, KellanDesignersecondary 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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (6)

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
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More than fifty years after Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse and Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe are assigned to Detachment 2702, a secret cryptographic mission, their grandchildren--Randy and Amy--join forces to create a "data haven" in the South Pacific, only to uncover a massive conspiracy with roots in Deta… (more)

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