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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon (original 1999; edition 2002)

by Neal Stephenson

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13,255207166 (4.22)426
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:Avon (2002), Mass Market Paperback, 1168 pages
Collections:Your library

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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999)

Recently added byprivate library, thukpa, jimifenway, MisaBookworm, roninsb, paulij, kzmbc, deldevries, elctrcmyhm
Legacy LibrariesLeslie Scalapino
  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. 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 by Simon Singh (S_Meyerson)
  5. 102
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  6. 81
    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (S_Meyerson)
  7. 71
    Secrets and lies : digital security in a networked world by Bruce Schneier (bertilak)
  8. 40
    The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (ahstrick)
  9. 51
    Daemon by Daniel Suarez (simon_carr)
  10. 40
    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis (tomduck)
  11. 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)
  12. 52
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (igorken)
  13. 31
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
  14. 20
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (psybre)
  15. 1614
    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.
  16. 10
    In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery (bertilak)
  17. 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.
  18. 21
    Enigma by Robert Harris (ianturton)
    ianturton: Another fictionalized look at Bletchly Park, shorter and with fewer Americans.
  19. 11
    The Martian by Andy Weir (sturlington)
    sturlington: If you like books with a lot of math in them...
  20. 00
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    themulhern: An exciting and tragic narrative with meditations on the effects of culture.

(see all 23 recommendations)


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» See also 426 mentions

English (198)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Romanian (1)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (207)
Showing 1-5 of 198 (next | show all)
The dual story, going back and forth between current day and WWII, was ok, but not very engaging. Made it to about page 200, 25%. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Learn perhaps more than you might want to know about WW2 and codebreaking. Some wonderfully written scenes, and also some characters with a wonderfully dry sense of humor. One of my favorite segments begins on page 315: "The room contains a few dozen living human bodies, each one a big sack of guts and fluids...built around an armature of 206 bones..." ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
A code breaking epic set over 3 generations ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
You ever have one of those days where you notice the same details over and over again? Like, the song on the radio appears to be stalking you, when it's not a new song, or the number 7 comes up a lot, or people seem to be stuck on the same vocabulary? There's a slightly strange term for this on the internet, the Bader-meinhof phenomenon (or, more boringly, the frequency illusion). It's the idea that new knowledge just keeps showing up. Reading Cryptonomicon is like that. Every single idea in the book related to something that I'd learned at some point, or witnessed in the world. And I couldn't imagine reading the book without all that background. It's a book I could only have read this year, only have read this late in the year, because otherwise I might have missed something. And I'm sure that when I inevitably return, I'll have found something new to focus on, and baader-meinhof myself all over again.

The actual plot concerns two different time periods, the slight pre-war through World War II, and the (I imagine) contemporary mid 1990s. It's hard to tell on the latter – there are cell phones and laptops, but we're still in the early days of the internet infrastructure, and Facebook definitely doesn't exist yet, nor does Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg, or, honestly, probably the Silk Road.

Anyway – in WWII, we follow a cryptographer and mathematician, a marine who does the work for him out in the world, and a Japanese friend of said marine. Each of them experiences a very different war, one which centers around (in order) Information and how to hide the fact that the Allies had it, Following bullshit orders from higher-ups, and Atrocities in the Pacific Theater. All of these elements share screentime, and all are highly compelling. You'll learn cryptography though them, but also diving, the beauty of morphine, and what happens when you're taken captive in a U-Boat. In the modern era, we meet the mathematician's grandson, himself a programmer, as he attempts to work with some of the smartest people on the planet to establish a data haven in a small island off the Philippines. Except, maybe, he's just finishing his grandfather's work, and solving a longrunning mystery about WWII. Oh, and the structural engineers on the project probably come from the same Japanese family. And his crew for internet infrastructure has a pretty familiar last name. Gradually, we learn that these families are still wound tightly together. And it becomes a race, to fix the problems of the past, for good reasons, possibly preventing the Holocaust.

The book is filled with knowledge dumps, but ones that come from doing. It steps in and out of expert voice, making sure that we laugh and giggle and grin when we get somewhere before the characters. But we also learn something. Everyone coming out of the book learns the Cryptonomicon itself, some method of decoding and concealing vital information. And that's the magic of the book – if the purpose of the present day work is to ensure that the suffering of World War II never happens again, the book itself is a HEAP (Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod), a way of informing the populace and protecting them against such prophecies. A more practical version of Borges and Indiana Jones thrown together. A must read. ( )
  Vermilious | Dec 27, 2015 |
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: [b:Snow Crash|830|Snow Crash|Neal Stephenson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320544000s/830.jpg|493634], [b:Anathem|2845024|Anathem|Neal Stephenson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1224107150s/2845024.jpg|6163095], [b:The Diamond Age|827|The Diamond Age|Neal Stephenson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320415915s/827.jpg|2181158] and Cryptonomicon. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 198 (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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephenson, Nealprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pannofino, GianniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peck, KellanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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
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.
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.
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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
Haiku summary
Encrypted message
Like an inaccessible
Mountain of gold bars

No descriptions found.

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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. By the author of The Diamond Age.

(summary from another edition)

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