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Cryptonomicon (1999)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
15,502258261 (4.2)519
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.
Recently added byGlenRH, mmmmaaaacccckkkk, pbeagan, BesselJ, private library, 100sheets, rloks, madar1a
Legacy LibrariesLeslie Scalapino
  1. 202
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (moonstormer)
  2. 132
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. 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
    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (S_Meyerson)
  4. 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.
  5. 112
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  6. 90
    The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh (S_Meyerson)
  7. 70
    Daemon by Daniel Suarez (simon_carr)
  8. 61
    Secrets and lies : digital security in a networked world by Bruce Schneier (bertilak)
  9. 40
    The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (ahstrick)
  10. 40
    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis (tomduck)
  11. 41
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
  12. 63
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (igorken)
  13. 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)
  14. 31
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Weaving fact and speculation, history and fiction, mysteries within mysteries
  15. 1716
    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. 22
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (psybre)
  17. 00
    Decoded by Mai Jia (hairball)
  18. 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.
  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 26 recommendations)

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» See also 519 mentions

English (247)  German (3)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Romanian (1)  Hungarian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (258)
Showing 1-5 of 247 (next | show all)
Another Neal Stephenson story following 2 story lines: one following code breakers in World War II, another a group of dot com entrepreneurs. Featuring fictionalized versions of names from the time including Alan Turing made it easier to identify with the characters. The first half of this very long book was tough to get through, with most of the payoff towards the end. The detailed descriptions of cryptography and theories about a digital currency were the most interesting part. ( )
  adamfortuna | May 28, 2021 |
I really loved this book, and the only reason it gets a 4-star (really, 4-1/2) rating from me is the too-quick ending. It also was a little tough to get into the first 50 or so pages, but that's a minor point. Stephenson's writing is so sharp, engaging, and often hilarious. He takes an incredibly convoluted story, spanning numerous characters' points of view, more than a dozen locations, and two timelines separated by 55 years, and manages to construct a long but compelling tale that's fascinating and informative on a bunch of levels. I've always enjoyed reading about WWII, but I never understood much about the cryptographic side of it. Most important, though, the book is filled with characters (related across the timelines) who are interesting and fun to spend time with--especially Bobby Shaftoe, Goto Dengo, Enoch Root, and the two Waterhouses. So it was a little disappointing that the ending seemed too quick. After 900 pages, I needed a little more conclusion after the climax. I guess what I'm saying is, he wrote 900 pages, why not another 50 or so? I'll have to pick up another of his books. ( )
  alexlubertozzi | May 24, 2021 |
Brilliant and maddening all at once. Plodding, no discernible plot, some brilliant writing, great characters, dull non-characters. All in the same book! ( )
  ktrout70 | Feb 22, 2021 |
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. ( )
1 vote unsquare | Feb 16, 2021 |
Needs editing

It's too long. (Spoilers) And modeling inheritance with the knapsack problem seemed very strange to me. Also the way Randy confirmed coordinates with GD could have been done more securely. But to keep it short I really didn't start to like it until after more than 500 pages in.
  hafsteinn | Feb 2, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 247 (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
Bonnefoy, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome 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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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.

No library descriptions found.

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)

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