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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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Cryptonomicon (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Neal Stephenson (Author)

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14,561235254 (4.2)495
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.
Member:dharding
Title:Cryptonomicon
Authors:Neal Stephenson (Author)
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2000), 928 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading
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Work details

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999)

  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. 63
    The Alienist by Caleb Carr (igorken)
  12. 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)
  13. 31
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
  14. 1715
    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. 31
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Weaving fact and speculation, history and fiction, mysteries within mysteries
  16. 22
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (psybre)
  17. 00
    Decoded by Mai Jia (hairball)
  18. 00
    The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt (themulhern)
    themulhern: Alan Turing is a significant character in both. He is a friend of a protagonist in Cryptonomicon from his time at Princeton until his work on encryption of voice. And of course he is the subject of the biography. Many events and concepts turn up in both works. In both books, he seems a rather appealing person, someone you would like to know even though he might tire you out w/ his eccentricities.… (more)
  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 495 mentions

English (223)  German (3)  Italian (3)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Romanian (1)  Hungarian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (235)
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
Holy cow, this book was long. I read it on the Kindle, so I'm not sure how long exactly, but took quite a while to get through! It also took quite a while to get /into/. Probably hundreds of pages deep before being invested in each of the story lines. Stephenson uses almost as much descriptive narrative as Tolkien in this book, and a lot of it is hilarious. It also seemed like a bit of an answer to Catch 22 in some ways.

Overall, the story was (or "stories") excellent. The math and crypto was sound, the history (what wasn't made up) was solid, and the libertarian / cyber security concepts still quite valid today.

I'd definitely recommend this book, but only to someone who has enough patience to read the entire Hobbit / LOTR series in one go. ( )
1 vote Mactastik | Sep 4, 2019 |
Meh. What started out well just petered out in the end. Really really disappointing ending. Baroque Cycle is much better. ( )
  nushustu | Aug 5, 2019 |
A decade or so ago I read and enjoyed Neal Stephenson's 8-book series, The Baroque Cycle. I've finally followed up on reading this single-volume tome that has connections to that series, albeit set in a different time. All of these books are historical novels that incorporate Stephenson's interests in cryptography, mathematics, currency, banking, and philosophy. They also include characters from the Waterhouse and Shaftoe families and the mysterious Enoch Root. Cryptonomicon was published prior to The Baroque Cycle, but the latter is set in the 17th and 18th centuries, while Cryptonomicon is a 20th century story.

Cryptonomicon features two interweaving plot lines. The first story is set during World War II and focuses the Allies' effort to win the war by breaking Germany's enigma code. Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is an American mathmetician who works with the historical figure Alan Turing at Bletchley Park and is put in charge of a detachment that stages events behind enemy lines to deceive the Germans on how the Allies are gathering intelligence, when in actuality they've broken Enigma. Bobby Shaftoe is an experienced Marine Raider drafted into the detachment who has various adventures around the world - many of them ludicrous. Goto Dengo is a Japanese officer and engineer who suffers some of the worst effects of the Allies cryptographic knowledge in some of the most gruesome descriptions of war in the book, and then is put in charge of Japan's efforts to bury gold in caverns in the Phillipines.

The other storyline is set in the 1990s and tells the story of a tech startup company co-lead by Randy Waterhouse (Lawrence's grandson). His company sets up a data haven on fictional island sultanate near the Phillipines. He hires Vietnam veteran Doug Shaftoe (Bobby's son) and his daughter Amy to do the underwater surveying for laying cables. Complications arise when the discover gold under the sea. The ageless Enoch Root plays a part in both stories.

I found the World War II story more interesting than the 1990s story. There just isn't much that grabbed me aboutthe tech-bros and the nerd culture only faintly hides a toxic masculinity. In fact, this book is a sausage fest, with Amy Shaftoe the only promiment female character, and her major role is as Randy's love interest. The Baroque Cycle was also tilted heavily toward male characters but it least it had Eliza who had agency as a spy and financier and was a major driver of the plot.

So I guess this is a half-good novel? Albeit the signifigance of the WWII story would be less apparent without the 1990s story.

Favorite Passages:
Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.



“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. “Then I won’t.”



“Some complain that e-mail is impersonal—that your contact with me, during the e-mail phase of our relationship, was mediated by wires and screens and cables. Some would say that’s not as good as conversing face-to-face. And yet our seeing of things is always mediated by corneas, retinas, optic nerves, and some neural machinery that takes the information from the optic nerve and propagates it into our minds. So, is looking at words on a screen so very much inferior? I think not; at least then you are conscious of the distortions. Whereas, when you see someone with your eyes, you forget about the distortions and imagine you are experiencing them purely and immediately.”



“But before this war, all of this gold was out here, in the sunlight. In the world. Yet look what happened.” Goto Dengo shudders. “Wealth that is stored up in gold is dead. It rots and stinks. True wealth is made every day by men getting up out of bed and going to work. By schoolchildren doing their lessons, improving their minds. Tell those men that if they want wealth, they should come to Nippon with me after the war. We will start businesses and build buildings.” ( )
1 vote Othemts | May 13, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 223 (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.
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(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)

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