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Paperback Cryptonomicon Book

ISBN: 0380788624

ISBN13: 9780380788620

Cryptonomicon

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Book Overview

With this extraordinary first volume in an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse--mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy--is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

One of our centuries great and underrated writers!

If you like Bill Gibson, you may like this book - and Neal Stephenson - even more. Back and forth from current/future to WWII, this is really unique, fun and rewording reading!

Ultimate Geek Book

I admit it. I'm a geek. Always have been, always will be. I make most of my living convincing computers to transform radar signals into graphs and plots useful for aeronomers. This book was one of my favorite novels of all time. I bought my brother-in-law (he used to paint his own D & D figures, that gives him a solid geek pedigree) a copy for his birthday. Three days later he called me to voice obscenities: "You @%$#! That's the best book I've ever read and I can't put it down ... but it's 900 PAGES!!!" I enjoy Stephenson's style. He dances between story lines, weaving a tale of espionage, counter-espionage, information-age hi jinks, and a lost fortune. He paints pictures that a non-visual person (like myself) can =SEE=, but without breaking the action. Frequently the story suggests, then moves on, allowing the reader to fill in the obvious.Four stars for an interesting plot. Five stars for inventing the proto-cyberpunk genre. Five stars for a graceful dance between story lines, images, and suggestion. Altogether a pleasant experience. Don't miss it if you're a geek. If you're not already a geek, it's worth becoming one just to appreciate this book!(If you'd like to respond to this review, please click on the "about me" link above and drop me an email. Thanks!)

Mathematics never looked so exciting

CRYPTONOMICON, written by Neal Stephenson, is a big book. Big. BIG. Bordering on HUGE. It has innumerable characters, enough plot to fill several books, and a theme that is presented in such exhaustive detail at some points that the reader has to lie down for awhile to absorb it all. It is a BIG book.Thank God it's also funny.Besides being an in-depth look at the world of hackers, cryptography, modern-day treasure hunters, World War II, tunnel digging, espionage, and more; Besides ALL that, CRYPTONOMICON may very well be the funniest book I've read since THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.Basically, Stepehenson follows two plot lines. In the first, he follows Lawrence Waterhouse, mathematician extrordinaire, as he becomes a foremost expert on the subject of code-making and code-breaking. Considering the usefullness of this gift, he is a) recruited as a code-breaker for the United States during World War II, b) sent to far off countires with names spelled without the use of vowels, and c) becomes a pioneer in the creation of the digital computer.In the second plot line, Stephenson follows Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence's grandson, who is involved in setting up a 'data haven', whereby sensitive material from any source can be safely stored, for a price. But he soon becomes embroiled in a) the legal machinations of a billionaire known only as the Dentist, b) a scheme to create his own electronic currency, and c) a mad rush to dig up a Nipponese gold stash that has remained hidden since World War II.Whew.Obviously, CRYPTONOMICON is not to everyone's taste. It demands a great deal of patience, as Stephenson spends a large amount of time explaining the background and inner workings of computers, and code-breaking. However, Stephenson manages the near impossible; he creates excitement out of the most tedious technical explanations. I have read entire novels not half as interesting or suspenseful as Stephenson's desciption of the mathematics of a particular form of cryptography.But Stephenson is not merely content to explain codes, he explains EVERYTHING: the ideal method of consuming Cap'n Crunch cereal; how to equally divide up an inheritance; how nitrogen bubbles are created in the bloodstream; and so on. Half the pleasure in Stephenson's work (and it IS a pleasure) is wondering where the next digression is going to come from, or from what new angle he'll approach a scenario. Stephenson is not a man lacking for ideas. In lesser hands, this could all seem quite precious and smug, but Stephenson never condescends. And if you don't understand the concepts, it doesn't matter, the novel still works without one-hundred-percent comprehension.Ideas aside, CRYPTONOMICON is still a splendid read. With literally hundreds of characters, Stephenson manages to keep each one of them distinct, and his interwoven time lines are remarkable in their clarity. The ending seems a letdown, but how could it not be? After 900 pages, anything less than nucl

Not just a genre writer anymore

OK, read "Snow Crash" or "Diamond Age" if you're into that sort of thing. Stephenson did a pretty good job of writing two half-books, but in each case wandered off into the kind of goofy arcane mysticism that was part of the formula in a lot of '70s/'80s science fiction. "Cryptonomicon" is another book entirely. I don't know what you read for, but in fiction I look for complex plot, serious treatment of interesting technology, in-depth characterization of unusual people the author makes me care about, and a joy of craft. Stephenson knows cryptography (he's written a non-fiction book on it) and computing (another book, on operating systems); part of what this book is about is the early-'40s roots and the right-now flowering of both disciplines. He buries those four strands in parallel narratives of a grandfather and grandson who are both of a type that I recognize: seriously smart people who (when they think of it) have to work to be aware of the social life that surrounds them. One of Stephenson's achievements is that he gets into the heads of both of these people, giving the reader a sympathetic and recognizably geek-eye view of the world. Oh, yeah, there's also a sympathetic portrayal of a Marine sergeant who's a bit of a geek, himself: his attitude towards the social arts is best summed up on one of his lines: "Sir, no sir! But I do detect a strong odor of politics in the room now, sir!"As to joy of craft, the guy's writing is somewhere between Dave Barry and Hunter Thompson -- embedded in the book are long riffs that further the story or deepen the characterization but that could stand on their own as examples of pure creative "I'm doing this because I can" story-telling. The tale of Randy's wisdom teeth is a perfect example -- read from page 776 through to the kicker sentence at the bottom of page 779 and you'll get a new perspective on Randy (the grandson), oral surgeons, and Stephenson.Well worth the read.

It's in the words

The joy of reading Neil Stephenson is in the words. There's nothing in Cryptonomicon plot-wise that can't be found in a Len Deighton or (shudder) Clive Cussler novel, but the sturdily constructed and imaginatively embroidered plot constitutes about, oh, 5 percent of the worth and the fun of the book.The other 95 percent is Neil Stephenson's way with words. Neil is Mr. Word Choice. Mr. Clever Word Choice. Mr. This Word Will Make You Laugh at an Otherwise Inappropriate Time Choice. But ONE THOUSAND pages of Sardonic Word Choices? That should get old. Other writers tread the edge between sardonic and cynical. Stephen King does it but he bails out into the horrible. Tom Clancy does it (increasingly competently) but he bails out into the gory. Stephenson begins by righting himself on the knife-edge of his wit and starts off at a faster than normal walking tempo toward his destination. Then after a while is making headlong dashes right down that same gleaming divider as if he didn't know it was supposed to slice him in half with a somewhat silly result. But he keeps going and you're both reading the story and waiting for the literary wreck, which never comes.Aside from the hours you'll spend discovering that you don't need William F. Buckley's vocabulary to delight yourself with words, another pleasant aspect of Stephenson's books is that any character whose company you share for more than a pair of paragraphs turns out to be intelligent. You know those subplotted suspense potboilers where you're forced to spend every fifth chapter with some very determined person motivated by extreme and permanent hatred, but possessing the subtlety and mental skill of a tractor tire? Wrong book. Not found here.Cryptonomicon isn't science fiction, per se; it's a suspense novel set in a more or less Earth-normal setting, although a few proper names get changed for apparently whimsical reasons (Linux becomes Finux--"Finland", get it?). It could form the basis of additional works set in the near future, of course.I'm delighted to see an accomplished word-mangler like Stephenson enjoy success. He's exceedingly good at what he does, but don't think he's unique! If you enjoy his style you should check out some other authors with exceptional prose skills and a wry sense of humor: R. A. Lafferty, Robert Anton Wilson (I recommend the Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories), early Fred Pohl, and of course Kurt Vonnegut.

Hacker's delight - others will enjoy it too

Stephenson's writing style is unique: flippant, indulgent and fun. He doesn't mind pausing for 2 or even 5 pages to set up the perfect metaphor. You won't see a highly delinieated plot but a playful flow from scene to scene through the book. I found the characters interesting, the story worthwhile, and the writing amazing. I love it whole heartedly, but I'm a Computer Scientist. I understand the programs, the math, and the cryptography which comes up from time to time. People totally unfamiliar with it will find these sections boring, possibly pompous. I think you can skip over these without losing the story.Even though the writing style is usually light-hearted, Stephenson does tackle big topics. A major focus is on the role of money in a society. He also looks at anticipation being more enjoyable than the actual event, especially in relationships.If you're a hacker - buy it without thought. If you're not a hacker - stop by a brick-and-mortar store, read a few pages, and, if you like what you see, take a chance. Truly, I can't think of a book I enjoyed more. Besides, if you read it you'll find out what the phrase "the most cigarettes" means. :)
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