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With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be 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 it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Watrehouse and Detatchment 2702-commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.
Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia - a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails grandaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi sumarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.
A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, CRYPTONOMICON is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought, and creative daring; the product of a truly icon
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 (a hefty 918 pages including appendices) 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 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
- Long and glorious.
Neal Stephenson is a fantastic writer, and his skills truly shine in Cryptonomicon. Yes, it's a long book, but I suggest to all those who find fault with Stephenson's long-windedness that brevity is not somehow 'better' than verbosity, it's just different. Stephenson has carved his own niche in the continuum of writing-style, and, yes, it's in the Long-Winded-Land area of the spectrum. Is it a good style despite this? YES. Stephenson is incredibly deft with words, and the telling of his story is extremely effective. Cryptonomicon made me laugh, cry, and feel ill to my stomach at times (in a good way!). The dialogue is witty as usual for Stephenson, the plot is dense, multifarious, and fascinating, and the characters are well-developed. What more could you ask for? I recommend 'Cryptonomicon' to you, yes, YOU....more info
- THE JUNGLE BOOK
When you're in a bookstore the CRYPTONOMICON doesn't look all that intimidating. You've seen tons of books this thick by Tom Clancy and Robert Jordan--and probably read some or all of them with no problem.
But online here at Amazon you only see the page numbers--a whopping 1100 + !!!
Now for the important question: Is it worth your time turning all these pages?
LOCATIONS: A book this thick has to have some interesting locations, and it does: From pre-WWII Shanghai, the jungles of the Philippines, England, Italy, Sweden, Japan and Australia. I've never been to the Philippines but I felt like the author did a good job of describing it.
CHARACTERS: There are several main characters (all male) and the author takes turns telling each of their stories, which is a good way to break up any monotony. I wasn't able to really visualize what the characters looked like, but their individual actions and adventures more than make up for that. Some characters are of the nerdy suit-and-tie type and others are of the practical military-gear toting-type.
FUN: Is this a fun book to read? If you like humor and geeky "Gee Whiz" sort of information every now and then, this book has plenty of it. I especially found the part about Van Eck Phreaking really interesting--and something only the most paranoid of people would worry about. There is lots of history, most of it dealing with the Pacific Theater of WWII that I did not know before, since most games and books seem to dwell on the European side of that War.
OVERALL: If you want to read a book with some variety in location, rich in history and sub-plots that don't seem connected until much later, then I definitely recommend this book. It's a jungle of a book, but sometimes the jungle is where you find the rarest treasure. ...more info
This is a staggeringly clever book, extremely well written. Not an easy read, but so funny and insightful that one never minds the effort. Carry it everywhere and savor it slowly....more info
- A Gripping Thriller with excellent Mental Stimulation.
The book's heavy - so right away you know its going to be either really good or really bad right?
Well, this one's a real keeper. A story, told from several vantage points across two generations of several families related by blood and circumstance. There's all the action of a WWII thriller - with fighting in trenches and jungles and taking out pill boxes on remote Pacific islands. But, for me the most interesting part was the Information Science and the journey into cryptography that Neal Stephenson leads you on as you progress through the book - easy to understand, but quite stimulating to ponder for those neophytes not acquainted with the fields of encryption or cryptography. There's love stories, crazy geeks with amazing toys and luxury tech equipment and more exciting twists than you'll believe. There's Gold, Silver, espionage, fighting, and more than I expected when I picked up the book - it kept me gripped from the first to the last page and the story rounded out to the perfect resolution.
It was a long read, but Neal Stephenson needed every page to get the story down that he did - and it was worth the investment of time to enjoy the story he crafted for us. Thanks Neal!
- Neal Stephenson: Authentic Genius or Certified Wacko...
Got a month of free reading time? And that's free time for ONE book? This isn't a condemnation of Cryptonomicon by any means, just a warning to those who pick it up. Because once you start reading, chances are you won't be able to stop.
Author Neal Stephenson is either an authentic genius or a certified wacko (or both), because Cryptonomicon is so intricate, so layered, and so engrossing, that someone who could write this much material, and contain it in one novel, must have an odd functionality to their brain.
Spanning two generations of families during pre-, intra-, and post-WW II, this epic (and it most certainly deserves that title) shows the reader the early formation of computer language that developed thanks to code-breakers within the U.S. and German intelligence communities. This may sound horribly boring, but it is far from tedious. Author Stephenson knows not to bore readers. He incorporates cryptanalysis into everyday life, often with hysterically funny results (at one point a character relates his masturbatory behavior to helping solve enemy codes; and another time the London street layout helps design a code system that is nearly unbreakable). All of the characters are incredibly human, from the earliest "geeks" (Richard Waterhouse and Avi) to the rough-and-tumble WW II gladiators (U.S. Marine Bobby Shaftoe and General Douglas MacArthur). There are deadly battles with Japanese soldiers, crushing encounters with German U-boats, and even a treasure hunt finale that'll tickle your funny bone. There's romance between a geeky code breaker and the young granddaughter of Bobby Shaftoe. There's government conspiracies, and unlikely alliances between men on opposite sides of the war. There's ...just too much to put into one review! Fortunately, though, Neal Stephenson (author) masterfully ties all of these threads together and culminates it into one of the best conclusions seen in novel length fiction history.
At 1,130 pages long (paperback), the thickness of Cryptonomicon may be a deal-breaker for some readers. Don't let it be. The author's able prose is sustained throughout its ample length and will keep readers coming back to see what awaits the Shaftoes, the Waterhouses, the Roots, and the Dengos.
A prodigious novel from a genre-busting author, Cyptonomicon defies categorization. It is and isn't science fiction. It is and isn't historical fiction. It is and isn't a techno-thriller. It is and isn't many things. But the one thing it most certainly is is a masterpiece....more info
- Nerds of the world, rejoice! Stephenson pens a zinger
I am 54 years old and I am a nerd. (Sounds like an AA confession or something).
You may think Important People like George Bush or Bill Clinton or President-elect (at time of writing) Obama, or A. Lincoln, or Alexander or Ghengis Khan or Hitler or Nimitz or FDR or Churchill are the kind of guys who make the world go `round. Or try to stop it, as the case may be.
You'd be dead wrong.
An interesting thing happened in the 19th century called the Industrial Revolution. After 20,000-some-odd years of digging in the dirt the planet suddenly went high-tech. Or at least higher-tech. The IPs were shocked, SHOCKED, to find they couldn't win a war (or do much else) without tech. And where did they get their tech?
From us autistic, socially-inept, outta-the-box-thinking, harmless-appearing nerds. Stephenson gets this right, oh-so-dead-on-right, in "Cryptonomicon".
I almost never buy hardbacks any more except in extraordinary circumstances. Fellow serious bookworms will know why immediately - space. If the total volume in one's abode can be expressed as X, and the volume taken up in said abode by hardback books is .99999X, it becomes obvious that...well, you get the picture. (Omigawd, an equation - means 10% fewer people will read this review). Sooner or later paperbacks start looking like the way to go.
When I saw the big Avon hardback edition in 1999 and took a quick look, it seemed like a possibility. But what iced the deal was the inside jacket picture of a young (maybe 10 y.o.?) NTS curled up on the couch reading the Epstein's "First Book of Codes and Ciphers", a book I still have on my own shelf. Now THIS was my kinda author!
Since then, I've read "Cryptonomicon" every few years and never failed to pull something new out of it. This time it was an even better appreciation of the very digressions many of the reviewers here have taken exception to. They are brilliant little jewels in their own right. To those who fizzed through the book the first time and missed them, or even skipped `em deliberately (arrrrgh!), I say, "Read it again and slow down. Smell the coffee!"
The pages leading up to and including Lawrence Waterhouse's Big Insight at the organ keyboard are among the most hilarious I've ever read. Could only have come straight from a true nerd's heart.
About the ending. Sometimes in real life, things don't get tied up with a then-everyone-lives-happily-ever-after ribbon, or a can-you-top-this bow. Sometimes the villain wins or the hero loses, or they both win, or they both lose. The codebreaker heroes of WWII got medals and citations they couldn't publicly acknowledge for over thirty years. Many of them worked their butts off on projects the results of which they didn't even see until such information began trickling out in the early 1970s.
Many of these ops would have seemed totally absurd from the point of view of the heavily-compartmented participants. Stephenson's genius is his presentation of clandestine activities from the POVs of Bobby Shaftoe, who knows nothing, and Waterhouse, who knows everything.
After the 900-page tour-de-force NTS rolls out, about the only other ending I can envision is what I call the "up-yers ending", something like this:
"The Earth encounters a random black hole and falls into it. All life is squished into oblivion (including the characters you've read about for the past week) and the world ceases to exist. Thank you for buying this book."
THAT would've ticked off the reviewers even more.
My background includes writing ICBM flight software and service as a U.S. Navy Intelligence officer. I've read 1000s of books of all types, had three of my own published. I've never given max stars to a book before in my life. This one gets max stars. Six out of five, in fact. Stephenson wrote a book about us and he got it right.
- Almost overwhelming
A huge, messy, anarchic, mesmerizing, nearly overwhelming monster of a book following the intertwined lives of a dozen or more characters spanning half a century or so. Sure the nearly 1200 page brick could have been pared down a bit (maybe to a manageable 1000 pages even) but I'd have hated to loose even one of his great metaphors. Read it forgivingly and you'll have a blast....more info
- Inconsistent - some greatness amongst some disjointed tedium
I got this for Christmas and finished it late last night.
As the tale begins, the author initiates two primary storylines, The first is set in WWII spanning both the European and Pacific theatres. The second is modern day and is centered on a California start-up (with requisite ambitious young guys) with primary business interests in the far east. One knows the stories are connected because of similar last names in both. The other connection is encryption - how crytography was central to the war and how it is central to current day business and, in the author's view, central to the future of civilization.
One of the great pluses of the book is how the author made use of these commonalities between WW2 and modern-day to create interest and anticipation. The middle of the book actually made use of these quite well and I was eager to keep reading. There is some terrific writing in middle sections and descriptions of people and places both in Europe and the Far East are very vivid.
The author does write with terrific humour at times and I was reminded in several places about a series of books written about WWI called "The Bandy Papers - the Journals of Bartholomew Bandy" by Donald Jack. Very similar in style as the author captures the points of view - dry wit - of Grandpa (WW2) and grandson (techno geek) Waterhouse.
The presentation of Gen. Douglas McArthur was (from my Canadian perpective) endearingly flag-waving-pipe-chomping-bullet- shedding-American-Super-hero and, of course, totally unbelievable.
Then I hit the final pages where I had hoped to receive a big-payoff to the build-up over the previous thousand pages. Alas, it was not to be and all the tedious verbiage that scarred the entire book turned out to be a sad bell-weather.
One of the "1 star" reviews amongst these reviews suggested that Tolkien was nothing compared to Neal Stephenson as far as filling up pages with words. There are numerous examples of page after page of "who cares" blathering which may tell us that some of the characters are in fact terribly boring individuals but do not deepen the characterizations. One of the good points is that when you hit such a section - and the reader will recognize them - you can simply skip about 5 pages or more and pick up the story without missing anything. The book could have been shortened by about 400 pages, maybe more. I'm guessing there is an encrypted message in the pages somewhere but I couldn't care less.
Some story lines, characters and inferences are left totally unresolved in the end (e.g. what happened to the dentist?). A case of author boredom and a loss of interest as the ending approached? And why the heck did Andrew Loeb make a final appearance! Talk about out-of-place and just bizarre.
I dunno what the author is thinking sometimes but several times he comes across as just a tad too clever. At least 3 times during the book (inluding the opening pages) I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. For example, one such bit of cleverness is his incorporation of the Hindenberg disaster in New Jersey - the narrative is written at that point from the perspective of a main character who stumbles literally out of the woods after seeing a brightness in the sky. It is not central or even obliquely of interest to the story line. The author never mentions Hindenberg by name and it is left to the reader (if you can pass the author's ever-so-clever test of cleverness) to figure it out. It seemed somewhat a condescending (to the reader) writing style.
There is the usual technology-dropping (like dropping names but gadgets instead of people) to presumably up the coolness factor and from my knowledge it is mostly, but not always, believable.
Ultimately, why there is some terrific writing, the overall result is a draft that needs 1 or 2 more rewrites and a worthy ending to really tell a terrific story.
Summary - go directly to Tom Clancy's books which are executed much better and have endings that offer a consistent pay-off (but with less humour). Clancy can also go on and on... but not like this guy!
The paperback story is 1130 pages of small type that is hard to read....more info
- Lots of promise, never gets going
This is the first book I have ever failed to finish. This is out of thousands upon thousands of books, I read nearly continually. I've read long meandering epics etc. and loved them, but this one just did not have anything going for it.
I only made it to page 300 and the entire time I was wondering when a plot was going to be presented to the reader, a central story. A REASON to keep reading beyond just reading about these completely separated characters in two different time periods. I kept thinking that the story was going to get started after the author introduced the characters a bit more, but at page 300 I realized that this was all the book was going to be . . . character introduction and lots of it.
Maybe these characters all tie together in a wonderful and thought provoking way around page 1000 or so, but I'll never know because the author never gave me a reason to want to find out....more info
I LOVED this book. But, for potential readers, I have a VERY large caveat: Unless you have a love of mathematics and/or cryptanalysis you're going to miss out on much that made the book, for me, so great. In fact, judging from the one and two star reviews so prevalent here, you more than likely are going to hate it and end up torching it in your back yard in frustration and dancing around the ashes. By way of anecdote, I was talking to one of my neighbours who happens to have a degree in mechanical engineering while we were out walking our dogs about a certain aspect of the book that had me puzzled for a bit, and another neighbour stopped to join us. After listening for a time, she looked at me and asked, in a semi-sarcastic, baffled tone, "Are you reading an Engineering textbook for fun?" When I told her it was a novel, she became even more nonplussed. So, the point here is, you've been warned. I happen to be an English Literature major, but I was one of those kids in school who in, say, trigonometry class just looked at a math problem, knew the answer and handed in my tests in five minutes. The words, "SHOW WORK" are scorched into my memory of adolescence. On the other hand, if you've liked Stephenson's other works, or like picaresque literary jaunts in general, you will no doubt like this one as well. You'll just have to skip the parts I found most fascinating.
I can now say, though, that I understand why Stephenson fans took him to task for lack of verisimilitude in Snow Crash and the books which constitute The Baroque Cycle, both of which are a great deal of fun to read, but not terribly conducive to deep thinking. This book is so conducive, for a number of reasons, but the primary one, I should say, is that very few people realise just how WEIRD the branch of mathematics known as Statistics is. The simplest example I can think of is coin tossing: If you enter a (rather primitive) casino, toss a coin once and come up heads, your chance on the second toss of coming up heads again is 25%. It's not 50%. Furthermore, if you toss the coin and it comes up heads, then put the coin in your pocket and wait three days, three months, three years, however long, and take that same coin out of your pocket on the other side of the globe and flip it, your chances of coming up heads, after all this time, are still 25%, not 50%. I've gone out about the Math enough for this review, but the Math herein is very much concerned with probabilities like this one. It makes you start thinking, as the character Waterhouse does at one point, of the entire world as a giant probability wave. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I lost tossing and turning with different numbers running through my head.
The characters in this book, as Stephenson puts it are "people too busy leading their lives to worry about extending their life expectancy." This makes for very intriguing, if involved, reading. But the writing can also approach the poetic at times. The sinking of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor is described thusly: "A military lyre of burnished steel that sings a thousand men to their resting places at the bottom of the harbor."
And the book is so terribly funny. The Englishman, Chatan's, description to Detachment 2702 of the importance of knowing the right way to, er, blow your head off if in danger of being caught by the enemy is priceless, "You would be astonished at how many otherwise competent chaps botch this apparently simple procedure."
Also, as noted by other reviewers, there are numerous in-jokes, my personal favourite being the Latin motto for the Societas Eruditorum: "Ignoti et quasi occulti." Which Enoch Root translates for Bob Shaftoe as, "Hidden and unknown-more or less," which is EXACTLY what it means! Notice the quotation marks surrounding more or less. The word "quasi," in Latin means "more or less" or "as it were" or "so to speak".
Alright, I've gone on long enough, perhaps too long, for an Amazon review. For those few who might be interested, I'll try to include a simple program I came up with for solving the Turing bicycle problem, which Stephen uses to illustrate how the Enigma machine works in the Comment section once this review is posted.
A wonderful book!
- Funny, Interesting, but in need of an Editor
Neal Stephenson's book is a dense, well researched story that is one-half the history of modern cryptography and one-half an adventure novel. The WWII parts of the book are often hilarious and have a 'Catch-22' tone to them. The portion of the story set in the present varies in quality from blah to excellent. A firm editor that limited Stephenson to perhaps 700 pages would have made for a better pace without sacrificing all of his exquisitely detailed digressions. I found the novel as a whole very entertaining and erudite, and would reccommend it to anyone, with the caveat that some undergraduate history classes and a little math make the book a much more fulfilling read....more info
- Geez, Louise ...
Well, I gave what I thought to be a valiant effort at 260 pages, then had to say: no more. I'll admit it - I'm 53 years old, and while I have worked with computers for the past 30 years, to look at me you wouldn't think I was a computer geek, but perhaps I am. My beef is this: I grew up with the novels of Arthur Hailey (remember Airport?) where he spun out 8 or 10 storylines, then began to tie them together. Stephenson never ties them together. Perhaps you have to be 14 years old and have the attention span of a gnat to appreciate this (new?) writing style, but it's not for me....more info
- It can be tedious, but it is worth it.
It takes some time to get through, and if you aren't into the math or science of it, well then you probably aren't reading Neal Stephenson... It has been years since I read it, and I still think of it and am glad I read it....more info
- teaser preparing for a sequel?
Premise on how encryption was critical for winning past wars and how anonymous data havens could be even more important for business is very topical. However, it is just too long (900+ pages). Lots of Neal's long winded colorful techno analogies are entertaining, but perhaps he should refrain from including so many of them in a fiction work and publish more purely technical essays like IN THE BEGINNING ... WAS THE COMMAND LINE. Furthermore, the forces that build through the book are only just starting to become an interesting plot device for a radically new world order when the book just ends. I guess I was hoping the book would actually deal a bit with this pervasive encrypted Internet. Perhaps this is just a teaser ending to prepare for a sequel, which could be much more interesting than what essentially is a speculation on how encryption could become even more important than the Internet....more info
Cryptonomicon is one of those novels that wouldn't be out of place on a bookshelf next to classic epic stories like the Odyssey or the Iliad. Its grand, sweeping plots encompassing two time periods coupled with its realistic yet slightly superheroic characters create a unique experience that many of today's so-called "epics" lack. The hero journeys of the follow-orders-at-all-costs Bobby Shaftoe, the scary-brilliant Lawrence Waterhouse, and the forward-thinking entrepreneurs Avi and Randy twist and weave across the ages with precision and guile. Along the way, these heroes encounter other larger-than-life characters -- a conflicted Japanese soldier/digger, a pontificating immortal, General MacArthur -- further fleshing out the already three-dimensional story. And interspersed throughout everything is gold, glorious gold. Truly epic!
Is it for everyone, though? No. The sheer size of the novel alone will present a daunting challenge to even the hardiest of readers. Throw into the mix heavy doses of (sometimes subtle) sarcasm and pages-long ramblings on subjects seemingly unrelated to any aspect of the story, and some readers may find themselves throwing the book across the room. If you don't care about why men grow beards, or the extraction of some obscenely impacted wisdom teeth, or why Athena was really the goddess of technology, you may find yourself with some dented walls. But if you can stomach the following: "The uppers were so deep in his skull that the roots were twined around the parts of his brain responsible for perceiving the color blue (on one side) and being able to suspend one's disbelief in bad movies (on the other) and between these teeth and actual air, light and saliva lay many strata of skin, meat, cartilage, major nerve-cables, brain-feeding arteries, bulging caches of lymph nodes, girders and trusses of bone, rich marrow that was working just fine thank you, a few glands whose function were unsettlingly poorly understood, and many of the other things that made Randy Randy, all of these definitely falling into the category of sleeping dogs," you'll be just fine.
Is Cryptonomicon perfect? Sadly, no. At times it feels as if the plot is getting away from Stephenson and he has to kick it back into place. Whole huge periods of time pass in narration, not action. An entire trek into the jungle to find a mysterious location is recounted by Randy in an email. And, of course, as has been expressed in other reviews here, the ending comes on way too quick. But fortunately these incidents are few and far between and do not cause great distractions from the already sprawling plot. Even the ending, upon reflection, feels appropriate in the context of the entire novel.
All in all, it takes a quirky personality to love Cryptonomicon. But if you're one of these unique individuals, be prepared for a wild ride....more info
- In dire need of an editor
Have you ever hated yourself for finishing a book? For a long, long month, I resisted my own desire and my wife's urgings to drop the book. I should have listened. The book badly needs editing, the characters are shallow, and the author's (very) high opinion of himself stains the pages. There are two crypto-analytic themes to this book: World War II codebreaking and the struggles of a modern day cryptographic computer company to turn profitable. By page 500 (of the 910), I had no idea how they related; by page 700, I had an inkling but no longer cared. I only finished because I felt some undefined need to do so.
I would guess that by the time Stephenson wrote this book, he had enough critical and financial success that he was able to demand no restraints from his publisher. Consequently, the writing meanders and much of it is irrelevant. Stephenson dedicates three pages to description when three paragraphs (and sometimes only three sentences) will do. Worse yet, many of these wanderings are completely unrelated to the story, such as discussions of Captain Crunch and wisdom teeth. By page 300, the reader can see when these airy insignificances arise, and to continue, he or she must painfully wade through them.
Most of the characters in the book share the exact same personality: gruff and cynical. The exceptions are academics, who are portrayed as wimps with no grasp on reality, and East Asians, who all have a personality similar to the characters from Shogun. Otherwise, a World War II Marine shares the same personality as a modern day billionaire-investor who shares the same personality as a modern day entrepreneur. An example of the same-flavor feel of Stephenson's characters: One character (Enoch Root) was an Army Priest during World War II and dedicated himself to peaceful causes afterwards. By the time one of the modern characters encounters Root, in a jail cell in the Phillippines, Root (who must be at least in his mid-eighties) has been running a Church in the Phillippines for a number of years. Nevertheless, Root describes the goddess Athena as a virgin who was "leg-f***ked  once but did not achieve penetration." This same character uses the word "dissed," just like any modern fifteen year old boy. Character development, needless to say, is non-existent in this book.
On the plus side, Stephenson has encyclopedic knowledge and an expansive vocabulary. Even this becomes a turn-off, however: Stephenson's writing reflects a man who thinks of himself as intellectually beyond the realm of mere mortals. Perhaps he is different in real life, but he comes across as the geek in high school who justified his social-ineptitude by the fact that he got great grades (especially in math!). That same geek who got great grades lost many arguments because he lacked intellectual and logical skills outside of "book learnin'."
Stephenson is like that: For example, he ticks off a long list of German and American technological advances during World War II, but then concludes that the Allies won because America stood for technological advance while Germany stood for mindless warfare. In another story line, Stephenson's modern day protagonists set out to create a data bank near the Phillippines that is protected by the most advanced cryptography in existence. These protagonists are some of the most brilliant computer code-writers and cryptographers in the world, and they are attempting to set up a company which hides information so well that even governments cannot access it. These same brilliant people are shocked to discover that criminals are keenly interested in the project. Again, Stephenson has incredible knowledge but weak logical skills.
Why give the book two stars instead of one? There are some redeeming aspects of the book: I liked the aspects of cryptography and analysis, a subject to which I have never paid much attention. Any book that I can learn from cannot be all bad. ...more info
- The modern Dickens
If you love to read, read Stephenson. Having read "Snow Crash," Cryptonomicon," and "Quicksilver," I've come to simply love this writer and hope I never run out of new books. One can quibble about endings, characters and coincidences, but the pure pleasure per page is unequaled in my experience since the prime of Anthony Burgess. And in the recent books, the breadth of setting/topic/comedy/pathos/human understanding makes Stephenson the rightful heir to our greatest novelist, Dickens. Read everything he writes....more info
I laughed out loud at several points: my daughter kept on looking at me to figure out what the big deal was. This book is FUNNY. It gave me a lot to think about with regard to our privacy. I bought it one Thursday and didn't put it down until the following Tuesday....more info
- Slow and Tedious...
This is the first book by Neal Stephenson I have ever read, or I should say I have ever attempted to read. I got to page 400 and had to stop. I probably should have put the book down after 100 pages, but after so many glowing reviews and endorsements, most notably from the New York Review of Books, I thought I would give it as much of a chance as I could. What a mistake.
Maybe I should even go back farther in time - I purchased the book thinking it would be an incredibly fast read, something in the same vein as a Dan Brown or Stephen King book. I was sadly disappointed to find that all of the people who said that this 1000-page monstrosity would be a quick read were terribly, terribly wrong (I also found at least two other people who thought the same thing and I wish I had listened to them when they told me to stop).
The book bounces back and forth between World War II and the present day, between grandparents and grandchildren in an all-over-the-map techno-thriller that is simply too dense to be readable. The pacing can only be described as plodding. I find Dickens a quicker read.
I think I may have started reading this with the wrong-mind set and maybe I should give it another go in a few years. But for all those looking for a nice-light read, stay away. And for those looking for something that makes you think or something where you can enjoy the texture of the language, stay away as well. Go out and pick up some Virginia Woolf or even some Dickens. It will be time much better spent.
- Slow to start... fast to finish
It took me a couple tries to get into this book... multi inch think books can be a bit daunting. However, once I was through the first section I quickly found myself infatuated. The interweaving of multiple different story lines into one tale makes for an interesting read....more info
- Not as bad as Snowcrash
It has the same problems, as it's overlong trite cyberpunk. However, at least his writing's improved....more info
- Stephenson's Masterwork Thus Far
One could rave about the seamless plot, the perfect weaving of multiple timelines, locations, and characters. All of these overflow with color.
But it is the pure writing that entrances me. Cryptonomicon's language is beautiful. You can read the same sentence over and over again and enjoy it each time. How rare is that?...more info
- Danielle Steel for Nerds
"Cryptonomicon" is entertaining and gripping at parts, and downright tedious at others. Stephenson makes a very obvious choice to go into far too much detail about the technical details of plot mechanisms to lend his novel extra geek cred--or maybe he thinks his audience actually enjoys that part (and, judging by the success of this book, he might just be right).
But while some passages seem, every once in a while, to capture some element of human emotion, those parts are the exception rather than the rule; in general the characters are caricatures, the technology researched and plausible but, frequently, just slightly wrong (the educated reader might pick up on enough of a giveaway, every so often, to reveal that Stephenson is no expert on the technology he uses in his plots), and the descriptive passages tedious and long winded (a previous reviewer mentioned a scene in which the protagonist eats Captain Crunch cereal--suffice to say that that description drags on, in Hemmingway-esque detail, for pages).
Perhaps I'm being overly suspicious, but all of Stephenson's twists--his unnecessary descriptions of cryptographic algorithms, his in-jokes (punning the name Linux as "Finux," for instance), his long-winded lip service to Dungeons and Dragons--seem designed to ingratiate him with the "geek" crowd that is his intended audience. A reader of this persuasion may find these nods titillating, but he should also question whether this lip service is genuine, or if he is merely being pigeonholed by Stephenson.
This certainly isn't a bad novel. It's generally entertaining, good B-grade bedtime reading. But "the next Dickens," to quote another Amazon reviewer, Neal Stephenson is not. ...more info
Took a while to get into but soon couldn't put it down. Loved this book. Had some very memorable and humorous scenes....more info
- Dull and pointless
I couldn't finish this book, finding I had no desire to read any more after I got about halfway through. There are several concurrent storylines, none of which have anything to do with each other except in the most peripheral sense. The book spends so much time plodding along, I found I had a surge of excitement when he finally got to the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At last, something was happening! Unfortunately, the next page began "Three months later,". I was incredibly disappointed after hearing the rave reviews this book got, and now I am completely mystified how it received them....more info
- A big, gold, brick of a book
I loved this book.
It seems like most reviewers who enjoy Cryptonomicon are involved heavily in some type of geeky activity, so this review is for the other people out there, people like me, who ask only "Does it work?", not, "How does it work?"
This book, with all of its in-depth explanations for questions I never thought to ask, was incredibly engaging. It has an enormous plotline that spans several decades, yet does eventually tie in together. There are lots of "Aha!" moments, as well as several where you ask "How did he DO that?"
I loved it so much that I bought it for my husband, a computer geek, and my dad, definitely not a computer geek, for their father's day gifts. It is looong, but unforgettable. The best way to read this book is in big stretches, so carve out some time, put your feet up, and get ready to lose yourself in a place where eating cereal has a mathematical precision that will amaze you.
And if you don't like it, you can always use it to prop open doors....more info
- A reading workout
I came to this book as my second Stephenson novel after Snow Crash, and I read that one the first time when I was in junior high. Cryptonomicon was a daunting looking book, but the character development and interesting mix of stories kept me involved to the end. Like other Stephenson books, this one contains a lot of technological excerpts, mostly about math and code breaking, and these can be a pain to get through, but it also contains some of the most realistically human writing of any author. My only concern was the end. I was hoping that after all of that investment, there would be a more realistic ending. After a thousand pages worth of buildup, the ending seemed to be tacked on and all too short. Despite this, if you are a techno nerd who also enjoys an engaging view of WWII history, this is a book for you....more info
- Epiphyte will raise [some money]
This is a wonderful, long book that rarely drags. It's a combination of historical fiction and modern thriller. The narrator, Randy Waterhouse, is the grandson of Lawrence Waterhouse, a fictional mathematical genius who gets partnered with Alan Turing the founder of artificial intelligence, etc, at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. In parallel, the book covers, without being plodding, a long course of history of the story of behind-the-scenes WWII code-breaking and models of the very first computers. Meanwhile, in the modern day, Randy and a cadre of eccentric computer/IT/software buddies are starting a business and somehow latch on to a truly amazing breakthrough in Southeast Asia. Everything from WWII warfare hand-to-hand and aviation vs. the Japanese to a humorous view of pre-revenue seed stage startups and the between-the-lines satire of their business plans are included in this Pynchonesque novel. While the ending is a bit trite and probably made for a Hollywood movie, the book overall is truly unique and is much better written than earlier Stephenson novels....more info
- Much Fluff
It was a struggle to finish this book. The book is an excellent 400 page novel crammed into a 900 page tome. I can't believe that the book wasn't heavily pruned by an editor prior to release.
Some parts of the book are indeed very entertaining and funny. At other times, it's like reading the phone book....more info
- Powerful, Wonderful, Epic
A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book for Christmas. I'd never heard of the writer, but John recommended it strongly. I sat down expecting a romping science fiction book. What I got instead was an epic tale of two families from World War II through modern day (late 90's, some of the technology is a tiny bit dated) and all over the globe from England to Scandinavia to the Philippines, to Japan to the high seas in almost every hemisphere to a British protectorate country that Stephenson invented out of whole cloth that sounded so plausible I had to look it up on the Internet to make sure it didn't really exist.
It involves cryptology all the way from England against the Nazi's through very complex security for the Internet and, of all things, card games. The people are all amazing, diverse, human, complex and fully realized.
As many people have said, it ends rather abruptly, but the journey that leads up to that ending is so well worth traveling, I really don't care. This is a book that will go on my "read again and again" shelf, right next to Dalaney's Dahlgren....more info