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Cryptonomicon Mass Market Paperback – November 5, 2002
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About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Reamde, Anathem, The System of the World, The Confusion, Quicksilver, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac, and the groundbreaking nonfiction work In the Beginning . . . Was the Command Line. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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This is a good introduction to Stephenson. It's set in current times (actually more turn of the century, being published in 1999), with parts also set in WWII. It deals with interesting issues of war, computing, and economics. It ties together disparate story lines so that they come together beautifully in the end.
There's action, characters you'll root for, intrigue, and prose that's magnificent. Stephenson is one of the few writers that makes me sometimes stop and re-read a sentence just because of its sheer artistry.
If I had to make a criticism, it's this: as brilliant a writer as Stephenson is, he tends towards abrupt endings that feel like he just got tired of the story and wrapped it up in a hurry. But this is a tiny price to pay in a book this good.
The other thing I like about this story is the fast paced, adventurous, and far-fetched situations the characters get into. One character is introduced by way of a survival story, where over the course of a couple days or weeks he survives against the most ridiculous odds, over and over again... and yet Stephenson manages to suspend your disbelief the whole way through.
There is also lots of humor.
There is very little sexual content in one part of the story, developing one of the characters. It is not graphic.
The violence is sprinkled in here and there, mostly in the WWII part of the story. It is not central to the story, but certainly serves illustrating the intense situations you might find yourself in in wartime.
If your interests tend toward tech and history and adventure, you'll love this book.
I am now reading Stephenson's prequel Quicksilver (written after Cryptonomicon), set in pre-revolutionary Boston and the European Enlightenment. The same entertaining style but in a more slowly moving story loosely including a cast of giants (Ben Franklin, Isaac Asimov, etc.)
The thread running through the book is cryptography, during WWII and in the modern era as computer encryption and hacking to circumvent it. The book gives good historical insight into the massive contribution Allied cryptographers made to the war effort in breaking German and Japanese codes, and into the difficulty of concealing from the enemy the fact that these codes had been broken. The historical and present-day periods are linked in that the characters in WWII are either still alive in the present-day part of the story, or are the grandparents of the present-day characters. I found the main characters in the book to be believable and well developed. There are mildly technical descriptions of coding and codebreaking throughout the book that are, however, geared to the lay reader and can be read or skimmed according to the reader's inclinations. I personally found them readable and interesting. The book also gives an insight into how mathematicians' minds work, with humerous illutrations such as one of the WWII characters mathematically characterizing the 'Horniness Index' as it applies to a young woman he's fallen in love with and the effect of this on his work. Sketches like this were simply fun to read. Overall, the book deals with serious issues, but the underling tone throughout is one of wry humor.
Caution: Don't pick up this book unless you have a good chunk of time. It is over 1000 pages of addictive reading.
This was the hardest book of his for me to finish but it still was wonderful.
It's about cryptography, the military, Alan Turing and so much more.
My only complaint was that is was a very slow pace to the book. It's incredibly detailed and I could not imagine how to write it any better or faster. It's simply a dense read. A good dense read