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Cryptonomicon [Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 May 2000
Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that have shaped the past century. Weaving together the cracking of the Axis codes during WWII and the quest to establish a free South East Asian 'data haven' for digital information in the present, Cryptonomicon explores themes of power, information, secrecy and war in the twentieth century in a gripping and page-turning thriller.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (4 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099410672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099410676
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.

Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Cryptonomicon, a novel of such ambition and intensity that most modern fiction looks timid and shallow in comparison..." (Guardian)

"Cryptonomicon was dauntingly vast: brilliant, splenetic, paranoid and beguiling in roughly equal measures... Stephenson's...thrilling fluency" (TLS)

"An audaciously conceived tale of code-making and code-breaking" (New York Times)

"A brilliant patchwork of codebreaking mathematicians and their descendants who are striving to create a data-haven in the me on this one" (The Guardian)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Fantastic 1 Aug 2001
By A Customer
Cryptonomicon - never heard of it. Neal Stephenson - never heard of him, sounds interesting though and I have a long train journey ahead of me, oh go on then..... I was hooked, didn't want the train to stop until I'd finished (the size of this book would've made it the longest train journey in history but...).
Stephenson's characters, the dual storyline, the historical facts about the Enigma machine are all superbly done.
When one storyline breaks, you feel sad that it's going to be a few chapters till you see them again, but after a page of the other storyline you feel the same way.
This book was a complete gamble for me - it's even out of my usual genre, but probably one of the best gambles of my life, a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish - funny, serious, exciting - everything a great book should be - go & buy it now!!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I was given this last year by a friend. Well - when I say I was given it I mean I was allowed to keep it if I bought him a 1st edition for Christmas - anyway..... He warned me I might not like it because it was a bit blokey and had a lot of maths in it. If like me you are not a bloke or a techy and don't know much about maths(having forgotten all that O level stuff from 40 odd years ago) don't let it put you off. This is a brilliant book. Not a quick read, it's very dense and full of intriguing information and you have to pay attention, but it repays your efforts. It's a fast moving, very funny and well written romp through the second half of the 20th century, full of fascinating characters - some of them real - and with an intertwining of plot-lines that I found irresistible.

I tried to get my book group to read it but they chickened out over the 900 odd pages. But I loved almost every one of 'em and am looking forward to embarking on the Baroque Trilogy. I reckon one volume per winter for the next three years!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling and defining 29 April 2008
Sometimes a book comes along that leaves the reader dazed with the author's vision, scope and ambition. Neal Stephenson has done this a few times with his work, but arguably never better than in Cryptonomicon.

The novel follows two stories in parallel. In WWII, a group of cryptologists based at Bletchley Park are struggling to crack the German codes so the British and Americans can more effectively combat the German U-boat threat. In the present, a group of businessmen are attempting to build a data haven in the (fictious) Pacific state of Kinakuta. Both plotlines draw on codes, cryptology, cryptoanalysis and the blurring of the genres of science fiction and historical fiction (a line which is even further muddied by the subsequent Baroque Cycle, which serves as a quasi-prequel series to this novel).

It is difficult to describe the book. It's scope is huge, sprawling across Europe, America, the Phillippines and other parts of the world in two different time periods, incorporating dozens of major characters of note and very effectively educating the reader about the science of codes and puzzles (far more effectively than the amateurish Da Vinci Code) before the two storylines very effectively come together at the end of the book. Stephenson's style is very readable, occasionally dense, but often very funny. There are longeurs and apparently unrelated episodes in the book which are masterfully re-incorporated into the greater narrative to form a cohesive whole. It's a book about secrets, what it costs to hold those secrets, and the consequences when those secrets are revealed. It's a war story and a techno-thriller at the same time. It is a unique work.

Cryptonomicon won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2000 and unquestionably deserved it.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing read 15 May 2002
It's funny to see another reader declare this as the best book they've ever read. I agree. Whenever you see such overblown praise it's easy to dismiss such comments, but this truly is a brilliant book in so many ways.
There are many threads to the novel (I often go back and just read one of the threads) but two main settings. A modern, eastern world with paranoid, clever people setting up a technology business. The other half is set in the Second World War and also has paranoid (for much more obvious reasons), really, really clever people (like Alan Turing) trying to win the war by breaking codes and then disguising that they have. Both worlds are hugely different and Stephenson manages to keep them apart, whilst of course, also showing that the past is ultimately responsible and connected to the present.
The main characters are incredibly well drawn and there is little romanticism on the authors part. They are clearly products of their time and this fits neatly into the main themes of the book.
And the themes are literally huge. The books is about the distance and connections. The novel's world is huge... not only is the book setting global (virtually every place on earth is visited by one character or another at some point, except perhaps South America) but there is also the generation distances. As you read you begin to realise that all the characters are connected, usually by the thinnest of threads. Good examples are the relationship between Alan Turing and his German counterpart. Having once met, they continue a relationship on opposite sides of a war. Without directly communicating to each other what they do is carefully watch the other, analysing every action with mathematical accuracy. A simple analogy would be two spiders at different sides of the web.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Remedy for insomia
Ought to have been suspicious when the book was shown as a 900-odd page tomb that there would be a lot of page-fill. And it is. Read more
Published 7 days ago by J. Mero
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, great thriller and intro to the history
A well written book that masterfully tells several tales at once, all thrilling and ultimately all linked. Read more
Published 1 month ago by stuw13
1.0 out of 5 stars gave up after page 70-odd
Reading a good novel shouldn't be a chore. It just didn't do it for me. One half of the story seemed good (second world war stuff) but the rest did not.
Published 1 month ago by Pete
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary!
It's taken me a long time to read this more than 900 page book, but it was extraordinary throughout. Read more
Published 2 months ago by pax
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book
This is my favourite book, full-stop.
It blends numerous characters, over multiple era's and locations, and manages to blend technology, computers, maths, and cryptography... Read more
Published 2 months ago by David Allen
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
Exciting and intelligent writing that causes you to wonder whether it's truth or fiction! Will be reading more Neal Stephenson off the back of this.
Published 3 months ago by matt yates
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite simply incredible
I'm not going to bang on at length about this book, as I don't want to spoil it for people who've never read it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Beer Monster
5.0 out of 5 stars top notch read
I've not read Neal Stephenson's novels in the order in which they have been published But, I would say if there's a typical or classic Stephenson then this has to be one of those. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Professor Purchase
5.0 out of 5 stars The best fiction I've ever read.
Stephenson's magnum opus. I always refer back to this one whenever I'm asked what my best read was/is.
Life changing.
Published 5 months ago by James Wraith
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but ...
Having read Snow Crash I thought "is this the guy to lead me away from Iain M Banks?" so I bought this book full of hope.

... and for the most part, I am glad I did. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Fleecy Moss
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