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4.3 out of 5 stars178
4.3 out of 5 stars
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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. If The Separation was the first truly great SF novel of the 21st Century, than Cryptonomicon is almost certainly the last great SF novel of the 20th, and one of the few works that I would apply the label 'genius' to.
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on 1 August 2001
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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on 2 June 2007
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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on 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.
Another good example is between the two main chracters.. Lawrence Waterhouse (a collegue of Turing) and his grandson. Having never really met, the connection between them gets stronger and stronger until it ultimitely drives the plot of the book. Again the theme of distance and connection is strong here. As the connection gets stringer the distance seems to diminish.
I'm not saying the book's main point is to say "What a small world", but that's on the right track.
If I've managed to make the book sound boring, then forgive me. It's a cracking read and there's something for everyone: war, technology, political intrigue, business espionage, sex, love, travel, programming, and of course cryptology.
I love this book and go back to it again and again...It's not necessarily for sci fi/cyberpunk fans. If you like war stories you will love this book. If you like family sagas you will love this book.
If you like beautifully written and researched books you will love this book.
If you like modern literature you will love this book.
In short... you will love this book.
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on 9 May 2006
Neal Stephenson has astonished once again with his colossal masterpiece "Cryptonomicon". An amazing amount of research has been done in relation to writing the book and Stephenson manages to explain the basic theories of cryptography in layman terms without confusing the reader, although more advanced readers who prefer the "hard science" approach will inevitably find his references to certain theories a bit primitive.

Overall a good book, with a consistent flowing storyline that keeps the reader interestd, with almost a pun a page.The author manages to successfully involve some of the more famous characters in history without making the whole affair seem fake and unrealistic. I do admit tht it is a bit of a marathon, but persistent readers are well rewarded at the end of the book.

A definite must read!
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on 23 June 2001
I can quite honestly say that is the best book I have ever read in my life. Neal Stephenson's writing style very much came into it's own here. His interest in how the events in our parents lives shape our own (also seen in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age); His interest in things technological, oriental, even fantasy role play.
Ok, so a good 2 thirds of this book are set in WW2, it still remains very much a sci-fi book. Strangely, some people seem to have taken issue with this, though I don't understand why this should be a problem.
The book is vastly entertaining, witty, insightful and often sad (when one of the main characters met an heroic end, I was truly truly gutted). The cahracters are not thin, they're some of the most interesting and rounded that I've come across in Stephenson's work.
Yes its very very long (900 pages +). This shouldn't be a problem, but in an age of goldfish like attention span it apparently is. I have to admit to being daunted at first, but by page 300 this book had become a real part of my life and I was already having to face up to the fact that one day I would finish it.
Please please read this book.
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on 28 November 2008
Agree with these other guys about what a great read this is. In fact it played a large part in me deciding to go back to university and study computing. What I love about it particularly is that it makes you feel clever. Some of the stuff in here is kind of complex and daunting, about maths and cryptography and hacking. But he explains it in such a way that you take it all in your stride, and then think - wow, I get this! I must be clever!
It's also really funny in places. And proper geeky. There should be more books about geeks.
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on 28 September 2014
Well, I finally finished this book, and I have to say that I enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a struggle.

I loved the humour, I enjoyed most of the characters, the writing style is easy to read and never dull, and overall, the journey was pleasant enough ... in some places highly informative ( although in others leaving you to question whether the information is completely made up ) .... but Cryptonomicon is like a fantastic journey by train through the Rockies, full of expectation and hope, only for it to terminate in a Homedepot store; everything just fizzles out and you wonder what the central theme of the story actually is.

With so many chapters, so many small stories within the "main" story, it is probably asking far too much for all the loose ends to be tied up. In fact, this is probably a story with the world record number of loose ends. Although some of those chapters were highly enjoyable at the time, over the course of the book, and then not finding resolution at the end, they did all seem to be rather superfluous and in hind sight, annoying.

There really is no reason to read this book , other than to say you have read it. It is a book which is a long journey between the first page and the last, but not a journey that goes from A to B !
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on 6 June 2000
Having read Stephenson's Zodiac donkey's years ago and found it a very enjoyable if untaxing romp, I picked up Cryptonomicon thinking it would be in a similar vein. The blurb on the back mentions Pynchon and Gibson (prob. 2 of my favourite writers) and Underworld (favourite book of last year) so I thought I could not go wrong. The first 600 pages were the best part and I never wanted it to end. I felt a little let down by the remaining third of the book. It left many issues unresolved (and not in 'left up to the reader's imagination' way) such as the fate of the Crypt if its cable-lines were going to be cut? Why were all the modern day characters were descendents of the WW2 characters? And how could inaccessible gold be used a gold reserve? These however are relatively trifling problems. There are a sufficient number of entertaining, amusing and thought provoking asides to carry all the plot flaws, under-editing and factual errors.
I'm recommending it to all and sundry - especially geek friends - it would have got 5 stars but for a bit of lax editing. I can't wait to read his other works now.
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on 29 October 2003
If ever there was a book not to be judged by its cover, it is Cryptonomicon. The lazy, uninspiring cover image is, perhaps, there as a decoy - a bit of random noise to hide the gold beneath from the unworthy browser. For this book is to be treasured, savoured, hoarded and re-re-read. Comparisons are appropriate, I think, here: 'Catch-22', and 'Gravity's Rainbow'. 'Godel, Escher, Bach', but also the works of John Irving and Tom Stoppard. For me the profoundest pleasure was simply the presence of such a hugely witty, humane and generous intelligence.
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