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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 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 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. 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 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 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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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 5 March 2017
I feel bad for typing this, but I found this book utterly unreadable. The initial characters' bizarre obsession with maths, and their frequent melodramatic asides to explain topics to other characters just left me agog. I have a maths degree and an interest in cryptography but I still didn't cope with this book. Maybe I should have given it more of a chance but after half an hour I was bored and frustrated.
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on 28 February 2003
I'd never heard of Neal Stephenson - wasn't into sci-fi - picked up this book in a bookshop, and bought it on the strength of the blurb mentioning Thomas Pynchon and comparing it to Gravity's Rainbow (being a Pynchon fan.)
The first 100 or so pages I found disappointing. Some of the episodes seemed to lack historical credibility, and the math - which is not difficult - was explained almost to death. Using Alan Turing's wonky bicycle chain to illustrate the concept of Lowest Common Multiple is a neat idea, but surely doesn't need three whole pages (not if you're going to be explaining Zeta functions later.)
However - at this point I found the sheer storytelling began to win me over, so that I forgot my preconceptions, and just got on with it as a story. And it is a great story. Characters it's possible to feel for, lots of action, lots of detail - and lots of humour: I laughed out loud (really) at some of the stuff. In the end I even came round to the mathematising - the scene where young Randy has his family divide up the grandmother's estate, by graphing the relative desirability of the items they covet on the grid of parking spaces at the local Safeway, is quite wonderful (if a little over-explained...) I even found myself beginning to get interested in the geography of the Philippines.
I deliberately paced myself towards the end of the book, because I didn't want it to finish. Not many books I've read recently that I can say that about.
No, it's not Gravity's Rainbow. But it's a whole lot easier to read, and very enjoyable. There's just loads of stuff in it - it's never dull, not for a moment. I honestly can't think of a book I've read recently (and there've been a few) which I've enjoyed more, or have recommended as enthusiastically to others. I'm now buying more copies to give to friends, which is not something I expected to be doing when I started it.
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on 9 July 2000
Took a while to get into it, but I am enjoying it remendously (confession - only up to page 716!)
It's got some interesting ideas, (ps partner says it's true about the Navajo wireless opertaors, and the British tried to use Welsh speakers, but the Germans were wise to Welsh, and he also say lots of other things....)
I liked this book so much that
a) I will read the other Stephenson novels praised by your reviwers -thanks, I now have something else to look forward to reading...
b) I bought it for a friend's birthday present. He is v. clever and will probably undertand all the formulae (I didn't, except for the Randy "happiness" one which I though v. funny) - but it's not vital for understanding the story, tho' it probably helps..
Yes, my tick, as Keith Waterhouse used to say (only just realised the coincidence there) goes in the box marked "Yes".
Bloody good value!
PS BTW, didn't check and couoldn't really tell, am I the only female here to have reviewed this?
Well, I don't think so
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on 22 August 2003
Yes, it's big. Yes, it's long, occasionally slow-moving, and weighty in more senses than the obvious.
But every one of these attributes is a virtue, when employed with this much skill.
_Cryptonomicon_ is a complex, elegant examination of code-making and -breaking in WWII and the present day, and of the two generations of people whose lives it alters. Past and present are interwoven with often breathtaking subtlety, with each new chapter illuminating the work as a whole, both thematically and in terms of the plot.
The intelligence at work here is both broad and incisive, yet the novel is far from being a sterile display of intellectual prowess. At heart this remains a deeply human story, full of flawed characters and ethical complexity; _Catch-22_'s influence runs deeply, most overtly in the comically illogical missions Bobby Shaftoe's team carry out to prevent the Germans from discovering their code has been broken, but more generally in the way that the impact of extraordinary events on ordinary people always remains in view. Furthermore, a strong historical awareness ensures that environment, ideas and story enjoy a healthy, mutually-reinforcing relationship. The evocation of the wartime Philippines is superb, but there are numerous smaller triumphs (the present-day ultra-PC American academics are a personal favourite...).
In short, this is clever on more levels than I can begin to describe, yet never fails to be engaging. Stephenson has constructed a novel that manages to be simultaneously astounding, enlightening, moving and witty - a novel that revels in its length, tackling a decades-spanning story that would be ill-served by anything shorter.
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