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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