Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Avon Eos Books

A short review of a long book.

Cryptonomicon is a complex, highly researched and incredibly detailed novel about cryptography, hacking, big brother, an internet data haven, a lost gold treasure and so much more. Stephenson’s plot is as complex as any I have read and at 900 plus pages, as detailed, too. It basically involves the idea of making the world a better place through highly encrypted, surveillance proof data sharing and communication in a completely anonymous, secure and big-brother-free electronic economy.  Crytonomicon, in a sense, is a hacker’s utopia novel.

The plot flips between two time periods – World War II and the present and features a morphine-addicted mathematician named Lawrence Waterhouse, a pragmatic, tough-as-nails, morphine-addicted marine named Bobby Shaftoe, Alan Turing and even cameos by Ronald Reagan and Douglas MacArthur.

The book is filled with detailed descriptions of technology and technical process as well as tactical war-time intelligence and counter-intelligence techniques. The world Stephenson paints is rich, detailed and interesting.

While 900 pages sounds like a lot of reading, I had a hard time putting the book down and it was over before I knew it. The book carries along at a brisk pace despite Stephenson’s propensity to go off on digressive ruminations about such esoterica as the best way to eat Cap’n Crunch cereal, internet start-ups and Bach’s organ music. Digressions they might be, but they are fun and interesting, never boring and never filler. His descriptions of technology, coding processes and electronic infrastructure are fascinating. There is a treasure hunt plot line that could easily have been a novel unto itself.

In all, Cryptonomicon travels to a lot of places and covers a lot of ground. I got the sense that the story could have continued on and on and frankly, I would have been glad if it did.

Cryptonomicon is one of the best reads I have enjoyed in quite a while. I highly recommend it.